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We Salute our Heroes



On June 16, 1988 South Africa learnt that nine of its youth had been murdered in a police ambush about seven kilometres outside Piet Retief near Swaziland border.

According to the minister of Law and Order, Surendra Lenny Naidu (24), Nontsikelelo June-Rose Cotoza (21), Sifiso Howard Nxumalo (25), Jabulani Sibisi (19), Joseph Boxer Mthembu (27), Nkosinathi Innocent Bruce Thenjwayo and Bongani Emmanuel Gaza (26) were terrorists trying to gain illegal entry into the country.

Those that knew then back home told a different story. Although they came from different backgrounds, all nine had at heart the sufferings of their communities and had been working towards alleviating this.

After being hounded by the police, they left the country and joined the African National Congress. They had left in the spirit of fighting for freedom and came back in sealed coffins, having been tortured and mutilated at the hands of the police.

Their families only found out about their deaths on the 19 June 1988 when they were told by anonymous telephone calls that  "there were some bodies in Piet Retief" and that they should go and identify them.

They found their bodies very badly mutilated. It was obvious that they were brutally tortured before being shot at extremely close range. It also appeared that some of the bodies had been bitten by dogs.

Busloads of people turned up to honour them at their funerals. Their bravely and courage and the community’s sadness at their loss filled the cemeteries and halls as freedom songs were sung.

Investigations into their deaths proved inconclusive. The inquest proceedings exposed the investigating officer, Pienaar, to be implicated and instrumental in the carrying out the ambush. It was also discovered that all evidence against the police was destroyed. There was no evidence that supported their accusation that these comrades had weapons or shot at them.

Surendhra Lenny Naidu

Lenny Naidu was born 12 April 1964 in Malvern. His family moved to Bayview, Chatsworth in 1960’s because of the Group Areas Act. He attended the Fairhaven Primary School and Matriculated at the Chatsworth Secondary School in 1981. He is described as a brilliant student who won a lot of sporting and academic awards.

He was a student at the University of Durban Westville, studying for a BA degree. He was a founder member of the Helping Hands, a community youth organisation formed in 1982, where he helped with education, sports and fundraising projects for local charities like the Cheshire Homes for the Disabled, Aryan Benevolent Homes for the Aged, Lakehaven Children’s Home, Kwa-Zulu Drought Fund, Etc. He was also the Secretary of the Bayview Residents Association (BRA) where he played a active role in the campaign against the water fines. His role in the campaign against unfair water fines will always be remembered by the people.

He was a member of the Chatsworth Housing Action Committee (CHAC) which was affiliated to the Durban Housing Action Committee (DHAC). He also participated in activities by collecting food items and making hampers for the unemployed and poor people of his community. He assisted in keeping the youth focused and occupied with constructive activities. Lenny’s deep concern for the underprivileged people led him to work tirelessly for the improvement of his community.

He believed that the apartheid was the cause of all the suffering that he saw around him. He therefore vigorously opposed the tricameral election in 1984. He was an active member of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) and participated in all of its campaigns for equal  rights for all.

In December 1985, Lenny attended the launch of the giant Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). He was concerned about the plight of the workers who suffered low wages and a high cost of living. In 1986, Lenny was actively involved in raising funds for the dismissed workers form the BTR Sarmcol Factory.

In November 1986, he became a member of the African National Congress and the joined the underground struggle Umkhonto we Sizwe. He left home to go into exile after being hounded and harassed by the police. He was concerned about the safety of his family had he stayed back. He was an active member of the armed wing of the ANC. His commander during this period was the late Phila Ndwandwe, who reported to the now Lieutenant Vijay Ramlakhan of the SANDF under the overall commander Sihle Mbongwa.

In Febuary 1986, he went to Lusaka and then to the headquarters for a de-briefing and subsequently left for Angola to undergo military training. He spent more than a year in Camp Pango in Angola. Lenny’s nom de guerre (alias) was Phillip Samuels. He was referred to by everyone very endearingly as Phil.

In May 1988, he left Angola for Zambia. He then proceed to Mozambique where boarded a plane to Swaziland. He stayed in Swaziland for a while awaiting infiltration into South Africa. On 8 June 1988, he attempted crossing the border with Nontsikelelo, Lindiwe and Makhosi in a Toyota Corolla but was gunned down in cold blood. He was 24 years old.

He is described as a very strong and disciplined cadre, a very honest and humble person who was always concerned about his community and the downtrodden people of his country. He would have done anything to ensure their liberation. His last words to his Mother were, “Ma, whatever I am doing, it is not for you, nor is it for me – it is for the people of this country”. He believed wholeheartedly that he was fighting for a just cause and he did it with the utmost discipline.

Throughout his entire life, Lenny worked quietly but tirelessly to advance the cause of the people. Inspired by his vision of a free country, he sought to spare nothing in his commitment to realize a united, non-racial South Africa based on equality.

