Activists lay a charge in 105-year-old murder case

Durban community activists have launched a bid to reopen an investigation into a century-old murder case. 

The group, led by community activist Kiru Naidoo, met with Phoenix police station commander Brigadier Bafana Ndlovu on Monday in the hopes of launching a fresh investigation into the 1913 murder of four indentured labourers. 

According to the group, Pachiappan Ragavan, Selvan Guruvadu, Soubrayen Gounden and another unnamed man were shot and killed on a plantation at the Blackburn and Hillhead barracks of Natal Estates Ltd in Mount Edgecombe on November 27 in 1913.

Colin Campbell, the estate manager, was accused of the murders but was exonerated by a Verulam magistrate. 

“What has brought us here is that we want to lay a charge against this colonialist (Campbell) because today marks 105 years since their death. Their souls need some kind of closure because they were not given any closure in their death. We need to have them remembered because they played a pivotal role in our liberation,” said  Gary Govindsamy, a representative of the Guruvadu family. 

“It’s a symbolic charge we want to open. Nobody is going to be charged because the people are dead, but we need to know what has happened for some kind of closure,” he said.

Govindsamy opened a charge of murder at the station.

The men were killed during Satyagraha, a time of nonviolent resistance by indentured labourers, who refused to go to work in protest against a tax. The term Satyagraha was coined by activist Mahatma Gandhi.

Ndlovu, who met the men outside the police station, questioned why they did not launch an inquiry into the inquest that was already opened, as opposed to opening a new case. 

 “The investigations by the police were very superficial. Campbell was an influential man. What we want is a better investigation that will lead to an inquest, something like the inquests that have been reopened into those martyrs who were murdered by the police in those days,” said Raj Badal, an attorney who had been advising the group. 

Professor Shanta Singh, head of criminology and forensic studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said advancements in forensic technology could assist in the new probe.

“Forensic analysis has developed rapidly in the last century and DNA technology, in particular, has opened ways of analysing bodies that were previously unsolicited. Such technology is increasingly being applied to cases from the past, and mysteries are finally solved, using modern forensics,” she said. 

Ndlovu told the group that they could submit an affidavit, but he could not make any promises about the case. 

“I don’t want to make a promise that there will be something from the archives … I will discuss the matter with our legal officials, so they can advise on what should happen,” said Ndlovu. 

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