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Durban - A Durban widow, who took the National Prosecuting Authority to court for damaging her husband’s gravesite so they could locate the graves of ANC MK cadres, has been granted permission to exhume her husband’s remains to ensure they have not been disturbed.
On Friday, Govindamma Joseph brought an urgent application against the NPA and eThekwini municipality in the Durban High Court asking that she be allowed to have her husband Ernest’s remains exhumed and examined by a pathologist. Her husband died in a car crash in 2005.
She also wanted to have a Catholic priest perform the last rites on the remains and have the gravesite restored.
Judge Graham Lopes said even if Joseph had given consent, she had not given the NPA permission to “smash the headstone and damage the gravesite”.
After deliberations between advocate Ryan Naidu, acting for the NPA, and Joseph’s advocate, Rema Mahabeer, Judge Lopes granted an order taken by consent allowing for the exhumation.
The municipality was also ordered to ensure that the gravesite was restored.
In her affidavit, Joseph said in November last year she was visited by Deborah Quin from the NPA’s Missing Persons Task Team who asked for her consent to exhume her husband’s remains at the Redhill Cemetery.
“I was informed that she was searching for the remains of political prisoners Sthembiso Gambu, Sihle Luthuli and Bhekithemba Luthuli killed during 1986 and 1987 whom she believed were also buried in the same grave as my husband or in close proximity to the gravesite.”
Joseph said she did not give permission for the exhumation as she had first wanted to consult her children and church elders.
She went to her husband’s gravesite on December 26 to perform a religious ceremony and discovered that the grave had been disturbed.
She said the soil had been excavated and the tombstone and granite base had been broken, and pieces were strewn about.
“My daughters and I were devastated. In light of the exhumation of the deceased’s body, my religious belief ordains that the last rites ritual has to be performed again as his body has been disturbed. According to our beliefs and tradition, any disturbances on the gravesite are considered to be the desecration of the gravesite.”
She said when she asked what had happened, the cemetery manager, Desmond Munsami, told her the grave had been exhumed by NPA officials on November 8.
In a letter to Joseph’s attorney, Rajesh Hiralall, which formed part of court papers, Quin said Joseph had given her permission for her husband’s grave to be exhumed.
“Joseph (the deceased) was not removed from his grave. His remains were moved to one side for remains underneath to be removed. The remains were placed back in their exact position and covered.”
Quin also claimed that the tombstone and grave had been damaged before she had arrived at the site.
Joseph denied this in her affidavit and said she had not given permission and the headstone had only been cracked.
Joseph’s daughter Christabel Mothi said outside court that her family had been traumatised by the ordeal.
“I would not want another family to go through what we went through. The way this was handled was not right.”