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Political Row Erupts Over R1,6 m Municipal Funding for ‘Bergville Dagga War’ Exhumations
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Brett Hilton Barber

22/06/30, 22:00

Opposition says money should rather be used for housing than honouring the 22 men hanged in 1956 for ambushing police trying to destroy their cannabis plantations

Opposition says money should rather be used for housing than honouring the 22 men hanged in 1956 for ambushing police trying to destroy their cannabis plantations

A political row has erupted over the Okhahlamba District Municipality’s decision to allocate R1,6 m to the exhumation and reburial of the ‘Ngoma 22’, the Zulu cannabis farmers executed in 1957 for murdering five policemen.


The murders took place during the so-called Bergville Dagga War of 1956, when cannabis farmers ambushed police trying to destroy their plantations. In follow-up raids, police arrested 23 men in connection with the incident, 22 of whom were found guilty and sentenced to death. They were hanged at Pretoria Central the following year on 21 March - what is now commemorated as Human Rights Day – and buried in mass graves.


The Sunday Tribune https://bit.ly/3RFcYm3 reported on 26 June 2022 that the Okhahlamba Municipality, based in Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal’s Midlands, approved the funding at a special council meeting. This irked the DA and the IFP who accused the Council (a coalition of the ANC and the African People’s Movement (APM)) of spending ratepayers’ money on initiatives beyond its mandate.


On the budget breakdown, the report stated that the money would be spent on sourcing the expertise of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to conduct the exhumation of the remains as all victims were buried in threes or fours to a grave.

“The process also entailed conducting geo-technical and layout studies of the unidentified burial site.


The suitability of the land was critical since it would be declared a provincial heritage site.

The budget was also to provide accommodation and catering for the families in Gauteng when they attended the exhumations and reburials from July 4 to 8. Expenses would cover the “provision of mortuaries for the remains, coffins, transport, lowering devices on the day of mass funeral as well as other event logistics such as marquee, chairs, and catering,” read the report.


A senior official within the municipality who spoke to the Tribune on condition of anonymity said the project started years ago. All costs were going to be covered by provincial and national departments. He said they were caught by surprise when the matter was tabled before a special council with all costs to be paid for by the municipality. IFP councillor Philani Zwane said the project was a clear plan to loot municipal coffers. Zwane added that the leaders were “hell-bent on executing the plan sooner rather than later”.


He said the R1.4 million spent on Human Rights Day was also questionable. “They want to loot at all cost,” Zwane said. “When the R1.4 million was spent, we were told it was going to contribute to the exhumation and reburial. “But no one knows how those funds were spent. They now want to splash R1.6 million, which is outside the mandate of the local municipality, to exhume and rebury people,” said Zwane.


“The leaders are also intimidating, bringing people to the council, including the chief, to have this budget approved. We have voted against this, but they insisted that they will execute all the plans. This council has turned it into a spaza shop where the ruling parties are doing whatever they like.

We are intimidated and threatened when we oppose such nonsense.” DA councillor Michael Buthelezi said his party abstained from voting as they sought more information about the project.

“We do not want to oppose the initiative as people of Bergville but we are concerned about the manner in which the whole thing is conducted. We are seeking clarity on the logistics and who is going to pay for certain costs.


“Our understanding is the project was administered by the provincial and national departments and the municipality is a custodian of this. But suddenly, the council convened a special meeting for this and no information was provided except for the vote for this project,” Buthelezi said.

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Political Row Erupts Over R1,6m Municipal Funding for "Bergville Dagga War" Exhumations