The ‘state funeral’ status of Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe has been withdrawn after it was cut short when tensions interrupted proceedings on Saturday.
This is according to a statement issued by government detailing reasons why the funeral’s category 2 status was withdrawn.
Deputy President David Mabuza was set to deliver a eulogy but was interrupted by PAC members demanding the casket be draped in a PAC flag as opposed to the South African flag.
The funeral was in Graaf-Reniet in the Eastern Cape. Mabuza was forced to leave for security reasons.
Government Communications Deputy director general Phumla Williams said it was a sad day for Mama Sobukwe as government had to withdraw.
Sobukwe was granted an official funeral category 2. The handing over of the flag and ceremonial guard of honour which signaled the end of an official funeral had to be done at the marquee at the Botanical Gardens. This is usually done at the gravesite.
According to Williams, the decision was made to ensure that certain elements did not succeed in desecrating the dignity of Sobukwe’s funeral.
Sobukwe, widow of PAC founder Robert Sobukwe, died at the age of 91 at her home in Graaff-Reinet last Wednesday.
Leaders of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and members of the security forces had their work cut out for them as they tried to quell the disruptions at the anti-apartheid activist’s funeral.
Members of the PAC disrupted the official funeral programme as they disagreed with some of the protocols.
The official programme was cut short due to the continued disruptions. Disruptions ensued when Sobukwe’s coffin arrived at the Graaff-Reinet Botanical Gardens where the funeral was held.
Inside the venue police took over the official duties, such as carrying Sobukwe’s coffin inside. The first disruptions occurred when PAC members, some of them in military gear, sang PAC struggle songs during the police parade. They then forced their way inside the funeral venue and demanded to replace state branding with party branding.
Chaos continued inside the large tent as some PAC members refused to allow programme director Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to conduct proceedings. PAC leaders, including veterans of its armed wing the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), tried in vain to address the crowd and call them to order.
Changes were made to accommodate some of their demands. PAC branding was allowed inside the venue. The leader of a PAC faction, Luthando Mbinda, announced that the changes had been made and asked those present to accept the role of the state.
Narius Moloto, who leads another PAC faction, received a hostile reception and eventually left the venue due to the endless chaos.
The official programme was curtailed and proceedings were handed over to the PAC.
Speaking to the African News Agency (ANA) after the incident, Moloto said this was the work of the hooligans who came to disrupt the funeral.
“In PAC there are hooligans; this incident is the work of the hooligans who came here for the purpose of disrupting the moment where we should be paying our last respects,” Moloto said.
“This is the work of a cult inside the PAC,” he continued.