Roy Jobson
Roy Jobson

The smell of human flesh and hair burning

Butana Almond Nofomela is about to be paroled after having served 21 years for the murder of Johannes Lourens, a Brits farmer. He had been sentenced to death for this crime, but escaped being hanged by confessing to crimes committed as part of the Vlakplaas hit squad.

He was subsequently granted amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for assassinating Griffiths Mxenge and various others considered enemies of the apartheid state.

One of these enemies was a young man, Sizwe Kondile who was apparently so severely brain injured after being interrogated that he was then poisoned, and shot when he did not die. His body was burned in the veld on an open fire while Nofomela, his colleague, Dirk Coetzee and others involved had a braai nearby. This was reportedly accompanied by a fair amount of liquid refreshment. Kondile’s body took about seven to nine hours including fairly frequent rotating to burn right through. Whatever was left (and it must have included the bones) was then thrown into the nearby Komati river. The perpetrators would probably have had to macerate parts of the remains.

Mrs Charity Kondile, Sizwe’s mother, testified at a TRC hearing that she first learned of her son’s gruesome death in a New Nation newspaper report.

Does Nofomela ever smell human flesh and hair burning when he remembers his past, or sometimes in his dreams as he sleeps? Perhaps he has eliminated this memory. Once he’s been released and attends a braai with his family and friends, will he have flashbacks? Will the pungent aroma of burning human flesh and hair assault his nostrils again? Would he remember the feel of the charred remains as the leftover bits were disposed of in the river?

August 30 is International Day of the Disappeared. Kondile joins myriad other victims of enforced disappearances worldwide. South Africa is a signatory of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, but only thirteen of the necessary twenty countries required to bring the convention into force have ratified it. Among those which have not yet signed are the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Khulumani Support Group has for many years been assisting South African citizens whose relatives disappeared during the apartheid era. Some remains of the relatives of these citizens have been found and ceremoniously buried by government — at times ignoring what the relatives themselves actually wanted. Would Butana Almond Nofomela consider paying some form of redress to the Kondile family — and would the family even consider accepting this? Perhaps not. Redress could take the form of assistance with household repairs or other tasks. Khulumani Support Group has details of over 55 000 victims and survivors of apartheid era gross human rights violations and can link perpetrators given amnesty or beneficiaries of the apartheid era to these victims, so that some form of redress can be organised.

The remains of Sizwe Kondile, flushed down the river, can never be found and returned to his family. His parents, Judge Dumile Kondile and Mrs Kondile, assuming they themselves are still alive, can never visit their son’s grave and pay their respects to him. One hopes that happier memories of their son have helped eased their grief and pain.

Perhaps Nofomela and the other murderers despite being given amnesty for this horrific act, will live the rest of their lives haunted by the acrid smell of human flesh and hair burning?

  • Hugh Robinson

    What exactly is your point? That the man should not be released?

    We still await the truth and information on those missing who were incarcerated and tortured in the ANC detention centres.

    These have never been brought to justice. What is good for thew Goose is good for the Gander.

  • Sabelo

    Amazing how the way you tell this story you make it really powerful and engaging. I appreciate this type of rhyting, almost allowing your heart to speak than being academic or journalistic about death, I dig it.
    However I don’t know where I stand with your closing line. i would like mercy on Nofomela and pray that the 21 years in prison have helped him reflect and find his peace with the earth and he probably will harm not even a rat(unless of course it vandalises his socks)
    I believe that the pain of the family will be lessoned by accepting that Sizwe’s life cannot be restored no matter how much pain is inflicted on Nofomela. Also I trully believe that during the Apartheid era we were all victims (although in different ways) as someone who has been at the receiving end of violence and seen family deaths due to political violence, I would request that Nofomela tells all in return for his forgiveness.

    We still haven’t started nation building yet due to skeletons that keep creeping up. I’d wish for a second chance for Nofomela, assuming that a lot of people who visited hell on the citizens of this country never seen a jailcell, and specifically for my family and friends its the people who commanded the KwaZulu Police in the 90’s, who were under the control of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

  • Libra

    While dwelling on the smell of burning human flesh and hair, it is a pity that you didn’t spare a mention of all the victims of necklacing – the poor unfortunates who found themselves on the wrong side of a strugle mob for failing to observe a boycott or supporting the wrong political faction or some such other capital offence. These were not even granted the mercy of being dead when they were incinerated as was Nofomela’s victim.

  • yhcrana

    yes, we were all victims, perhaps. but not all victims are equal!

  • TlanchTau

    The author said “Does Nofomela ever smell human flesh and hair burning when he remembers his past, or sometimes in his dreams as he sleeps?”

    And I say I don’t think he will, besides we go a lot of parties with many of our colleagues who were in the police force in the dark ages and they also did all these things. I have heard at least more than 10 of such cases, and I am certain there is many more that happened.

    Many a white man who were in the force know about these things and they seem to enjoy their braai every weekend? So why would this one be different?

  • MidaFo

    This is perhaps something that frustrates the intention of the article but the article is not aimed at Nofomela. It is aimed at the worms and some worms have obligingly popped out of the woodwork. I make the comment now because in my knowledge most SA worms are too knowing to be caught in this way.
    But the reality is that worms in the woodwork remain worms. We can easily hear them in there if we put our ear to it, which is the intention of this article.
    For, we need to stop them before we have nothing but dust.

  • king

    Nofomela, Coetzee and De Kock`s were all just foot soldiers. The real perpetrators are the police generals that gave instructions. They may be roaming “freely” in the country or abroad, but i’m sure for them it is hell on earth. I wouldn’t be suprised if Nofomela is a broken soul.

  • Revolutionary

    I dont understand why he was granted amnesty for the murder of Griffiths Mxenge????????????

    Maybe Nofomela knows the real identity of Agent RS452? I certainlt do not belive that it was Vanessa Brereton as she claimed during the Hefer Commission. The docier indicated that RS452 was somebody who worked in Mxenges Law Firm, and at the time we all know who was working there at that time (Bulelani Ngcuka).

  • G. Annandale

    And there she sits in parliament, mother of the nation, with he tyres and matches, putting out her “Stompie”

  • Coin

    And I suppose Umkhonto we Sizwe didn’t have their own version of Vlakplaas? Two sides of the same coin..