The family of slain photographer Anton Hammerl appealed to President Jacob Zuma to seek to have his remains returned when Zuma visits Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi next week.
A statement released on Thursday by the family urged Zuma “as a family man and father, as a South African, but mostly as president of this country, which has good relations with Libya and which is influential on the continent, to help locate Anton’s remains and have them returned home so that he can be put to rest.”
Hammerl was covering the conflict in Libya when he was shot by milita loyal to Gaddafi on April 5 near the town of Brega.
According to American journalists Clare Gillis, James Foley and Spanish photographer Manu Brabo, Hammerl was left to die in the desert after they were seized.
The South African government and the African National Congress publicly slammed the Libyan government last week following confirmation of Hammerl’s death by the three journalists.
South Africa accused Libya of lying, saying it had known all along that Hammerl had been shot dead on April 5, but despite this kept reassuring officials that he was safe.
Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesperson Clayson Monyela said on Wednesday that only when Gillis, Foley and Brabo had been debriefed on last Thursday in neighbouring Tunisia did the South African government become aware that the Libyan government was lying to them.
However, two days earlier on May 17 the Associated Press news agency quoted Libyan government spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim as saying that Hammerl was not in Libyan government custody.
“What I know is that they haven’t been able to locate him”, Ibrahim was quoted as saying.
“If it was the case — that we found him — he would be released,” he said at the time.
Zuma’s spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said in a statement on Wednesday that Zuma would first travel to Nigeria at the weekend to attend the inauguration of president-elect Goodluck Jonathan.
“From Nigeria, President Zuma will stop over in Tripoli for a discussion with Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, on the 30th of May, in his capacity as a member of the African Union high level panel for the resolution of the conflict in Libya.”
Kodwa was quoted by the Times newspaper on Thursday as saying: “The president is likely to raise that issue. If there is no development [by the time they meet] certainly . I’m sure the president will find a way to raise the issue.”
When asked if Zuma would raise the issue of the repatriation of Hammerl’s remains, Monyela referred the Times‘ report.
The family’s statement, which was also e-mailed directly to the presidency, read: “We ask you to please be our hearts and to be our voices in appealing to Libya for the whereabouts of Anton’s remains. It is imperative for us that he is not failed on this level. We ourselves cannot rest until Anton is given a proper burial in South Africa at a site that will become a place where his children, Aurora, (11), Neo (7) and 15-week old Hiro can come to pay tribute to their father.”