Families of six members of Poqo - the armed wing of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) who were hanged in 1963 watch at the remains of the activists were exhumed at the Mamelodi West Cemetery in Pretoria. Picture: ANA

Pretoria - Families of six members of Poqo - the armed wing of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) - who were hanged in 1963 became emotionally overwhelmed on Wednesday as their remains were exhumed at the Mamelodi West Cemetery.

The sombre ceremony which started off with the families retracing their slain kinsmen's final steps before they were hanged at the gallows - in the now Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre on the outskirts of Pretoria CBD -  was led by the Missing Persons Task Team (MPTT) of the National Prosecuting Authority, in conjunction with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) unit of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.

A grateful retired major-general Daniel Mahato Mofokeng, former chief of the Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA), described the six as "martyrs of the PAC".

"Today we are exhuming six of our martyrs ... who were executed. This is a programme that the PAC has approved and the government is executing it through justice [department]. We are very thankful that the government is giving support to the families of the deceased who are martyrs of the PAC," Mofokeng told journalists. 

"The government is so giving support to the PAC. It has been a very painful road. PAC activists were executed in large numbers from 1961 until we got our democracy. Those who were executed at the maximum prison were almost 100."

He said numerous other PAC activists who opposed apartheid died in detention while others were killed in combat.

"Those who can be accounted for, their names are there at the Kgosi Mampuru maximum prison. What is happening is that today the government is releasing these people [the remains of the combatants] because they had been convicted, so they had been State property until today. Today, the government is exhuming and giving the remains the people [families] and for reburial later on," said Mofokeng.

"What must be understood is that when you were executed by the apartheid government, you remained State property until the government releases you to family. So, the families could not do anything about them because they belonged to the State. That is why we are keen that this process must be done."

He said the burial of the convicted was also heart-rending as several bodied were "thrown into a pit".

According to the NPA, the six PAC activists, who are better known as the "Cofimvaba 6", are Modi Mbiso, 26, Zenzile May, 27, Goli Sonamzi, 27, Katzekile Pilali, 28, Siqwayi Mhlaba, 27, and Nkosinam Ngalo, also aged 27.

"All six were members of the PAC's armed wing Poqo in Cape Town who were sent to target a certain chief and headman in the Cofimvaba area in the Eastern Cape. The group was provided with money, pangas and knives, and they travelled from Cape Town to Banzi location near St Marks. There, they attacked and killed headman Gwebindala Gqoboza on 19 October 1962," said a statement issued by the NPA.

"The six were charged with murder, they were found guilty and were sentenced to death on 7 February 1963. They were denied leave to appeal and all six were hanged at the Pretoria gallows just three months later, on 9 May 1963."

The ongoing exhumations form part of the Gallows Exhumation Project launched by Minister of Justice Michael Masutha in 2016, aimed at recovering the remains of political prisoners who were hanged at the gallows prior to the suspension of the death penalty in 1990. 

The hanged political prisoners were given pauper burials at different areas around Pretoria.

African News Agency (ANA)