Remains of MK soldier found - PICS and VIDEO
Cape Town - After a painstaking search lasting nearly three decades, the remains of former umkhonto weSizwe (MK) soldier, Norman “Billy Holiday” Pietersen, who had been buried in an unmarked grave, were exhumed in Paarl on Wednesday.
Pietersen, originally from Paarl, was murdered in suspicious circumstances in his home in Crossroads in March 1987. He died after apartheid police pumped 12 shotgun pellets into his chest. He was 22.
At the time, the police’s unrest unit alleged that while members of the riot unit were searching the contents of a bag of arms in his room, Pietersen pulled away from the policemen holding him and tried to dive under the bed, where he armed himself with an AK47 and shot at them.
Two riot unit members apparently tried to pull Pietersen out from under the bed and a third member shot him dead.
Now, 29 years later, members of his MK unit, the Paarl community, the local municipality and the National Prosecuting Authorities’ (NPA) missing person’s task team have gone to extraordinary lengths to restore dignity to the soldier. They sought to rewrite the history as narrated by the apartheid regime by exhuming Pietersen’s remains and plan to rebury him at the Heroes Acre Cemetery in Paarl on April 27 – Freedom Day.
They found Pietersen buried in an unmarked grave in Groenheuwel Cemetery in the Overberg town, just metres away from an informal settlement. His bones were wrapped in black bags.
Forensic anthropologist and archaeologist Claudia Bisso spent several hours examining the remains before placing them in marked brown bags.
Former member of the NPA’s missing person task team and lecturer at UWC’s history department, Nicky Rousscou, said Bisso was checking if the remains matched a police autopsy submitted to the TRC.
“The missing persons task team confirmed his injuries are consistent with the description of the incident. At least 12 shotgun pellets were found in the cavity of his chest, which corresponds with the post mortem report,” she said.
Rousscou admitted the task team could not reconstruct the sequence of events that led up to Pietersen’s death, as described by police. She also conceded it would be too early to tell if there were any inconsistencies. “The NPA will examine the remains and see if there are discrepancies. They will then hand over the remains to be reburied.”
Pietersen’s former MK commander, Patrick Ricketts, 57, worked tirelessly to find the soldier, whom he considered his brother. He even tracked down the original gravedigger, France Petro, 57, who led the team to the site where Pietersen was buried decades ago.
“He was the youngest member of out MK unit. We were 35 members, the biggest in the Western Cape. He grew up poor. His biggest conviction was that his participation in the Struggle could alter the lives of people besides his own,” Ricketts said.
Pietersen was 15 when he was sent to Angola for military training in 1982, refusing to be taught in the apartheid schooling system. He was then sent to Bulgaria for more training, before being infiltrated into the country six years later.
“He was betrayed by somebody. The (apartheid) police gave an intelligence report on the shoot-out Norman was involved in. And if you look at the pictures and at the story, it does not tally. With the look of the (crime scene) pictures (submitted to the TRC by police), which is consistent with the family’s report, they shot at him through the door with a shotgun.
“They (police) shot him from the back while he engaged the enemy (police) in front at the window. One sneaked into the house and shot at him through the door. That was the fatal shot. He was in his 20s, but he was huge when he came back from Bulgaria. He was a slim and fragile kid when he left,” Ricketts said.
He added that most of his unit was buried in Angola where they died.
Thapelo Moakushane, of the TRC, said the commission handed over 93 exhumed remains to families of fallen Struggle heroes.
“Three hand-overs include symbolic burial whereby the remains were not recoverable, since the missing persons task team was established in 2005.”