By Shaun Gillham
TWENTY-FOUR years after his brutal death at the hands of apartheid-era security police the remains of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) special operations commander Xolile Sam were returned to Nelson Mandela Bay.
About 300 people packed the Nangoza Jebe Hall in New Brighton on Friday May 4 to witness the moving ceremony which ended a two-decade wait by surviving family members eager to make peace with his heinous murder and “bury his remains with dignity.”
In attendance were dignitaries like Eastern Cape Human Settlements MEC Helen Sauls-August, chief director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Unit Dr Mochubela Seekoe and deputy minister of Justice and Constitutional Development MP Andries Nel on behalf of Justice Minister Jeff Radebe.
Born in New Brighton in 1957, Sam, later known as MK Valdez Mbatha or Thabang, became politically aware during the 1976 student uprising and went into exile in 1977. Sam returned to South Africa in 1986 as commander of an MK special operations unit based in what was then East Rand.
In 1988, his activities were discovered by security police, drawing the attention of notorious former Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock who had him arrested.
During the arrest Sam attempted to flee, but was shot in the leg. He was put into the back of a police vehicle where he was tortured and suffocated to force him to give up information. He died in the vehicle and was later buried in an unmarked grave in the pauper section of Vosloorus cemetery.
His remains were later exhumed after information on his death emerged during the TRC hearings into apartheid atrocities.
Sam’s nephew Africa Sam said the family was happy to have the remains returned. “We are very pleased. His father, who has died, wanted to make sure his bones could be returned for proper burial. We can now respect his wishes,” Sam said. “His sacrifices have contributed to our freedom and the democracy we enjoy today,” he said.
This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared in the print edition of Weekend Post on Saturday May 5, 2012.