The remains of struggle heroes Moses Kotane and JB Marks will in the next few days be returned to South Africa after nearly four decades.
Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa accompanied by a high level group of representatives from government, the African National Congress (ANC), South African Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (Cosatu) leaves on Monday for Moscow where the two are buried.
Kotane and Marks played prominent roles in the ANC, SACP and the trade union movement in the thirties, forties and fifties.
They died in Russia in the seventies and are buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.
Mthethwa will preside over the repatriation of the two men’s remains. “We have been working closely with the South African mission in Moscow to host a handover ceremony for the remains of Kotane and Marks at the embassy.
“We will host a wreath laying ceremony and memorial service and deliver a lecture to share our perspective and appreciation of the meaning of these legends. We shall return with the remains of these two stalwarts to African soil on the 1st or the 2nd of March,” says Mthethwa.
The reburial of the remains of Kotane and Marks will take place in Pella and Ventersdorp in the North West on the 14 and 22nd of March respectively. Kotane will be reburied in Pella, North West, on March 14, and Marks in Ventersdorp, on March 22. President Jacob Zuma has granted them both special official funerals. Mthethwa said the repatriation of their remains should offer an opportunity for South Africans to remember them. “It is a serious indictment that our children do not know the men and women who brought about democracy and freedom. “We need to work together to tell the story of where we come from and celebrate our heroes.” There would be a special reception at the Waterkloof Air Force Base, outside Pretoria, to celebrate their repatriation on March 2. Kotane’s son Sam Kotane expressed the family’s gratitude to Zuma and all those who had helped have his father’s remains brought home. His mother, Rebecca Kotane, now 103, approached Zuma last year to request the repatriation. “Prior to that, apparently… there was some conversation where my father said to my mom, the work he was doing, he did not know where he would end up, but he strongly believed he would be accepted in that country or community. “We tried as a family to change her mind… that she should not take that literally. We are saying, as Africans we believe that the spirit does not rest until [the body] comes back.” Sam Kotane last saw his father alive in 1977, when he visited him in a Russian sanitorium. “He was bedridden. He no longer was vigorous, active, but he still cracked jokes. He spoke Russian to his caregivers.” He shared “some brief, very intimate moments” with his father during that visit. Mthethwa said the repatriation of Marks’ and Kotane’s remains had the potential to bring together South Africans from diverse backgrounds to celebrate and express their unity. “We believe the memory and legacy of these two struggle icons continues to sharply define the ideals and aspirations of the society we want to be: just, equal and prosperous. “We believe they will always remain inspirational figures whose stories have the power to remind us of where we come from.” -Additional reporting by Sapa