The remains of two South African youths were exhumed on Tuesday, nearly 25 years after they went missing in an apartheid-era disappearance linked to Nelson Mandela’s former wife Winnie. Forensic teams uncovered the skeletons believed to be of Corlett “Lolo” Sono (21) and Siboniso Anthony Shabalala (19) in a Soweto cemetery.
“Two graves were excavated which we believe contain the remains of two activists who disappeared in 1988,” said Phindi Louw, spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority.
“The remains are now taken to the lab where forensic tests and DNA tests will be done just to confirm if they are indeed the remains of the two people.”
The pair – who served as couriers for the anti-apartheid military wing of the African National Congress – were found stabbed to death in November 1988.
The two activists’ disappearance were linked to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela during the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up after 1994’s democracy to address apartheid atrocities.
The body’s final report concluded that she “must accept responsibility for the disappearance” of the pair who were last seen alive at her home.
Madikizela-Mandela, whose husband was jailed at the time, denied any involvement in the killings. Further investigations are being carried out by the police.
“We have to wait for the South African Police Service to hand over the docket to us and then that’s when we will decide whether to prosecute or not,” Louw told AFP.
The exhumation follows an investigation by the missing persons unit of the prosecutions agency, which tries to track down people who went missing in apartheid’s dark days.
Photographs of the bodies were identified by the family. The two youths had been buried as unidentified persons among paupers.
“It was quite emotional” for the families, said Louw about Tuesday’s exhumation, with reports of songs filling the air at the gravesites.
Sono’s father Nicodemus told a hearing that the last time he saw his son was in Madikizela-Mandela’s company.
He testified that the anti-apartheid firebrand said she was taking his badly beaten son away as he had been accused of spying.
“I pleaded with Winnie for more than an hour not to take my son away, but in vain,” Sono told the commission.
His wife Caroline demanded answers outside a Johannesburg hearing. “She’s the woman who murdered our children. I will not rest until I find my son’s remains. I want Lolo,” she was quoted as saying.
During the 1980s, Madikizela-Mandela surrounded herself with a ruthless band of bodyguards known as the Mandela United Football Club.
She was convicted in 1991 on kidnapping and assault charges over the killing of a young activist three years earlier. The jail term was reduced to a fine. – Sapa-AFP