Tears in memory of Matola raid

2011-02-26 15:41

It’s boiling hot on Rua de Ngungunyane in Matola, a laid-back town a stone’s throw away from ­Mozambique’s capital, Maputo.

Mbulelo Musi, a former ANC combatant, is in tears in the back garden of house number 877, a former ANC safe house used by its soldiers in Matola in the early 1980s.

Musi explains to Eleanor ­Khanyile how her husband, William – himself an ANC soldier and Musi’s housemate – was gunned down in a raid by South African Defence Force (SADF) Special Forces disguised as Mozambican soldiers in the early hours of the morning on January 30 1981.

The pain of reliving the ­experience – being burned and hit by shrapnel from a shell pumped through his bedroom wall by the raiders and of seeing his colleagues die – is written all over his face.

Khanyile also breaks down.

MP Thandi Memela and councillor Sam Kikene hand them tissues and try to comfort them. Musi gathers himself and continues his story.

Khanyile and 11 colleagues (see sidebar) were killed in synchronised attacks on three ANC safe houses by SADF units, which had illegally crossed the border into Mozambique in a bid to intimidate the ­Mozambican government into abandoning its support for the ANC.

Another colleague, Mduduzi Sibanyoni, was dragged to safety by Musi but died from his wounds a few months later.

Musi, Khanyile, Krishna Rabilal’s younger brother Raj and family members of some of the other ­victims are here as guests of the South African and Mozambican governments as part of the official launch of a monument – set to be completed by December – to those killed as well as other combatants killed in raids in Mozambique.

The funeral of the victims, ­addressed by then ANC president Oliver Tambo and his Mozambican counterpart, Samora Maçhel, was held on Valentine’s Day 1981 – later declared the Day of Friendship by ­Mozambique, hence the ­significance of visiting the house 30 years later last week.

The monument, which will ­include an interactive centre, will carry the names of the Matola 13, of ­anti-apartheid activist Ruth First – killed in 1982 by a parcel bomb – and the names of others murdered in ­illegal ­cross-border raids and ­bombings from the 1970s onwards.

It’s been a long time coming. ­

Earlier initiatives to build the ­monument have been erratic, with ­sod-turnings and signings of ­memorandums amounting to little.

The families, two of which attended the 1981 funerals – the rest were refused passports – have over the years battled to get to Matola, ­receiving only limited government support for the journey.

They are, however, positive about the new initiative, now championed by Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile and his Mozambican counterpart, Armando Artur Jao, who this week signed a new ­memorandum of understanding, committing to the monument being built by the end of the year.

On Monday, it’s clear that both governments have thrown effort, time and money into the ­commemoration.

The function after the site visit is packed with ANC and Frelimo brass and family members of at least five victims; the gravesites at Maputo’s Lhanguene Cemetery are clean and well-tended; and provincial ­government representatives from both ­nations go out of their way to stress their commitment to ­ensuring that the memory of the dead is ­respected.

Mashatile and Jao unveil a model of the monument, designed by ­renowned architect Vincente Joaquin, which will contain glass walls with the names and possessions of each of the dead. It will also feature a pedestrian walkway.

Mashatile describes the process as “an opportunity to turn the tragedy of Matola into a process of ­building bridges of friendship’’ ­between South Africa and Mozambique.

He also rightly links the commemoration to the need to stem the tide of xenophobia in South Africa, much of it aimed at Mozambicans.

Rabilal says while he and other family members managed to get to the funeral and have made the ­pilgrimage to Matola every year since 2002 – when the first bilateral government commemoration was held – other families have struggled ­because of their financial situation.

“There hasn’t been a lot of help from government over the years, but it is improving now. We have at least had passports and money to travel here.

“The other families haven’t. It’s comforting to know that their contributions and their sacrifices are being fully acknowledged and that their names will live on,” he says.

“We were never convinced by the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) process and the fact that the names of those who ordered the killings and those who pulled the triggers have not been made public, nor the names of those who supplied the intelligence for the raid. We have learned to live with that.

“This doesn’t exactly give us closure, but it does ease the pain when we see that our family members are receiving the respect they deserve.”

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