South African justice announced, Friday, January 5, to reopen the investigation into the murders of four anti-apartheid activists, known as “the Cradock murders”, among the best-known and darkest crimes of apartheid, still never elucidated. “The Minister of Justice has followed a recommendation from the South African National Prosecuting Authority (…) to appoint a judge to reopen and lead the investigation into the deaths,” his ministry said in a statement.

The affair, which caused outrage in the country, dates back to 1985. Late one night in the southern winter, the four activists Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkonto and Sicelo Mhlauli, left a political meeting and took the road to return home, in the small town of Cradock (south). They will never arrive at their destination. Their bodies, severely burned and lacerated with stab wounds, were discovered later, in two different places.

At the time, the security forces of the white regime monitored their actions. Quickly, members of the apartheid police were suspected of having executed them.

“Restore trust”

Two investigations were carried out between the late 1980s and early 1990s. But the alleged suspects were never brought to justice. “None of the investigations made it possible to identify the murderers,” recalls the Ministry of Justice. Families have been demanding for years that the truth be revealed.

According to the courts, new elements now allow the investigation to be reopened: “During previous investigations, the families and people concerned were not heard. It is time to restore confidence in the justice system,” Minister Ronald Lamola was quoted as saying in the statement.

After the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, offered amnesty to those who held accountable for their crimes. But she had refused to grant amnesty to Cradock’s alleged murderers.