MK fighter ‘Billy Holiday’ reburied in heroes’ acre
Cape Town - Mkhonto we Sizwe fighter Norman “Billy Holiday” Petersen was killed by the apartheid unrest unit in New Crossroads on March 11, 1987, and buried, under police guard, in an unmarked grave, leaving many questions about the circumstances of his death and the location of his grave.
However on Saturday at a ceremony in Paarl, Petersen’s contribution was honoured when he was laid to rest in his home town’s heroes’ acre with full military honours.
Politicians, Struggle veterans and relatives reflected on Petersen’s contribution to the Struggle which several speakers said, should “speak to his movement” and serve as a wake-up call to some of the leaders who had lost their way.
Petersen’s coffin, draped in the ANC flag and flanked by an MK military guard of honour, was escorted into the hall of the Klein Drakenstein Senior Secondary School where he was a pupil at the time he was recruited into the underground military.
Ceremony programme director Tommy Matthee summed up the mood in the hall. “We lost a man in such a cowardly way and it is sad because his possible contribution after 1994 is lost forever. But now, in this ceremony, his death is uniting us.”
Family representative Yusuf Patel focused on many unanswered questions when he repeated the statement of Petersen’s relative Kathleen Williams to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
She had said: “I want to know what happened that day in Gugulethu, who shot my son, who gave the order and how the South African Police knew of Norman.”
Patel thanked the National Prosecuting Authority’s missing persons unit for its work in finding and identifying Petersen’s body.
Their work had “given decency and dignity to our fallen comrade”.
Addressing Petersen directly, Patel said: “May you dwell among the martyrs, son of the soil. You gave us dignity and self respect, you were like a burning candle, burning yourself out to give light to the world.”
Patel had a message for present-day leaders: “If you cannot adopt the spirit of Norman Petersen, don’t stand for our people.”
Former MK commander Patrick Ricketts, who left the country with the then-15-year-old Petersen, said the young man “consciously took up the armed struggle”.
Ricketts then dropped a bombshell when he publicly claimed what many had long suspected, that Petersen’s death was the result of betrayal.
“In relation to Norman there is now new evidence that indicates that Norman was betrayed, which led to his execution. They are here, they don’t have skin on their faces, and they were paid handsome pockets of money for this,” Petersen’s former commander said.
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha later made a ceremonial handover of the fighter’s remains to his family.
He also reminded the gathering that Petersen and other fighters’ lives “are reminders that we dare not betray the sacrifices of others, who paid with their lives”.