Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele. Picture: Gallo Images
A symbolic ceremony was held on Friday to "release" 12 political prisoners who died on Robben Island, the correctional services ministry said.
Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said for the last four years, the Robben Island museum staff and the families of the 12 prisoners, who died during the apartheid era, had tried to find out what had happened to them.
It was believed the men were buried at the Stikland cemetery, in Bellville, Cape Town.
"Since 2009, the families had been conducting pilgrimages to Robben Island, and to the Stikland cemetery, to reconnect spiritually with the deceased," said Ndebele.
However, remains exhumed at the cemetery could not be positively identified, and in 2011 archaelogists also could not locate any remains of the prisoners.
"The parties then decided to explore alternative mechanisms to honour political prisoners who died during incarceration on Robben Island."
In January, it was decided to hold a "spiritual repatriation" ceremony.
Ndebele said it was part of African culture to return the spirit of someone who had died away from home to their place of birth.
"The fetching and symbolic repatriation of the spirits forms part of a body of knowledge of African thoughts about incarceration."
He said during the ceremony the prisoners were spiritually cleansed so their traumatic experiences of life in jail were removed and they could start on a "clean slate".
The names and prison numbers of the political prisoners are: Jimmy Simon 10/63; Zincwasile Mvalwana 271/64; Sipho Khalipha 426/64; Mountain Langben 297/64; Marthiens Batyi 107/63; Frank Mani 55/65; John Poni 81/65; Mlungisi Mqalu 869/64; Reuben Maliwa 34/66; Solomon Makisi 85/65; Charlie Mkele 58/65; and Lameki Kula 126/63.
"May this symbolic release ceremony today serve to inform the entire nation about the first steps towards the symbolic closure of this painful chapter that was endured by these family members for more than 40 years," said Ndebele.
"These sacrifices of our freedom fighters were not in vain, and we have a responsibility to demonstrate, and celebrate that fact."