News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Wednesday June 26th 2019

Another Robben Island prisoner’s grave identified

Sandiso Phaliso

Nomzamo, Siyeto and Mzwandile Simons, together with ex-political prisoner Dagama Mngqibisa, visit the grave of Robben Island detainee Jimmy Simons at the Stikland cemetery yesterday. (subs: Thurs) Photo: Sandiso Phaliso/WCN                               Two months ago the graves of seven ex-political prisoners who spent time on Robben Island in ‘60s and were buried by the state as paupers, were identified, bringing an end to the decades of uncertainty experienced by their families.

Now this week, the grave of an eighth political prisoner, Jimmy Simon, was identified, resulting in an emotional visit to Cape Town’s Stikland cemetery by his family on Thursday (30/07/2009).

Simon’s grave, as well as those of Reuben Maliwa, Lameki Kula, Mountain Langben, Zanewasile Mvalwana, Sipho Khalipha, Frank Mani and Madala Mnqala, were discovered after years of painstaking research by the Robben Island Museum, the National Prosecuting Authorities Missing Persons Unit and the City of Cape Town.

Simon was sentenced in 1962 by the apartheid government to 20 years on Robben Island, but was on the island for only two weeks before he died from tuberculosis.

Apartheid regulations at the time stipulated that political prisoners’ bodies were not released to their family but were buried by the state, leaving the family in the dark as to the whereabouts of their remains.

During an emotional visit to the graveside yesterday, ex-political prisoner Mtolose Dyantyi (79), who served 10-years on Robben Island between 1963 and 1973 and was a close friend of Simons’, told Simons’s family how Jimmy died.

Dyantyi said the last day he saw Simons, he was vomiting blood and died while comrades were trying to get a doctor to see him.

“We asked for the warders to take him to the clinic and they refused. We were later told that he died, and whenever we tried to know what happened to his body, we were told to keep quite,” said Dyantyi.

Dyantyi said when he was released in 1973 he went to visit the Simons’s house and discovered that they still believed Jimmy was serving his time on the island.

“I was shocked. I knew something had happened and we started doing research into his whereabouts,” said Dyantyi.

Robben Island Museum Researcher Nolubabalo Tongo-Cetywayo said the apartheid government had not disclosed where the graves were until she undertook the research herself after she started working at the museum in 1997.

Tongo-Cetywayo said over 20 prisoners died on Robben Island while serving their sentences, and their families begun enquiring about their whereabouts after 1994.

She said through oral interviews, visits to graveyards and home affairs offices, some of the graves were eventually found in Stikland cemetery.

Siyeta Simons, 77, elder brother to Jimmy, his wife Nomzamo and Jimmy’s son Mzwandile, were paying their respects at the grave site yesterday.

Siyeta, originally from East London, said he stood accused with his brother in 1962, but was acquitted.

Siyeta said he was later sentenced to three years on Robben Island, but never got to see his brother while there. He didn’t know that his brother was already dead.

“We didn’t know he died and all those years we thought he was in prison, until Dyantyi came and told us (in 1973) he had died. But we could not locate where he was buried until recently.”

However, there are complications in exhuming Simons remains because there are two other bodies buried on top of him.

NPA Missing Person’s Unit head Madeleine Fullard said they would try identify the two bodies through DNA testing but the process could take weeks to complete. – West Cape News

Tags: robbenisland

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