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Pietermaritzburg - Two families of struggle stalwarts that died in exile in the 1980s have expressed anger over the decision by Msunduzi Municipality to remove tombstones from the men's graves.

The move by Msunduzi Municipality to remove the tombstones at the graves of former South African Communists Party (SACP) secretary-general Moses Mabhida and Africa National Congress (ANC) executive member Johnny Makhathini was described by family members as "inconsiderate".

The tombstones were apparently removed because the ground was soft and there were fears that they would cave in.

Mabhida’s remaining daughter, Thuthukile Mabhida, said she wanted to know where her father's tombstone was. “Where have you ever heard of a tombstone getting removed without a family's consent? This shows total disregard for us," she said. 

Thuthukile thought the gravesite had been vandalised because she was unaware of the removal, she said. There had been episodes in Pietermaritzburg where tombstones had been stolen, she added. The facility was also not well maintained, she said. 

The spokesperson for Msunduzi Municipality, Thobeka Mafumbatha, said they were aware of the current state of the cemetery in terms of security and maintenance. 

"It is with great regret that the Mabhida family had to experience this, however, we are doing our best to ensure that this doesn’t happen again," said Mafumbatha.

The news about the state of the graves emerged two weeks ago at the Moses Mabhida memorial lecture in Imbali Township, which was addressed by SACP secretary-general Dr. Blade Nzimande. 

Valerie Makhathini, Johnny Makhathini's widow, reacted with shock at the news that her husband's tombstone had been removed. 

"I have informed family members and we are planning to visit the cemetery so that we can see it first-hand," she told African News Agency (ANA).  

SACP KZN secretary Themba Mthembu said he knew of the removal of the tombstones but did not know the families were unaware thereof.

"Clearly this was handled recklessly by the people concerned, because you cannot do anything to somebody's grave without their knowledge," said Mthembu. 

He said that the SACP was considering lodging a complaint with the municipality.

Mabhida, who was also a senior leader in the ANC, died in exile in Mozambique in 1986 and his remains were finally returned to South Africa in 2006.

Makhathini died in Zambia in 1988. His remains were repatriated in February 2010.

African News Agency (ANA)