Pic Courtesy of Mohapi Family
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
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
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
Mobile 082 411 1214
Distributed by Imtiaz Ahmed Cajee – nephew of Ahmed Timol on behalf of the Mohapi Family