Editorial: Families of missing activists need closure

AS much as South Africa has attempted to purge itself of the pain of the most brutal and heart-wrenching crimes committed by the apartheid regime, there are those families who still have to relive personal horrors to this day.

It is 30 years since Port Elizabeth political activist Michael “Popi” Magwaca vanished after being arrested at his home by the then government’s heinous security police, but today his now elderly widow and relatives are no closer to the truth of what happened to him and the whereabouts of his remains.

It is by no means an isolated case – and persists as a glaring example of how, as much as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) may have tried to find answers for the thousands for whom it sought to provide at least some closure, it fell hopelessly short for many others.

The remains have yet to be found of more than 400 people who went missing from police custody during the country’s darkest days as apartheid’s death knell was beginning to sound and those in power resorted to draconian measures to quash insurrection.

But, as we report today, in the Magwaca family’s case there are witnesses who can provide clues.

Whatever the reasons the testimony of former fellow activist Nobomvu Sandlana – believed to be the last person to see Magwaca in custody – was never investigated, or why she was never called before the TRC, the point is the 83-year-old is still able to give a chilling account of what were probably his last hours.

The National Prosecuting Authority says the witnesses’s name has not previously come to light and that authorities will now follow up, but it does seem incredulous that this should have taken the better part of two decades.

It is absolutely vital that such cases be given the full attention of those tasked with the job of providing if only a modicum of peace to those whose private torture has never receded.

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