musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Died in Detention.

Today, 05 February 2013 is the anniversary of the death of Dr Neil Aggett. I found his headstone a few years back while gravehunting in West Park cemetery, and it was one of those jarring moments in time.


I did not know him in person, but the name was familiar from the early 80’s and finding the grave just triggered a sadness that is difficult to explain. The fact remains that he did not die an easy death, and while the official verdict was suicide, it is easy to view his death in the same way as that of Steve Biko.  However, nobody was ever prosecuted for the torture that he suffered, and many of those who committed the atrocities on behalf of the government of the day are still living amongst us.  

Personally I cannot see how many of these “men” that abused their power can really live with themselves. I cannot see how they went home after a long days torture and abuse and sat down to dinner with their families, or how they could sit in church and listen to the Dominee all the time thinking that on the next day they would back in there with their rubber hoses, shock machines and other instruments of violence. They share the same part of history as members of the Inquisition, witch finders, Nazi’s, concentration camp guards, serial killers and  terrorists.

Another grave that I found was that of David Webster

Assassinated 1 May 1989, that says about it all. Do those responsible lay awake at night and consider that they did a good job on that day? do they go home and tell their wives? I do not understand it and frankly I never will, but then I have never been in that position either. 

The problem with finding graves like this is that it changes your perspective. Before finding the grave Neil Aggett and David Webster they were only names in a newspaper, now the are real people who had the courage of their conviction. 
 
Another grave that left an impression was that of Hector Petersen. The schoolboy that became an icon on 16 June 1976.  It is easy to look at that iconic photograph by Sam Nzima of the boy being carried by  Mbuvisa Makhubo. It is like looking at grainy black and white footage of World War One. It does not seem real, yet it did happen. On that day the sun was shining, birds were singing and people were dieing. 
 
However, once you find the grave, things change. I remember I felt a deep sadness on that day in Avalon cemetery,  All I could do was stand there and hope that this death, like so many others, was not in vain. Whether we like it or not, the ghosts that form the past of South Africa will not rest until we all  come to realise that there were sacrifices on both sides, people died on both sides, people murdered and tortured on both sides, and that we are all in this together.  Maybe its about time we took our children to see these graves from the past, let them make the connection, let them reach their own conclusions about who was right and who was wrong. And let them carry us forward. 
 
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