'I saw him. He was being beaten – too much. You could see it in his face' - the family of Siboniso Shabalala speak out

Winnie Mandela is accused of ordering  the death of Siboniso Shabalala in 1988. Nastasya Tay meets his family in Soweto

"The law must take its course. You can’t kill someone’s child and have it leave you like that. No one is above the law," Curtis Melusi Shabalala said today.

Curtis’s oldest brother Siboniso had been missing for more than 24 years until a nine-month investigation by South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority unearthed what it believes to be his remains on Tuesday, alongside those of his best friend, Lolo Sono.

A young man of 19, he disappeared with 21-year-old Sono in November 1988.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the wife of former President Nelson Mandela, has been accused of giving the order to have them both killed. Witnesses claim both men were last seen at her Soweto home, where they had been severely beaten.

This week’s exhumations have sparked renewed questions about Ms Madikizela-Mandela’s past. Some have called for justice, while others would prefer to simply leave the past alone.

South African police say they’ve opened a murder investigation into the deaths, and will take all information – including testimony from the country’s post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which implicates Ms Madikizela-Mandela – into consideration in their inquiries.

Ms Madikizela-Mandela, who has always denied ever knowing the men, remains a hugely popular political figure in South Africa, despite being jailed for assault and kidnapping in 1991 following the death of another ANC youth activist, Stompie Seipei Mokhetsi, who was killed by her private bodyguards, the Mandela United Football Club. The sentence was eventually reduced to a fine on appeal.

For the Shabalalas little has changed since Siboniso was alive. The family have always lived in the same house with its pale cream walls, rosy roof tiles and a little patch of neatly tended grass, set behind rust-red security bars. The house sits on a narrow, unassuming street, which slopes downwards to an expansive view of Meadowlands Zone 10, on the northern confines of Soweto. It is the last place both young men were seen alive.

Three houses up the road lived Lolo.  The pair did everything together, from selling flower pots on the side of the road, to braaiing (barbecuing) meat with their friends, to secretly joining the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) movement, the militant wing of the ANC.

Sitting in a corner of the family’s cramped dining room, Curtis Shabalala said they were all surprised to find out about his involvement with the group. “It was a secret. I was sleeping with him in my room... And I didn’t know that he was already in that underground movement.”

His sister, Sebenzile Shabalala, added: “All of a sudden he started to play songs, struggle songs, but we never thought that he was an activist. He was a quiet person. He was a person that wasn’t used to talking about many things.”

Siboniso was a stylish man who was always wearing the latest fashions. He used to joke about breaking boundaries and his ambition was to marry a white woman, Sebenzile said.

The family was shocked when one day in November 1988 several members of the Mandela United Football Club, dressed in their signature yellow jerseys, came looking for him. “It was a football club which never played any matches,” said Jabulile Shabalala, his cousin. “It was known that they were a political movement.”

The men were led by Jerry Richardson, team captain and Ms Madikizela-Mandela’s right-hand man, the family claims. Siboniso’s mother, Nomsa, points at a spot on the vinyl floor. “[Richardson] stood there, right there,” she said. They came several times on the same day, she said, but they couldn’t find him. Then they brought a bruised and battered Lolo to the house, forcing him to show them where other family members lived.

“I saw him. He was being beaten. Too much. You could see it in the face,” said Curtis. After they left with Lolo in tow, Sibosiso returned home, only to go searching for his friend the next day.

“The last time I heard from him, he called. He said he was with Lolo. And then the line was cut,” Nomsa said.

So began years of searching and wondering – until in 1997, as South Africa braced itself during the hearings at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the family received a letter. It came from Richardson, with a card: a confession, an apology, and a request. He wrote that he had killed Shabalala and Sono, but only on the orders of Ms Madikizela-Mandela, who told him they were impimpi, or spies. Richardson died in prison in 2009.

Nomsa sighed, and looked away. “We were so cross. I don’t know what must I do. You know, when there’s Winnie inside, you can’t fight,” Curtis said.

Forensic results from the remains exhumed Tuesday are expected within the next few weeks, after which, the family plans to bury their brother’s remains, affording them the proper respect.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'