SA struggle heroes to be repatriated

24 February 2015

The remains of struggle heroes Moses Kotane and JB Marks would be repatriated on March 2 from the city of Moscow, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said on 23 February.

A special reception to welcome back the bodies of the struggle stalwarts will be held at Waterkloof Air Force Base, in Tshwane.

“As we leave for Russia, today we salute them for their self-sacrifice, passion and commitment to nourish hopes and aspirations of the formerly oppressed nation. These are heroes and legends [who] have helped to take this country forward.”

President Jacob Zuma tasked the Department of Arts and Culture to lead the repatriation and reburial of Kotane and Marks.

Speaking at a media briefing before the trip to the Russian capital, Mthethwa said Kotane and Marks had died in Russia in the 1970s when the struggle had reached a point of no return.

“They will be remembered as heroes of our liberation struggle who were instruments of national unity, peace and bringing our diverse people together to build one human family in one country.”

Champions of democracy

Kotane and Marks were at the forefront of popularising the struggle in all corners of the world. “They championed the struggle for democracy in this country, [on] the African continent. most importantly in Europe, especially the former USSR, now known as Russia. Russia was a country that gave our struggle unconditional support.”

Mthethwa said the story of Kotane and Marks and the generation they represented captured and reflected how courageous men and women stood up for moral principles in the face of the country’s shameful history. “These two men, at a great personal cost to themselves and their families, chose to fight for freedom and democracy,” he said.

His department had been working closely with the South African Mission in Moscow to host the handover ceremony of the remains at the embassy. Family members of the two joined the delegation leaving for Russia.

Kotane and Marks were buried in Moscow’s Novodevichy cemetery.

“We will host a wreath laying ceremony, a memorial service and deliver a lecture to share our perspective and appreciation of the meaning of these legends,” the minister said.

The remains of Kotane and Marks will be reburied in Pella and Ventersdop in North West on 14 March and 22 March, respectively. The Presidency has declared the funerals as special official funerals in recognition of the role they played in the struggle for liberation.

Family memories

Kotane’s son, Sam Kotane, said his family was grateful to all those who were involved in the repatriation. “We are very happy that the remains of our dearly beloved father are being brought back from Russia after having being buried there in 1978. I am filled with mixed emotions: very happy that the remains are coming back but sad that he is coming back to a free country.

“He left South Africa in 1963 at the request of [ANC] president Oliver Tambo to go and assist the African National Congress in lobbying the international community to fight the injustice of apartheid in South Africa,” he said.

Sam Kotane last saw his father in 1977 in Moscow.