Unreserved apology from Solly Mapaila to the PAC, Sobukwe family

Solly Mapaila
Solly Mapaila
Image: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Vathiswa Ruselo

The South African Communist Party’s (SACP) leader Solly Mapaila has apologised for saying the apartheid government afforded late PAC president Robert Sobukwe preferential treatment during his arrest on Robben Island.

Sobukwe, who defected from the ANC to create PAC, had spent six years of solitary confinement on Robben Island for incitement.

"I hereby furnish an unreserved apology to the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), the Sobukwe family and to his legacy. I fully respect the Prof’s contribution to the liberation struggle," Mapaila said in a statement on Thursday.

Mapaila said he had met with PAC president Narius Moloto on Thursday morning to express his apology in person.

"I have also spoken with the Sobukwe family, through Dini Sobukwe, to express my profound apology and will create time to visit the family in person. I will also engage other leaders of the PAC on the matter."

On Tuesday, at an event at Liliesleaf Farm in Johannesburg, Mapaila used Sobukwe's name in commenting on "the unforgivable segregatory approach that was followed by the apartheid regime with regard to the treatment of prisoners, specifically Robben Island prisoners".

In an interview with eNCA on Wednesday, Mapaila said: "I was not blaming Robert Sobukwe, I was blaming the apartheid government and his collusion and his participation in that regard. For instance, they put him in a house on Robben Island, they treated him as the main political prisoner when others were treated as terrorists and slaves."

He said other political prisoners on Robben Island were forced to do hard labour, while Sobukwe had "privileges", like receiving clothing and books.

Mapaila added that the treatment Sobukwe received was used as a punishment to political prisoners who supported SACP.

On Thursday, Mapaila said his message had been distorted.

"In my address, I never said, and never did I infer, that Sobukwe colluded with the apartheid regime or betrayed the struggle. Of course I must concede that this distortion followed the posture I adopted on the presentation of this matter. I could have been more restrained."

"...Notwithstanding the apartheid regime’s deliberate segregation, our movement indeed regarded all the apartheid prisoners as political prisoners. I remain respectful of all political prisoners from different persuasions and ideologies, including Professor Robert Sobukwe."

He said his late younger brother, Jomo Walter, had belonged to the Pan Africanist Students Organisation (Paso), to the PAC and its military wing, the Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla). "We never denied his affiliation and activism in the PAC."

He said Sobukwe's incarceration was imposed by an illegitimate racist apartheid regime and he had no control of their actions.

"He accordingly suffered greatly, isolated from other prisoners as another form of torture. That the apartheid regime even went to the extent of inserting the 'Sobukwe Clause' in the General Law Amendment Act of 1963 – which empowered the minister of justice to prolong the detention of any political prisoner indefinitely – to empower itself to continue his illegal incarceration is indeed an unforgivable act by the disgraced apartheid regime," he said.

- Additional reporting by TimesLIVE

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