Mapetla Mohapi: Lessons on Revolutionary Leadership

Mapetla Frank Mohapi was born in the rural village of Jozanashoek, Sterkspruit in the former Transkei (now Eastern Province) 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.

What was the mood during that time?

The mid-1960s to the early 1970s, there was an all-pervasive mood of fear and political silence. The post Sharpeville bannings and incarcerations had rendered our communities politically mute. You were not even supposed to mention the word “politics.”

That was when the limited political space was occupied by a multi-racial student organization, the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). The reality of our existence exposed the limitations of liberal white students towards contributing to our liberation. They wanted Black students to comply with certain prescripts of the Apartheid laws. This led to the realization by Steve Biko and others, that Black people were being expected to be spectators in a game there were supposed to playing it. With a clarion call of ‘Black Man you are on your own’, the Black Consciousness Movement was born, with the first organization being the South African Students Organization (SASO). It is this organization that was to spew out gallant leaders such as Onkgopotse Tiro, who exposed the system of Bantu education and the Apartheid laws. His speech led to him being expelled, followed by a walkout of students during the famous 1972 Strikes.

Mapetla Mohapi was amongst those students.

He took up the position as the Regional Secretary of SASO. SASO believed in community consultations. It was during such consultations that frank discussion and the analysis of the situation took place. It was during these consultations that the leadership qualities of Mapetla came to the fore. He was later elected Permanent Secretary of SASO.

SASO saw the student issues as being an integral part of broader community struggles. This can be traced from SASO Creed which says:

“We believe in the Black dead, the Black living and the Black unborn. We believe that the Blak Community has a prior call to our talents, and we shall respond when it calls..!”

Mapetla embodied and lived this creed.

Like the activists of the time, detentions were part of his regular experience. He was detained after the pro-FRELIMO rallies of 1974. On his release, in 1975, he was slapped with a 5 year banning order under the Suppression of Communism and Terrorism Act. Like all leaders of the Movement at the time, Mapetla had no respect for the banning.

In 1976 when SOWETO erupted, he was amongst those leaders that were picked up. He was detained on July 16, 1976.

Twenty days later, Mapetla died in police custody. The apartheid police produced a “suicide note” which was later found to be fraudulent.

When you look at the Comrade, you will realize that his life story is an affirmation of the correctness of our negation of the tribal designation for the purpose of subjugation, oppression and exploitation. This is very important, given the re-Bantustanization of our politics. I humbly submit that the provincial demarcation were agreed to with a bow and a nod to the Bantustan demarcations. This compromised arrangement was brought about by pressure from the Inkatha-led block during the Kempton Park negotiations.

Why am I saying this?

Here was a man of Sotho lineage, born in the Eastern Cape. Just that is a relevant message today, because there has been a retrogression in our political and philosophical outlook. Certain ethnic groupings are supposed to be linked with certain provinces.

As I am saying this, I am concerned about the occasional genuflecting by our politicians to certain chiefs and kings. I have also noted with curiosity cars bearing a “Venda” flag, with a message, “Re shumela Venda”.

Mapetla stood for One Azania One Nation!

I have noted that there has been efforts to link Mapetla with the ANC. This is not incorrect. It has to be remembered that during the 1970s, the position of the BCM was to support all our liberation formations, from the ANC, PAC and Unity Movement.

As we honour Mapetla let us remember the following:

  • The importance of active participation in our struggle.
  • Nobody will liberate us but ourselves.
  • The importance of community consultation.
  • Our Movement has led a lot of successful campaigns, because they had the support of the communities.
  • the importance of international solidarity.
  • the importance of participation in campaigns against substance abuse with Nyaope as a major destroyer of the youth.
  • the importance of active participation in campaigns against gender-based violence

Just as Mapetla led by providing support to ex-political prisoners
Let us remember the importance of studying – we need to deepen our understanding of the theory of revolution.

As I am about to sit down, let me live you with something to ponder. Mapetla worked very closely with Steve Biko. Infact one Comrade once observed that in a military sense, Steve would be the Commissar and Mapetla the General…!

Lastly, have you ever considered the coincidence that Steve wrote under the pseudonym FRANK TALK. Mapetla’s second name was FRANK…!



This entry was posted in Speeches, What's New and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.