Kotane, Marks to be repatriated

By Drum Digital
23 February 2015

The remains of struggle heroes JB Marks and Moses Kotane will be repatriated to South Africa from Russia, Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said in Johannesburg on Monday.

"[President Jacob Zuma] has tasked us, as the department of arts and culture, to lead and co-ordinate the repatriation and reburial of these two legends," Mthethwa said.

The first South African delegation, including Mthethwa, would leave for Russia later on Monday.

Mthethwa said those unfamiliar with Marks and Kotane could not claim to know South Africa's history as they had been instrumental in defining the freedom and democracy the country now enjoyed.

Political activist and trade unionist John Beaver (JB) Marks served as president of the Transvaal Branch of the African National Congress and was elected chairman of the SA Communist Party in 1962.

In 1963 he was sent to the ANC external mission in Tanzania.

He became ill in 1971 and went to the then-Soviet Union. He died of a heart attack in Moscow the following year.

Kotane was the secretary general of the SACP from 1939 until his death in 1978. He was selected to study at the Lenin School in Moscow.

Kotane, one of the first activists to be banned under the Suppression of Communism Act, suffered a stroke in 1968 and went for treatment in the then-Soviet Union, where he died in 1978.

Both were buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

Kotane will be reburied in Pella, North West, on March 14, and Marks in Ventersdorp, on March 22.

Zuma has granted them both special official funerals.

Mthethwa said the repatriation of their remains should offer an opportunity for South Africans to remember them.

"It is a serious indictment that our children do not know the men and women who brought about democracy and freedom.

"We need to work together to tell the story of where we come from and celebrate our heroes."

There would be a special reception at the Waterkloof Air Force Base, outside Pretoria, to celebrate their repatriation on March 2.

Kotane's son Sam Kotane expressed the family's gratitude to Zuma and all those who had helped have his father's remains brought home.

His mother, Rebecca Kotane, now 103, approached Zuma last year to request the repatriation.

"Prior to that, apparently... there was some conversation where my father said to my mom, the work he was doing, he did not know where he would end up, but he strongly believed he would be accepted in that country or community.

"We tried as a family to change her mind... that she should not take that literally. We are saying, as Africans we believe that the spirit does not rest until [the body] comes back."

Sam Kotane last saw his father alive in 1977, when he visited him in a Russian sanitorium.

"He was bedridden. He no longer was vigorous, active, but he still cracked jokes. He spoke Russian to his caregivers."

He shared "some brief, very intimate moments" with his father during that visit.

Mthethwa said the repatriation of Marks' and Kotane's remains had the potential to bring together South Africans from diverse backgrounds to celebrate and express their unity.

"We believe the memory and legacy of these two struggle icons continues to sharply define the ideals and aspirations of the society we want to be: just, equal and prosperous.

"We believe they will always remain inspirational figures whose stories have the power to remind us of where we come from."

-SAPA

Pictures courtesy of dirco.gov.za

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