A STONE FOR SIPHO’S GRAVE

Lockdown endangers mother’s dream to honour son killed in June 76

By Everson Luhanga

Sipho Mavimbela was 17 years old when he was gunned down by apartheid police.

It was two days after the school protests broke out on June 16, 1976.

His mother, Emily Mavimbela, has never forgotten the pain of searching Johannesburg’s hospitals and police stations for her son.

She eventually found him lying naked and face up in the Hillbrow mortuary. 

He was among dozens of dead and blood-soaked schoolchildren.

Today, Gogo Mavimbela is confined to a wheelchair in Alexandra. She turns 84 on June 16th. And she has only one wish before she dies.

“I will not be at peace if I die without seeing the unveiling of the headstone on my boy’s grave.”

The unveiling she dreamed of was planned for April – organised by Linda Twala, a famous son of Alexandra who describes himself as “servant of the people”.

But the Covid-19 lockdown meant they had to cancel the ceremony, which was going to have many more people than the limit of 50.

“I am praying that God should keep her alive until the lockdown is over so that we can unveil the stone,” said Bab’uLinda Twala.

Scrolla.Africa spoke to the outspoken gogo who lives in a one-room house in Alex.

“WE FOUND SIPHO AT THE MORGUE”

She remembers how she found Sipho:

• ” I was at work as a domestic worker in Orange Grove on 18 June 1976

• “I heard that the police have been shooting in Alex

• ” I told my employers I had to go to be with my sons.”

She says when she arrived home in Alex, only her second-born son was there. Sipho was not.

She waited three days, but Sipho, pictured below, didn’t return.

When he failed to return on the third day, she and her elder sister began the search.

They went to police stations, hospitals, and mortuaries.

They first went to Tembisa Hospital:

• ” We saw many young men covered in bandages lying in beds

• ” We had had to open the sheets they were covered in to see if it was Sipho

• “We didn’t find him there.”

The two sisters then went to Johannesburg’s Charlotte Maxeke Hospital.

But Sipho wasn’t there.

From the hospital, they were directed to Hilbrow’s government mortuary. 

• “When we opened the door, I saw countless naked bodies lying face up, soaked in blood.

• “My sister and I had to jump over bodies to find Sipho.

• “We went through three cold rooms until we found him in the third room.

• “When I saw him, I shouted his name while shaking his leg. 

• “Although I could see that Sipho had a big hole in his stomach that went through to the back, I kept on shaking his leg and calling his name.

• “I thought Sipho would answer me and explain what really happened to him,” she said.

Sipho was buried shortly afterwards, on 26th June – but with no tombstone.

More than four decades later the pain is still fresh. 

“SCRATCHING MY BLEEDING WOUNDS WITH A NAIL”

Gogo Emily says that since her son died, people from different organisations including the ANC did nothing to help her.

“They could not even put a stone over my son’s grave.

“All they did is fetch me, take me to functions where they would wine and dine and dance.

“It was like they were scratching my bleeding wounds with a nail.”

She says she did not want to eat the fancy foods at these functions.

She just wanted a stone for Sipho’s grave.

Gogo says she met Linda Twala last November at yet another gala dinner.

“I spoke my story as they always wanted me to do and Twala stood up and vowed to help.”

Gogo Emily had a stroke in 2015 and she is now using a wheelchair. 

“I am very sad and I am afraid that I will die just like my elder sister who helped me search for Sipho’s body. 

“She died in August 2001 without seeing a stone over his grave.”

The 76-year-old Linda Twala (pictured below) says that when he heard Gogo Emily’s story “I felt the pain she was in when she was narrating the story on the podium.

“I decided to help.”

Bab’uTwala says he has helped many parents whose children were killed during the 1976 uprising, erecting tombstones for them.

Bab’uTwala helps many in Alexandra – renovating their houses, and giving out food parcels.

So in the lockdown, he has been working overtime.