Mapetla Mohapi was born in the rural village of Jozanashoek, Sterkspruit in the former Transkei on 2 September 1947. He studied at the University of the North (Turfloop), where he graduated with a degree in Social Work in the early 1970s.
While studying at Turfloop, he was drawn to the philosophy of Black Consciousness, and became active in the South African Students Organisation (SASO). 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, was detained. He was released in April 1975 without charge.
Three months after he was elected the permanent Secretary of SASO and while serving as an administrator of a trust that took care of ex-political prisoners and their families, he was banned under the Suppression of Communism Act and confined to the areas of King William’s Town and Zwelitsha. A month after the start of the 1976 Soweto uprising, in a swoop of Black Consciousness activists, Mapetla was again detained without charge on 16 July.
Twenty days later, on 5 August 1976, Mohapi died in police custody.
Upon his death, police produced a “suicide note”, claiming he had committed suicide in his cell. An inquest held later did not make a finding on the suicide claim – the note was confirmed by a leading British handwriting expert as forgery Ð but found that no one could be held responsible for Mohapi’s death.
Mohapi gave his life in the struggle against Apartheid and for the liberation of his people. His untimely death at the hands of the Apartheid regime robbed South Africa of a great leader and hero.