South African authorities on Friday reburied nine men hanged by the apartheid government in 1961 in one of the darkest episodes of the country’s racially-divided past.
Known as the “Cato Manor Nine,” the group were executed for allegedly killing nine police officers in clashes sparked by raids at a township in KwaZulu-Natal province.
Hailed by the anti-apartheid movement as heroes, the nine were buried in unmarked graves in the capital Pretoria, some 640 kilometres (390 miles) away.
Their remains were exhumed last December last year by the Justice Department’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Unit, supported by specialists in missing persons working for National Prosecuting Authority.
They were reburied with honour on Friday at Heroes Arch in Chesterville, the resting place in KwaZulu-Natal for many apartheid activists and musicians.
“It has been 60 years since the death of these nine heroes and our country has seen 25 years of democracy,” said Justice Minister Ronald Lamola at a ceremony to hand over the remains to relatives.
“As we return the mortal remains of the nine martyrs to their families, we are reminded that the freedoms we enjoy today came at a fatal cost.”
The nine are Thembinkosi Mthembu; Fanozi Mgubungu; Msayineke Khuzwayo; Sililo Miya; Payiyana Dladla; Mahemu Goqo; Maqandeni Lushozi; Thompson Chamane and Mhlawungeni Khuzwayo.
Under apartheid, rule by the white minority was entrenched by law and brutally enforced by agents of the state. Black South Africans faced denial of fundamental rights and discrimination in many forms.
Today, many are still searching for loved ones who went missing before apartheid was scrapped in 1994, and who may have been abducted or killed by police or their agents.
The reburial coincided this week with the start of an inquest into the death of the first white anti-apartheid activist to die in police custody.
Doctor and trade unionist Neil Aggett was detained in 1981. He was found dead on February 5, 1982 after he allegedly hanged himself with his scarf in his prison cell.