Pic Courtesy of Mohapi Archives
Pic Courtesy of Mohapi Family Archives

The 5th August 2019 marks the 43rd  anniversary of the death of Mapetla Mohapi (age 29), former member of the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). A month after the start of the 1976 Soweto uprising, in a swoop of Black Consciousness activists, Mapetla was detained without charge on 16 July 1976.

Twenty days after his arrest, Mapetla died in police custody at the Kei Road Police Station in King Williams Town on 5 August 1976. In an inquest that was held in 1977, Magistrate A. J. Swart found that Mapetla Mohapi died from an application of force to the neck and that nobody was to be blamed. In effect, though not in form, the verdict was of suicide.

Mohapi studied at the University of the North (Turfloop), where he graduated with a degree in Social Work; BA (Soc SC) in the early 1970s.  After students at several Black universities held pro-Frelimo rallies in October 1974 to celebrate the independence of Mozambique, Mohapi, together with several other leaders of SASO and the Black People’s Convention, were detained under the Terrorism Act on 11 October 1974 and released in April 1975, 173 days later without any charges laid against him. Steve Biko, Dr Mamphela Ramphele and Ambassador Thenjiwe Mtintso were some of his many contemporaries.

In 1975, Mohapi went to Durban to work as an organizer for the black consciousness movement. Three months after he was elected the permanent Secretary of SASO and while serving as an administrator of the Zimile Trust Fund that took care of ex-political prisoners and their families, he was banned on 23 September 1975 under the Suppression of Communism Act and confined to the areas of King William’s Town and Zwelitsha.

Nohle Mohapi, wife of Mapetla, was one of the first witnesses who testified at the opening of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in East London on the 15th April 1996. Nohle, an anti-apartheid activist who was detained and banned in 1978 pleaded with the Commissioners, “I want to repeat, my hope is that the TRC will reveal, will try to find out what happened to their father, so that when my children are elderly people, they will know exactly what happened to their father”.

Mapetla’s daughters, Motheba who was two years old and Konehali seven months old when their father was killed in police detention, want answers. “Once the TRC had concluded its work, the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) had a duty to investigate all TRC cases. What has been done to reverse the inquest findings of the murder of our father? We and our kids need to know what happened to our father.  Our history must be recorded correctly. Like the historic reversal of the Ahmed Timol inquest in 2017, we and many other families also want the inquest findings of our loved ones reversed.”

The 1977 Inquest heard that Mapetla had written a “suicide” note, “This is just to say goodbye to you. You can carry on interrogating my dead body. Perhaps you will get what you want from it. Your friend, Mapetla.” Nohle stated that the note was a fake and part of the police cover-up that they had killed her husband. This was supported by Professor Clarence E. Bohn from the George University Washington who had 35 years of experience working for the FBI reporting that the “suicide” note was forged.

Thenjiwe Mtintso (Ambassador in Spain) who was exiled in Lesotho stated in her affidavit to the 1976 inquest that during her interrogation, a wet towel was placed over her head and neck by Capt. R Hansen. The cell door was closed and she was made to sit on the floor. Hansen pulled the towel over her head until it reached her neck. He then pulled the two ends tight over and across her neck, which had the effect of making not breathe.

Mapetla’s wife, Nohle was told during interrogation that she would go the same way as her husband if she failed to co-operate with her interrogators.

There are a number of commemorative events that will be taking place to commemorate the 43rd anniversary. This includes an annual day of sports games held at Mapetla’s hometown of Sterkspruit on the 10 – 11 August 2019, where the community will be celebrating his life and honouring his legacy. A Peace Walk to Kei Road Police Station to visit the cell where Mapetla died and a wreath laying ceremony was held on Saturday, 03rd August 2019.

​Mapetla Mohapi was the 24th detainee to die in police detention between 1963 – 1990.


For more information

please contact Konehali Gugushe: 

Mobile 082 411 1214

Email kone.gugushe@gmail.com

Distributed by Imtiaz Ahmed Cajee – nephew of Ahmed Timol on behalf of the Mohapi Family