Decades long quest to find missing husband

Bittersweet homecoming as miner finally gets buried, bringing closure for his family in Tsolo, but questions abound about the many others who have died,


Novukile was barely 21 years old, a recently wed bride who’d just found out she was pregnant, when she bade farewell to her 25-year-old husband as he left Tsolo to travel far away to work in the mines in Gauteng.
She never saw Zolile again and heard no news about his whereabouts. Neither did anybody else from the neighbourhood. Their baby, Nokwanda, grew up without knowing her father.
Throughout the decades Novukile was left in limbo, wondering, not knowing if her husband was getting on with a new life somewhere else, ailing, or in fact dead and buried.
Her brother-in-law, Valitetwa Tyala, 69, too searched for his brother for decades to no avail. About 10 years ago, Valitetwa's son, Mncedi Tyala, 40, joined the quest and at long last made a breakthrough.
“In 2017, I met a man who claimed to have worked with him at a Goldfields mine. He gave me the name of the employer and said they’d worked at shaft number 2l,” Mncedi recalled.
Mncedi found out that the mine now belonged to Sibanye Stillwater and contacted the company.
“Sibanye Stillwater Mine which bought the mine from Goldfields, acknowledged that Tyala had worked there and suffered a fatal injury on duty on September 10 1965, ” Mncedisi said.
According to the mine and municipal records Zolile NelsonTyala was buried three days later on September 13 1965 at the Khutsong Cemetery in Carletonville, Gauteng.
“We learnt that my uncle was buried without our knowledge and no effort was made to trace and inform the family of his death,” Mncedi said.
With the help of mine representatives, Zolile Tyala’s remains were found on June 5, buried in a mass grave site for Goldfields miners. He had been buried secretly as a pauper. All these years later his grave, number 1456, was identified by municipal officials through the cemetery record book.
A retrospective death certificate was then obtained from Home Affairs where Zolile Tyala had been still recorded as living because nobody had bothered to register the miner’s death.
“He was buried like an object not a human being,'' said Mncedi bitterly.
Tyala’s remains were exhumed on Friday, November 16 in the presence of his relatives.
During the exhumation, Novukile, now 74, evoked the spirit of her husband and told him that he was being taken home to Tsolo .
“We are taking you home. This is the home I built for us when you were away. Go and rest at your home among your ancestors,” she said.
And so 53 years after he left for the gold mines to earn a living for his young wife and still-to-be-born child, Zolile Nelson Tyala got to return home to the rolling hills of his childhood.
In line with local customary practice, he was reburied in a corner of the garden in his homestead at Qolombana village outside Tsolo.
Tears rolled down the wrinkled cheeks of his widow as she poured soil onto the coffin that held the remains of her husband.
“'I will now die a happy woman knowing where my husband is buried. For more than five decades I have been heartbroken,” she said.
Sadly Nokwanda never learnt about her father’s fate. She died, childless, last year and is buried a few metres away from her father’s grave.
After this bitter-sweet homecoming the family and community have a big question: How many other mineworkers who died in mine accidents were secretly buried without notifying their families? How many other families have been left living with similar trauma, not notified, denied a chance to mourn, robbed of the opportunity to bury their loved ones and enjoy closure?
“This is but one case where a family gets closure. There are however thousands and thousands of other people who may be in the dark about the burial of their loved ones. The mine made no attempt to disclose how and where it buried miners who died on duty in those days. In light of the above, I believe that families need to get closure of their loved ones through exposing these mining atrocities, so compelling the authorities to urgently assist them to find these bodies and allow the families to honour or bury them in respect and human dignity,” Mncedi said.
He added that he’d read an article which stated that from 1886 to 1960 there were about 36,000 mining deaths and that according to the 2006 annual report of the Chamber of Mines, there were about 3,100 mining deaths from “injury on duty” between 1996 and 2006.
“My question is: How many miners have died and been buried without their families knowing what happened to them?” Mncedi said.
Spokesperson for Sibanye Stillwater James Wellsted said although Tyala had died long before the company owned the mine, Sibanye had assisted the family with transport to Gauteng and back, funded the funeral service and paid for the tombstone...

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