Aislinn Laing, Telegraph (London), March 12, 2013
The remains of two young men believed to be Lolo Sono, 21, and Siboniso Tshabalala, 19, were dug up in Soweto on Tuesday as their families looked on.
If their identities are confirmed, and suspected stab wounds to their bodies verified, police are expected to launch a murder investigation into their disappearance in November 1988.
Sono and Tshabalala were couriers for the ANC’s armed wing during the struggle against apartheid. But in the tense and deeply paranoid atmosphere of the time, they found themselves accused by Mrs Madikizela-Mandela and her Soweto-based vigilante gang of being police informers.
Eleven years later, after apartheid ended, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to shed light on past atrocities heard from several witnesses that the pair were abducted by Mrs Madikizela-Mandela and her gang, and that she had ordered them killed for allegedly betraying the cause championed by her husband.
Mrs Madikizela-Mandela, who is a prominent ANC MP, 76, has denied any link to the disappearances.
In 1991 she was convicted for her role in the abduction and death of another suspected police informant, Stompie Moeketsi, 14, in December 1988, and handed six years imprisonment, reduced to a fine and suspended sentence on appeal.
Late last year, a missing persons task force set up to find those who vanished during apartheid discovered an old police docket concerning the bodies of two men found stabbed to death and dumped in a Soweto field the day after Sono and Tshabalala were reported missing. A picture of one of the bodies was shown to Tshabalala’s mother, and she identified it as that of her son.
DNA samples were taken from both families and on Tuesday, forensic scientists began digging up an unmarked grave in a Soweto cemetery where police buried the bodies.
Madeleine Fullard, head of the missing persons unit, said the remains of two young men had been recovered and would now be sent for analysis.
“The bodies appear to have suffered trauma to the ribs consistent with stabbing injuries,” she said. “All the indications are that they are the two we are looking for. We hope to be able to give these families the news they have been waiting so long for.” Police are remaining tight-lipped about the sensitive case, with one detective telling a local paper that President Jacob Zuma is being kept updated on its progress. But they have indicated that if the identities of the bodies are confirmed, they will begin a murder investigation.
Piers Pigou, a TRC investigator, said any previous prosecution had been hampered by the lack of bodies.
“This finding strengthens the case against Mrs Madikizela-Mandela and the credibility of those who testified against her,” he said.
But he added that while it would bring back “ghosts to haunt” the prominent politician, he did not expect to see her in court.
“It’s not because there isn’t an empirical case to pursue, it’s more to do with the politics of containment around past TRC cases,” he said.
Mrs Madikizela-Mandela could not be reached for comment.