Expert to examine activists’ skeletons

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winnie_exhume THE STAR An official digs at Avalon cemetery in Soweto to exhume the bones of Lolo Sono and Siboniso Shabalala. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Johannesburg - Investigators want a world expert in blunt-force trauma to examine exhumed skeletons to help establish the cause of death for two men whose murder could be linked to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Forensic anthropologists will be asking Professor Steven Symes of Mercyhurst College, Pennsylvania in the US, if he will examine the skeletons while he is on a visit to South Africa next month.

The remains are believed to be that of missing activists Lolo Sono and Siboniso Shabalala.

Symes, according to forensic anthropologist Claudia Bisso, is a world expert on blunt trauma wounds and burns, and he has worked on several high-profile cases both overseas and in South Africa.

On Tuesday, the National Prosecuting Authority’s missing persons task team and the SAPS exhumed the remains at the Avalon cemetery in Soweto. They were taken to a state mortuary.

The exhumation came as police said they were re-examining two cases of murder linked to Sono and Shabalala. The focus of the investigation is on testimony given by Sono’s father, Nicodemus, who at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1996 said that he had last seen his son badly beaten in a minibus in which Madikizela-Mandela had been a passenger. Police said everyone in the vehicle was seen as a suspect.

winnie mar 13 Art, furniture and a silver tea set belonging to ANC struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela are set to go under the hammer to repay a debt. Reuters

Two days after Sono’s alleged abduction, the bodies of two males were found in an open field in Diepkloof Extension. Both had multiple stab wounds to the chest, according to police dockets.

The two bodies, suspected to be that of Sono and Shabalala, were last year tracked by the missing persons task team to the two paupers’ graves at the cemetery.

Bisso said yesterday the hope was that the bones might reveal evidence of the knife attack that took place nearly a quarter of a century ago.

Symes has worked with the missing persons task team before, examining the remains of the Mamelodi nine, who were burnt beyond recognition in a minibus, close to the Botswana border.

In the next couple of days, the process of examining and trying to identify the bones will begin. First, the bones would be cleaned and laid out in anatomical position, said Bisso. Forensic anthropologists would then scrutinise the skeletons, looking for tell-tale signs that would tell them the sex and age of the individual.

“It would be nice to have the supporting evidence still on the bone,” said Brigadier Leonie Ras, of the SAPS’s victim identification centre.

Examining the hands and arms could even reveal whether the person was right- or left-handed, said Bisso.

The process would be photographed carefully. DNA samples are to be sent to Bosnia.

Once DNA is extracted, it will be compared to that of Sono and Shabalala’s mothers.

Meanwhile, the Hawks said on Wednesday that the investigation into the murder was proceeding.

Spokesman Captain Paul Ramaloko said that the families of the deceased were not willing to give statements yet.

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The Star

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