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Two cabinet ministers are involved in a squabble over the bungled return of the prisoner in a Canadian jail initially believed to be Mbuyisa Makhubo, the man who carried the lifeless body of Hector Pieterson after he was shot dead by apartheid police on June 16, 1976.
Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor is said to have been livid over how her Arts and Culture counterpart, Paul Mashatile, handled and arranged what was supposed to be a heroic welcome for the man initially believed to be Makhubo, a prospect that was shattered by negative DNA results.
The spat has also shed light on how the government planned to draw political mileage out of Makhubo’s alleged discovery, with President Jacob Zuma also being briefed about the possible return.
The Sunday Independent has learnt that Pandor confronted Mashatile at the last ANC national executive committee meeting about how he had hurriedly pronounced on the Makhubo case.
According to reliable sources close to the situation, Pandor complained to Mashatile that his department had created an impression that she was stalling in issuing temporary travel documents for “Makhubo”.
“This was based on statements made by the department that they had done everything on their part to repatriate the man, but were now waiting on Home Affairs,” said the source.
Pandor apparently felt undermined and that her reputation was being damaged by the statement as it appeared that she was stalling what could be a historic moment in post-democratic South Africa because of the significance of Makhubo and the 1976 Soweto uprising.
Pandor, through her spokesman Lunga Ngqengelele, said they would neither confirm nor deny whether she had any discussion with Mashatile about the matter.
Mashatile’s spokesman Mogomotsi Magodiri said Pandor, along with other ministers who could assist in the repatriation, and Zuma, were briefed about the process, but did not respond to whether Mashatile was confronted by Pandor at the NEC meeting.
Mashatile announced then that Makhubo’s family had been contacted and that they were waiting for DNA results to confirm that the prisoner was indeed Makhubo.
Had the DNA results came back positive, he would have been flown back on the weekend of September 21/22.
Various government departments were on stand-by for the release of the DNA results that would confirm the man as Makhubo.
There were plans to use his anticipated return to create publicity for the “Freedom Fridays” campaign as a build-up to next year’s 20 year anniversary of post-democratic South Africa.
According to confidential correspondence, which The Sunday Independent has seen, International Relations Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim and Joburg mayor Parks Tau were on standby to meet Makhubo’s family along with Mashatile.
The three would have addressed a press conference to announce Makhubo’s return, which was to be held at a site near his home and where he was photographed by acclaimed photographer Sam Nzima while running with Pieterson’s lifeless body.
Pandor is not mentioned as having been invited to take part in the press briefings or meeting the Makhubo family, apart from providing travel documents.
Such was the haste to bring “Makhubo” home on that particular weekend that even though psychological assessments had certified that he was fit to travel, there were plans to give him a sedative to ensure he had no trouble flying.
An official at Home Affairs, who may not be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the press, said there was a view that Mashatile had run with the purported Makhubo return to boost his political credibility after the losses he suffered at Mangaung, where he supported Kgalema Motlanthe’s failed bid for the ANC’s presidency.
“If it turned out that it was indeed Makhubo, it would have seen Mashatile being hailed as a hero for bringing home a long-lost icon to the country and his family, which had not seen him for more than 37 years.
“It would probably have done him some good to be the man who brought home the 1976 icon,” said the official.
It is not clear whether the department is still pursuing the repatriation of the man.
The Makhubo family spokesman Mbali Simelane said this week: “We are still talking to the government and there are discussions under way, but we cannot divulge what those are about.”