South Africa opens memorial at apartheid gallows

15th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

South African President Jacob Zuma opened a memorial Thursday on the site of the main gallows where dozens of political prisoners sentenced to death for fighting apartheid were sent to be hanged.

The Pretoria Central Prison gallows, torn down after the fall of white-minority rule, have been rebuilt alongside a museum honouring the 134 political prisoners executed on the site from 1961 to 1989.

"The dismantling of the gallows here at C Max Correctional Centre, Pretoria, in 1996 robbed people of an opportunity to know and understand the painful history of the executions that were carried out by the apartheid state," Zuma said.

"The 134 men were terrorists or trouble-makers to the authorities then. But to their people and families, they were freedom-fighters who wanted to see a free, democratic and non-sexist South Africa."

Zuma walked the 52 steps leading to the execution chamber and visited the chapel, execution room, autopsy room and refrigeration room of the former gallows, accompanied by several cabinet ministers.

He said some of the political prisoners who climbed the steps had gone to their deaths singing anti-apartheid struggle songs.

Two members from each of the slain prisoners' families were brought to Pretoria to take part in a two-day cleansing ceremony.

South Africa held its first all-race elections in 1994, choosing as its first democratic president Nelson Mandela -- who himself once faced a possible death sentence for treason over his role in the fight against apartheid.

The country abolished capital punishment in 1995.

In all, 4,300 people died at the Pretoria gallows, most of them common law prisoners, correctional services commissioner Tom Moyane said.

The museum is set to open to the public next year.

© 2011 AFP

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