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They walked day and night from Botswana and jumped the border into South Africa on October 27, 1978.
When exhaustion caught up with them, a small contingent of the ANC’s uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) cadres decided to seek refuge under an Acacia tree on the outskirts of Masutlhe village outside Mafikeng, North West.
So worn out they were that they almost immediately caught a nap while resting giving their enemy enough time to spot and surround them.
In no time, a helicopter was hovering above them. They were surrounded by apartheid forces but the struggle combatants were not willing to give in without a fight.
An aggressive skirmish ensued with bullets spewed from the helicopter above and all around the MK cadres.
Fast forward, 34 years later, families of the two members who were involved in this bloody confrontation found closure and were close to confirming that their loved ones who skipped the country to join MK and never returned home were in fact killed by apartheid forces.
Indications were that Cyprian Bheki Hlatshwayo, alias MK Bismarck, from Soweto and Vuyani Goniwe from Alice in the Eastern Cape died in a grenade explosion during the clash 34 years ago.
Their remains were stashed in one coffin and buried in an unmarked grave at the Old Mmabatho Cemetery less than a kilometre from Bophuthatswana parliament and about 200 metres from a police station.
After years of following on leads in a bid to help families find closure, more than 10 graves were excavated by the NPA’s Missing Persons Task Team in search of Goniwe and Hlatshwayo’s remains since April this year.
They then later last month decided to dig up a flat grave where they made a grisly discovery of fragmented bones in what looked like a white plastic wrap.
The grave was then covered again to allow families to be informed and arrangements made for them to be present for the exhumation.
Families struggled to hold back tears as they stood on the very same ground where their loved ones lost their lives in a hail of bullets and explosives on Friday.
They wept and comforted one another as those around them softly sang and hummed “Senzeni na kulomhlaba, kuyisono ukuba mnyama?” (What have we done; our sin is that we are black).
NPA spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said the skeletal remains will be sent for forensic analysis to confirm identities and cause of death before they are handed over to families for reburials.
Goniwe and Hlatswayo were part of a reconnaissance unit that infiltrated South Africa from Botswana. Their fellow unit member Tladitsaga Molefe, alias MK Ncosi, was shot in the leg and captured a day after the skirmish.
He was later charged in the renowned Pietermaritzburg treason trial and subsequently imprisoned on Robben Island.
The bodies of the two MK members were to be exhumed in Mafikeng on Friday.