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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 554
Paragraph Numbers 23 to 36
WORK ON EXHUMATIONS AFTER 1998
23. The Commission received hundreds of requests from families requesting that it trace and exhume the bodies of loved ones. Unfortunately it was not possible to deal with them all: once the Commission’s operational period came to an end, it was not permitted by law to continue with this process.
24. Given the fact that the families of victims were expressing a clear need for continued exhumations, the Commission undertook to discuss future exhumations with the Minister of Justice and the Inter-Ministerial Committee established to deal with matters relating to the Commission. At the end of 1998, the Commission advised then Minister of Justice and the Inter-Ministerial committee that many more families were requesting exhumations. In a number of instances, the requests related to the return of remains from exile and places outside the country. The Commission also advised the Minister that any future exhumation programme would require the establishment of clear guidelines and parameters to ensure its success.
25. One of the outcomes of the consultation was a commitment by the Commission to provide the Ministry of Justice and the Inter-Ministerial committee with a comprehensive report on exhumations already carried out, in order to assist government in making a decision on how it would deal with the matter. This was one of the most significant recommendations made in the Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee’s reparation policy.
26. The compilation of a comprehensive report on exhumations was one of the major tasks assigned to the Human Rights Violations (HRV) Committee in the period after the handing over of the Commission’s Final Report in October 1998.
27. The HRV Commissioner put a task team in place to produce this report. The report was intended to deal not only with exhumations that had been carried out, but also to allow the Commission to focus on guidelines and criteria for future exhumations. This process was facilitated at a management level by the Commission’s acting CEO, who made the necessary resources available.
28. A further issue that had to be considered was that the Commission had, in the early part of 1998, carried out an exhumation at Boshoek farm near Rustenburg in the Transvaal, which rendered up fifteen bodies instead of the two that had been expected. While the two bodies identified as activists had been handed over to families for reburial, the remaining thirteen needed to be identified so that arrangements for reburial could be made. As an interim measure, the Commission had contracted with Saffas Undertakers to hold the remaining thirteen bodies until such time as the Commission took a decision on how to finalise the matter.
29. The Commission decided that it would be proper to perform a forensic examination on the bodies before taking any decision on dealing with reburial. The matter was placed before the Amnesty Committee which approved the proposed forensic examination. The HRV Commissioner was able to obtain the assistance of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), who agreed to perform the forensic tests.
30. Using the facilities of the University of the Witwatersrand, the two EAAF members conducted forensic examinations and were able to establish conclusively that the thirteen bodies exhumed were deceased hospital patients and not political activists at all. Their report is available and is fairly conclusive in this respect .2 4 This raised concerns regarding the exhumation procedures adopted in certain cases and was one of the reasons a more detailed audit was then undertaken.
31. The HRV Commissioner set up a task team to conduct a complete audit of all exhumations conducted by the Commission. The team was made up of the HRV Commissioner, the former Commissioner in charge of the Investigation Unit (IU), the former IU director and two researchers.
32. A review of each of the exhumation case files was conducted in order to confirm the correctness and integrity of the process. All existing documentation relating to exhumations was collected, collated and analysed.
33. Investigators from the Johannesburg office and KwaZulu-Natal provided the task team with the case files. In addition, the chief investigator in charge of exhumations in the Johannesburg office gave the task team a verbal briefing and handed over all case folders, folders containing working notes and reports, various post-mortem and inquest documents, lists of MK deaths supplied by the ANC and a Security Branch photograph album with an index. This was to form the basis of the report.
34. The compilation of the report and dealing with the enquiries that were generated took a year. In the course of that year, the task team scrutinised each individual exhumation case. The task team also dealt with the following issues:
a An incident list of MK persons killed in combat, ambush or arrest situations was compiled, using a range of documentary sources. This was essential in order to link those exhumed with specific incidents – thus locating the correct post-mortem, inquest and gravesite documentation.
b Additional mortuary, inquest, photographic and fingerprinting records were sought and obtained.
c Statements and photographic albums were obtained from the SAPS Forensic Unit that had attended certain of the exhumations.
d Contact was made with former MK operatives and commanders who had survived and had information about incidents in which those exhumed had died.
35. Information was obtained according to the internationally accepted exhumation procedures used by bodies such as the United Nations.
36. The IU Director canvassed each exhumation case with the various investigators who had been involved with the exhumations.24 The Commission extends its thanks to the EAAF for its generous assistance, and to the University of Witwatersrand’s Department of Anatomy for making both facilities and personnel available. Array