Nontsikelelo June-Rose Cotoza

Nontsikelelo was born on 13 June at the King Edward VIII Hosipital in Durban. She was second of three daughters to Zizile Cotoza.

She went to the Lamontville Primary School and then to Lamontville Secondary School. She was a very active member of Cosas and was on the SRC. She was also part of the cultural group at their Methodist Church and a member of the Lamontville Education Crisis Committee.

Police at the time continually harassed, arrested and assaulted the learners at the Lamontville High School. In one incident, some children jumped through the windows on the third floor of the school to escape the brutality of the police. Some kids broke their legs and some their arms. Nontsikelelo managed to escape with a sprained ankle.

After three months of being hounded, she tried to cross the border. She was arrested at the Piet Retief border with six other comrades. Because she was under age, she was brought back to the CR Swart Police Station and was returned to her mother. But the police threatened and promised to kill her the next time they caught her.

Her mother firmly believed that her child was fighting for her rights and for the rights of her people and although afraid for her safety, supported her wholeheartedly.

The threats did not deter Nontsikelelo. She continued the fight for freedom. She fought against being taught through the medium of Afrikaans and lower education. She was steadfast in her belief that she was fighting a just cause. She closely followed the attempts to get Mandela released and believed in his leadership.

Inkatha was also causing a lot of trouble in her community. They were burning their houses and hitting and terrorising the people. This made her even more determined to continue her fight for what was right.

She was forced to leave the country in 1986 and this time successfully crossed the border. She managed to send a message to her mother to inform her that she was safe. Her mother cried but believed that her child will come back. Her mother and community were very proud of her and for what she stood for and for what she fought for.

She was 21 at the time when she was ambushed and killed with her comrades. She left behind her two and half year old son, Lunga.

Lindiwe Charity Nyembezi Mthembu

Lindiwe was born on 28 February 1969 in KwaMashu. She was the fifth daughter on Sonnyboy Nkwana and Queen Mantombi Mthembu.

She attended the Zakhe Secondary School in KwaMashu. She was an active member of the KwaMashu Youth League and the Ntuzuma Youth League. She was also bodyguard to Kwenza Mlaba, a civil rights lawyer who she held in high esteem. Inkatha was threatening to kill him at a gathering in a nearby hospital. She then told her mother that she wants to fight for the freedom of the people in South Africa. Lindiwe was not happy to see people like her mother work so hard to make a living.

She used to hold a lot of meetings in her home. As students, they wanted to sort out Inkatha, the apartheid regime, the unjust education system and how to free Nelson Mandela.

She started operating for the African National Congress under the auspices of the Cosas in 1984, when there was a directive from Lusaka to render the Government of the day un-governable. Due to her involvement in Cosas and UDF structures, she was subjected to constant security police harassment. She went underground in early 1986, still operating within the country.

She suffered at the hand of the inkatha and South African Police. She was even arrested and released with the help of Archie Gumede. She was continuously harassed by the police. She couldn’t stay at her house; she sometimes had to hide in the garden and sleep there the whole night for fear that the police would return. They were also constantly threatening her family. She, like the others, didn’t say goodbye.

So, in October 1986 at the age of 17, having no option but to leave she heeded the instruction from the ANC to leave the country for Angola. There, she underwent military training towards the end of 1986 and for the whole of 1987. She was also a member of the Amandla Cultural Group of the ANC.

In 1988, she was instructed by the ANC to infiltrate back to South Africa, via Mozambique and Swaziland. It was here that they were betrayed, lured into an ambush and killed by the South African Security Force.

Makhosi Nyoka

Makhosi was born on 3 April 1957 and attended the Mzuvele Secondary School in KwaMashu. She was the eldest of six children. Her father died when they were very young and her mother left them when they were very young. She sold cake crumbs (unvuthu) and steel wool to take care of her siblings and keep the home fires burning.

She was an active member of Cosas, the kwaMashu youth Organisation and the UDF and she worked very closely with the youth leaders. She used to listen intently to Radio Freedom. She was very knowledgeable and wanted to make a positive difference to the people’s lives.

Makhosi was a true leader. She left South Africa on 18 May 1982 because of police harrassment. Her crossing the border was facilitated by Kwenza Mlaba and Phindi Duma, who was considered her ANC Mama. She stayed at Moses Madhiba’s house in Swaziland. They were a group of seven when they left. They went for training in Angola and then to the Soviet Union. On their return, one of them was killed by a Savimbi gang as he was taking supplies to a camp. Makhosi trained on Angola, Cuba and Mozambique. She was a very experienced, courageous and strong guerilla.

She was also described as a very jovial person who loved to laugh and be happy. She also loved to sing. Some of her revolutionary songs were recorded and sent to the International Youth Year Congress in Geneva. Makhosi also assisted in constructing parts of the constitution of the Natal Organisation of Women.

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