The small Free State town of Koppies came to a standstill yesterday when hundreds of residents gathered to rebury one-month- old John Mnisi, whose parents were forced to exhume his body.
Little Mnisi died last month and his parents buried him on a farm where they were employed as labourers. Only his parents were at his first burial.
Three weeks after his private funeral, his parents Maria Mnisi and Phineas Johnson decided to resign, but they were told by their employer, Fanie Hyman, not to leave the body behind on the farm.
They were then allegedly forced to exhume John's remains, then driven 30km to Pretoria where they were "dumped" by Hyman at his scrap yard.
Stranded, the couple went to the Zandfontein police station. Both were arrested and charged with the illegal exhumation of a corpse. They were also detained for five days.
But yesterday the residents of Koppies and members of the Free State government marked John Mnisi's death as a reminder that racism was still rife in the country and had to be fought to the bitter end.
In a tribute to John, chairman of the ANC Women's League in the Free State, Sisi Ntombela, described his life as a sacrifice for the entire nation.
"I am John," Ntombela said. "I came here to bless my parents. I was never involved in politics and I did not make anyone angry. I was buried and exhumed, this to open your eyes to the harsh realities of your world. I came to remind you that your people are still unemployed and homeless. I am John and I was only four weeks old."
The hall reacted to this by crying, while Mnisi and Johnson just sat and stared into space, with occasional sobs. Both kept a watchful eye on their child's coffin. Traditional rites were performed at John's first grave.
During the service Mothusi Lepheyane of the South African Human Rights Commission in the Free State said society's watchdogs had the responsibility to make their presence felt.
The couple, together with Hyman, was charged with violation of a corpse. They will appear in court on April 22.