Robben Island ritual helps with closure

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robben Island Repatriation_5431~1 Jonathan Jones Traditional healers Lina Boyes and Noni Booi take part in a repatriation ceremony at the Robben Island Museum with the families of the political prisoners whose remains were never found. Picture: JONATHAN JONES

Cape Town - Families of 12 of the prisoners who died on Robben Island and whose remains were never found will finally receive some closure after a traditional ceremony was held at the weekend.

The four-day spiritual repatriation process was held at Robben Island and came to an end on Sunday.

The families, who are mostly from the Eastern Cape, travelled to Cape Town for the ritual.

After more than two years of searching for the remains, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) could not locate the graves of the 12 prisoners who died while on Robben Island from 1963 to 1970.

The bodies were believed to be buried in unmarked graves at the Stikland Cemetery and the ceremony at the weekend was part of an initiative to restore dignity to the dead.

Thembela Mvalwana’s grandfather, Zincwasile Mvalwana, died on Robben island more than 40 years ago, and Mvalwana says the ritual had greatly helped his family.

“Our aim, according to our culture, is to take the soul back to the Eastern Cape. Before, my heart was always sore but now I’m relieved, I’m okay,” Mvalwana said.

Senior researcher at the Robben Island Museum Nolubabalo Tongo-Cetywayo said because the remains of the prisoners could not be located a way to help the family members find closure had to be figured out.

“It has been a wound that has been with them for more than 40 years,” Tongo-Cetywayo said.

“As a museum, we have to conserve the heritage.”

A memorial will be unveiled at Stikland Cemetery on March 21 with the names of the 12 prisoners, after which the families will finally be able to lay the dead to rest.

“They will have time to bury the spirit in their own way,” Tongo-Cetywayo said.

Grace Masuku, a member of the Robben Island Museum council said: “In African culture, when someone dies in a foreign land, their spirit should be returned to their place of birth.”

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