Johannesburg: The mortal remains of struggle heroes Moses Kotane and JB Marks will be repatriated on March 2 from the city of Moscow, Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa said on Monday.

A special reception to welcome back the remains of the struggle stalwarts will be held at Waterkloof Air Force Base.

“As we leave for Russia, today we salute them for their self-sacrifice, passion and commitment to nourish hopes and aspirations of the formerly oppressed nation. These are heroes and legends that have helped to take this country forward,” Minister Mthethwa said.

President Jacob Zuma tasked the Department of Arts and Culture to lead and coordinate the repatriation and reburial of Kotane and Marks.

Speaking at a media briefing on Monday, Minister Mthethwa said Kotane and Marks died in Russia in the 1970s when the struggle had reached a point of no return.

“They will be remembered as heroes of our liberation struggle who were instruments of national unity, peace and bringing our diverse people together to build one human family in one country,” he said.

Minister Mthethwa said Kotane and Marks were at the forefront of popularising the struggle to people in all corners of the world.

“They championed the struggle for democracy in this country, in the African continent… most importantly in Europe, especially the former USSR now known as Russia.

“Russia was a country that gave our struggle unconditional support,” he said.

Minister Mthethwa said the story of Kotane and Marks and the generation they represented captured and reflected how courageous men and women stood up for moral principles in the face of the country’s shameful history.

“These two men, at a great personal cost to themselves and their families, chose to fight for freedom and democracy,” he said.

Minister Mthethwa said his department has been working closely with the South African Mission in Moscow to host the handover ceremony for the remains of Kotane and Marks at the embassy.

Some of the family members of the struggle heroes will be part of the delegation leaving for Russia.

Kotane and Marks were both buried in the city Moscow in the Novodevichy cemetery.

“We will host a wreath laying ceremony, a memorial service and deliver a lecture to share our perspective and appreciation of the meaning of these legends,” he said.

The reburial of the remains of Kotane and Marks will take place in Pella and Ventersdop in the North West on 14 March and 22 March respectively.

The Presidency has declared the funerals as special official funerals in recognition of the role they played in the struggle for liberation.

Kotane’s son, Sam Kotane, said his family was grateful to President Zuma, Minister Mthethwa, the Department of Arts and Culture and other departments who have been involved in the repatriation process.

“We are very happy that the remains of our dearly beloved father are being brought back from Russia after having being buried there in 1978. Evidently I am filled with mixed emotions: very happy that the remains are coming back but sad that he is coming back to a free country.

“He left South Africa in 1963 at the request of President Oliver Tambo to go and assist the African National Congress in lobbying the international community to fight the injustice of apartheid in South Africa,” he said.

Sam said he last saw his father in 1977 in Moscow.