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South African Churches Call for Truth about Namibian Mass Graves

The head of the South African Council of Churches says he is shocked and morally outraged by the recent discovery of three mass graves in Namibia. The remains are believed to be those of fighters of SWAPO, the Southwest African People’s Organization, killed in fighting against South African forces in 1989.

The South African Council of Churches is offering to join its counterpart in Namibia in honoring the remains. Dr. Molefe Tsele is the organization’s general secretary. From Johannesburg, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the offer.

Dr. Tsele says, “The remains represent particular people and we need to handle that with dignity it deserves. But more importantly, South African hands are party to that particular tragedy. It was our own people, our own citizens who are working in our streets today, who perpetrated that. And there is no way therefore that we as South Africans can treat this thing as if we’re totally unrelated to it.”

Asked how the SWAPO fighters should be honored, he says, “There are several things. First one is clearly that the truth must come out as to who these people are and what is the background. There are people who know what happened. It’s been debated in the media in South Africa today and unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation as part of that. So we need the truth. Now, how that truth comes out, whether it’s through a truth and reconciliation commission or it’s through a UN inquiry, is not for us to say, but there needs to be the truth. But, secondly, there needs to be a particular monument. Firstly, a dignified reburial of the remains…and then there must be a monument for such people because you can’t just have so many people in a mass grave and then it is as if we close a chapter of history. We need to remember that something happened in that place and have a monument about that.”