PAC members at the funeral venue. Photo: ANA

Graaff-Reinet - Government and the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania have blamed each other for the chaos at anti-apartheid activist Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe's funeral on Saturday. 

The funeral descended into chaos after PAC members refused to run the official programme for the funeral. Sobukwe was granted a category two state funeral by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The chaos led to the state withdrawing the official status for Sobukwe's funeral. Problems began when the coffin arrived at Graaff-Reinet Botanical Gardens where the funeral was scheduled to take place. PAC members, including veterans of its former armed wing, the Azanian People's Liberation Army, joined the police parade singing PAC liberation songs along with the police band.

They then forced their way into the venue and demanded to put up PAC branding along with official state branding. Government officials, including Deputy President David Mabuza, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Sport Minister Thulas Nxesi, and other officials from both national government and the Eastern Cape government abandoned the chaotic event and handed it over to the PAC.

Government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said, "It is sad that we had to withdraw as the government. Mama Sobukwe was granted category two of the state funeral, which meant that the people of South Africa are saying to this gallant thank you very much, we appreciate your activism. However, because of the disruptions the government had to pull back and cut short the programme."

She said it was not safe for Mabuza to speak because of the unruly display by PAC members. Deputy national police commissioner Lt-Gen Lebeoana Jacob Tsumane said mixing the national flag and a political party was not allowed at official funerals. "When the president announces that there's going to be a special funeral we need to put things together according to the procedure. Part of the procedure is that the flag is draped around the coffin. We have to respect that for the sake of the country and the Constitution."

PAC activists claimed it was the "arrogance" of Mapisa-Nqakula that collapsed the funeral. PAC leader Luthando Mbinda said the chaos was bound to happen because the party had been excluded in the programme. "You cannot talk about mama Sobukwe without talking about the PAC and you cannot talk about the Sobukwe family and leave out the PAC."

Sobukwe, the widow of PAC founder Robert Sobukwe, died at the age of 91 at her home in Graaff-Reinet last Wednesday.

African News Agency/ANA