In search of dignity for the victims of gallows

2011-12-17 18:00

It’s not known if during his walk up the 52 steps leading to the gallows of Pretoria Central Prison where he was eventually hanged, Nkosincinci Maseti sang revolutionary songs in defiance or simply walked in silence as most condemned prisoners are said to have done.

What is known, though, is that on that spring morning of September 26 1967, Maseti became one of 134 political prisoners executed between 1960 and 1989.

In total, more than 4?000 people were hanged in South Africa during that period.

Maseti, then only 37, was sentenced to death with four other men for his role in the killing of suspected collaborator Klaas Hoza in Paarl in 1962.

Hoza, a cleaner at the “Bantu Office” in the town allegedly leaked information about members of the Pan Africanist Congress military wing, Poqo, to the police.

The morning of the execution, as the hangman pulled the lever that opened the trapdoor under the feet of Maseti and the other condemned men, a little girl of three carried on with life as usual, unaware of the tragic events unfolding hundreds of kilometres away from her home in the village of Machubeni in the Eastern Cape district of Lady Frere.

On Wednesday, Hombisa Maseti, now 47, broke down when she spotted a photograph of her father among the 134 others on the walls of the gallows death chamber at Pretoria Central Prison.

“It was tough seeing that handsome face.

He was only 37 years old. To think he was killed in that brutal manner, such a young life.

To see the white masks they put over their heads, the trapdoor, all that brutality broke my heart,” said Hombisa.

She feels again like a three-year-old girl, although back then she was oblivious of the agony her father, Maseti, was going through as she probably played happily in the serenity of her village home.

Her mother Miriam and an aunt had made the trip to Pretoria to attend the brief church service that preceded the hanging of prisoners.

Miriam, a teacher by profession, had paid a sum of R4 to afford her husband the dignity of being buried in a single grave.

Late on Wednesday afternoon, Hombisa stood before her father’s grave in Rebecca Street, Pretoria West.

Supported by family friend Duduzile Nzimande (61), she stood quietly at the grave marked only by a yellow cloth bearing the grave number 3756, before saying a silent prayer.

She became conscious of her father’s absence in her life after her mother died when she was only 10.
Family members wouldn’t tell her what had happened to him.

As a result she became angry and rebellious but a ray of hope emerged after the political changes of 1994. She learnt the truth about her father and thus began her quest to finally reunite with him.

With the help of contacts in the PAC she managed to trace her father’s grave in Pretoria.

“What really touched me was that the grave was just flat. You couldn’t even tell someone was buried there. At the same time I was happy that at last I had a link with my father,” she said.

She plans to exhume his remains and rebury them next to those of her mother.

“I feel sorry for my mother. I wonder what she must have gone through. But I want to unite them. I need closure,” she said.

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