A group of elderly Mamelodi mothers have one wish - to confront the man who lured their sons to their deaths in a dark alley. "We want the truth," said Maria Ntuli from her home on Monday. "And the man who knows the truth is Joe Mamasela." Her son, Jeremia Ntuli, 16, and nine other young men, most of whom were teenagers, were killed in 1986 by an apartheid hit squad.
Mamasela, an askari, confessed that he had recruited the boys to join the ANC in Botswana. But instead he led them into an ambush. When they finally learnt in 1995 that their loved ones had been killed nine years earlier, the mothers and sisters of the Mamelodi 10 formed a support group. They met every week to discuss how to find out where their loved ones were buried so they can find some closure.
Wives and mothers of other residents killed by the security forces during the 1980s also joined the group called Khulumani, which means "speak out". "We counselled each other and consoled our pain," said Maria.
For the last 10 years, the women have continued to meet and have become more than friends; they see each other as family. The women felt that they had taken a giant step closer to finding the truth last week, when on Human Rights Day they gathered at the dusty Winterveldt Cemetery north-west of Tshwane. "It has been 19 years of tears. We want to bury our sons with dignity," Maria said.
Forensic anthropologists unearthed five bodies the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is confident belong to the Mamelodi 10. But then Mamasela cast doubt on the findings. On Friday he said the remains could not possibly be those of the Mamelodi 10 because they had been burnt to cinders. They now say Mamasela is playing with the truth.
"If only I could meet Mamasela, I'll get answers," said Maggie Nkabinde, the mother of 19-year-old Morris. Catherine Phiri, sister of 22-year-old Thomas, said: "We just want answers." Maria nodded. "We are anxious to meet him."
Madeleine Fullard, the head of the NPA's missing person's task team, said the NPA did not believe the bodies had been burnt to ashes and that a paper trail had proved that although badly burnt, the remains had been taken to Winterveldt Cemetery in 1986. "We knew the remains were at Winterveldt, but because the cemetery is disorganised it had been extremely difficult to find the graves," Fullard said.
NPA investigators went through records and registers, spoke to cemetery caretakers and gravediggers and poured over aerial photographs to reconstruct a plan of the cemetery. "We learnt that the Mamelodi 10 were buried with four other paupers. We found the grave number of one of the paupers and were able to trace this to a grave," said Fullard.
She said a 1986 post-mortem report of the remains made references to limbs missing, which seemed to be consistent with the bodies that had been exhumed. "The bodies exhumed are young men, teenagers, who suffered severe burning," she said. There would be a DNA analysis. The probe was launched after President Mbeki called on the NPA in 2003 to finalise missing persons cases which arose from the Truth Commission.
"In addition to the rest of the graves believed to belong to the Mamelodi 10, we hope to recover the remains of another eight activists killed by the Northern Transvaal Security Branch in 1986 and 1987," Fullard said.
What happened to the Mamelodi 10 was outlined when Jack Cronje, Jaques Hechter, Paul van Vuuren, Wouter Mentz and Roelf Venter told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that in June 1986 Mamasela, posing as a member of MK, recruited the boys. He had promised to take them to Botswana for military training. Instead, at Nietverdiend, the security officers ordered the young men to get out of the vehicle and injected them with a chemical.
They were then put in a kombi packed with explosives and doused with petrol and set alight. The officers received amnesty, but Mamasela, who admitted to his role in the murders, never applied for amnesty. He was declared a section 204 witness, which means that he received indemnity from prosecution as long as he was a satisfactory witness.