Durban - The chilling discovery of bodies in mass graves on KwaZulu-Natal’s South Coast has triggered an in-depth investigation by authorities.
Provincial spokesman Thami Ngwenya said in a statement at the weekend that a memorandum was presented to KwaZulu-Natal’s executive council, informing it of the discovery of the graves on Glenroy Farm in Dududu.
The number of bodies could not be confirmed on Monday morning, but a media report has put the figure at 100.
Authorities were alerted to the presence of the graves by a local sangoma.
“This is the farm that was known for using prison farm labourers. A task team comprising representatives from the Office of the Premier and Department of Arts and Culture was established to look into this matter.”
Ngwenya said the National Prosecuting Authority, Department of Home Affairs and others would be enlisted for further forensic investigation to determine the identities of those buried.
“Such an investigation should not be limited to the identification… of those remains in the mass graves, but must include documentation of the history and effects of influx control laws.”
Private forensics consultant Dr David Klatzow said the discovery had been a “disturbing one”.
Klatzow has lent his forensic investigation skills to other prominent cases such as the Helderberg crash, the shooting of Chris Hani, the Piet Retief massacre and the murders of the Gugulethu Seven.
“The scene - and the wider area around it - will now need to be sealed off and frozen in time. There must be no disturbance of it with a front-loader or shovel… It must be excavated as one would an archeological site,” he told the Daily News on Monday morning.
He said experts would need to determine if they all died at about the same time.
Klatzow, who holds a PhD in Medical Biochemistry, said a joint operational command centre needed to be set up to ensure the scene remained protected.
“There should be nobody coming or going… without a reason to be there. The scene needs to be rigorously controlled,” he said.
He said every item, be it a button, newspaper, document or piece or type of clothing needed to be documented, positionally fixed and bagged to keep the chain of evidence intact. The bodies needed to be examined to determine roughly when they died, he said.
“The remains will go to the mortuary where DNA from the long bones or spinal column can be extracted and tested. The challenge would be comparing it to living relatives. They need to be notified that their family members have been found,” he said.
Klatzow said that people who lived in the area would need to be canvassed for information to piece together what might have happened.
He said that if the men had been prisoners, they might have had poor family connections, meaning that nobody had been looking for them.
He said a number of unconfirmed reports of mass graves, filled with victims of “hit squads”, had emerged in recent years ago but no evidence had been found.
Local chief Mjokwana Mqadi said there had long been stories about killings on the farm. “We would hear that people were slaughtered on that farm and sometimes prisoners would escape and run through our area in their escape.”
He said although they had always thought these to be folk tales, they were not surprised when, late last year, a sangoma told the tribal authority of her visions of buried bodies.
He said the family who had owned the farm were well known to the community but after the farmer died about 20 years ago, the land had been sold to a sugar manufacturing company.
“The community is in shock that they have been living with all these restless spirits for all these years. We would like to see the bones being returned to their families so that their spirits will rest,” Mqadi said.
Department of Arts and Culture spokesman, Lethukuthula Mtshali, said the sites of three mass graves had been found on the property. One of the sites had distinguishable separate graves, but no headstones.
He said the sangoma who alerted them to the site had been interviewed by the department’s oral history unit.
The unit was commissioned by Arts and Culture MEC Ntombikayise Sibhidla-Saphetha to document “the untold stories of KZN’s history”.