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?