Re-humanisation, history and a forensic aesthetic: Understanding a politics of the dead in the figuring of Ntombikayise Priscilla Kubheka
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In 1987 Ntombikayise Priscilla Kubheka was abducted, tortured, killed and her body dumped by apartheid security police. She was an uMkhonto WeSizwe (MK), the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), commander based in Durban and was in charge of weaponry storage and organised safe houses for those returning from exile. Amnesty applications and perpetrator testimony given at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) amnesty hearings alleged that Kubheka had died, while being interrogated, from a heart attack. The perpetrators claimed the heart attack was possibly as a result of Kubheka being overweight. In 1997 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) exhumed skeletal remains and items of clothing, including a floral dress, from a pauper grave in Charlottedale cemetery, Groutville. The exhumed skull indicated a bullet wound. The post-mortem and numerous forensic examinations confirmed the identification of the skeletal remains to be those of Kubheka. The forensic examinations of the items of clothing confirmed the findings of the skeletal examinations in establishing identification. These forensic examinations and its findings contested testimony given by the perpetrators. Through the TRC investigations and its findings, a question of what it may mean to re-humanise the once missing emerges. This mini-thesis underscores a notion of re-humanisation through the work of the TRC in its investigation into the enforced disappearance of Kubheka. It suggests that figuring Kubheka through a notion of re-humanisation in the context of the TRC requires one to understand both de-humanisation and re-humanisation and the ways in which gender complicates these understandings. It does so by examining testimonies, t he exhumation, the forensic examinations, the emergence of a forensic aesthetic and the productions of biographies and forensic memory to understand how these might be processes and strategies of re-humanisation. This mini-thesis then is a forensic history that navigates a politics of the dead by examining the figuring of Kubheka through various fields and in various forums. In so doing, the argument presented in what follows is that the notion of re-humanisation is an inherently unstable one but at its core is a politics of the dead that misses gender it its figuring of the human.