Untimely Death of one of the ‘Sharpeville Six’
The sudden and untimely death of Duma Joshua Kumalo in Johannesburg on Friday February 03 2006 has shocked friends and colleagues in the human rights movement, locally and abroad. Duma survived Death Row in the 1980’s to become a social activist who tirelessly spoke out against capital punishment and human rights abuses.
Duma Kumalo was one of the Sharpeville Six, the first group of political prisoners to be tried under the 1984 law of ‘common purpose’, which meant that the state only had to prove that you were in the vicinity of the incident, not that you personally actively participated. 29 years old and studying to become a teacher Duma was arrested together with five others, tried and sentenced to death for the 1984 mob killing of Councillor Dlamini, the Deputy Mayor of Sharpeville.
The group became known as the ‘Sharpeville Six’, and became the focus of enormous international campaigns, highlighting the ease with which one could be tried, sentenced, and often executed, without material evidence of guilt. Only three of the Sharpeville Six had actually been at the scene of the crime and three had never been near the scene of the crime. Duma Kumalo had been at the home of his uncle at the time of the killing. Out of a sense of political solidarity, the group never broke ranks on ‘innocence’ and ‘guilt’, and together stood united as the Sharpeville Six.
A Stay of Execution came at 4.30pm the day before the Sharpeville Six were to be hanged at 5am in the morning. Duma always had a short term memory problem, “This I lost”, he said, “in the pot, the place you go to before you are hanged the next day. It was as though I would never need memory again, I was going to die, and I have ever had it back.” After eight harrowing years, three of these on Death Row, Duma was released, and expected to ‘find my life again’.
Anyone who knew Duma would know his wonderful sense of humour, his spirit for living, his commitment to human rights, and his zest for living.
As a founder member of the Khulumani Support Group, he was actively involved in the debates around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and engaged in the debates around reconciliation and justice and reparation. In the end he was bitterly disappointed with the TRC, and the fact that his one and only request from the TRC was to have his criminal record removed, never happened.
He attended many international conferences and worked with organisations such as Amnesty International inspiring others with the power of his own experiences.
Through his work at the TRC he became involved in the theatre project The Story I am About to Tell, which launched him into a relationship with theatre which he saw as an enormous healing process and went on to introduce other possibilities using the performing arts for human rights education. The play itself, produced by Bobby Rodwell, started with meagre aspirations and went on to run for five years, in community and church halls across the country, international festivals, on Robben Island, and finally at the International Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001. In the play Duma told his story night after night, and engaged with audiences after each performance, together with other members of the cast. When asked why he chose to put himself through such pain night after night, he said, “I told my comrades on death row, that if I survived, I would always talk about death row, I would take their stories with me wherever I go.”
Duma never lost his commitment to talking out against capital punishment, and did this at home and abroad. He was very convinced by the medium of theatre and film and after The Story I am About to Tell, went on to make Facing Death, Facing Life, a video documentary with Ingrid Gavshon, He Left Quietly with Yael Farber, The Bones Are Still Calling with Seputla Sebogodi, and participated in Zulu Love Letter by Ramadan Suleman and Bheki Pieterson.
Duma is survived by his wife, Betty, who stood by him through his years in prison, and by his two sons.
Duma Kumalo survived death row, and through his work in the Khulumani Support Group became a human right activist of note, he was to all of us an example of humility, courage and an ability to forgive. Go well our dear friend and comrade, go well.
Memorial and Funeral arrangements:
A Memorial Service will be held: Friday 10 February from 4.30pm to 7pm at the Market Theatre in Newtown, Johannesburg.
The funeral service will be:Saturday 11 February from 8am to 12pm at el Shaddai Church in Sebokeng Zone 10 Extension 2
The Burial will be Vandebijlpark Cemetery
Financial contributions will be welcome and can be made to:
Name of Account: Betty Mrwebi
Bank: Standard Bank
Account Number: 42 72 88 22 3
Branch Code: 014733
Issued by Khulumani Support Group National Office
6th Floor Heerengracht Building, 87 de Korte Street, Braamfontein 2017
For comment, please contact
Mr Tlhoki Mofokeng on 082 554 8564
Ms Maggie Friedman on 083 308 0900
Ms Bobby Rodwell on 082 718 5781
Dr Marjorie Jobson on 082 268 0223