Solly’s folly: SACP figure’s mea culpa to the Sobukwes
Does Mapaila’s faux pas and subsequent flip-floppery represent a national disenchantment?
Descendants of Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) founder and struggle stalwart Robert Sobukwe have accepted the “unreserved” apology of the SACP’s Solly Mapaila.
Mapaila implied on Tuesday, during a lecture at Johannesburg’s historic Liliesleaf Farm, held to celebrate the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, that Sobukwe had received preferential treatment while on Robben Island.
He had claimed Sobukwe was kept in a house and had access to special privileges while other prisoners were subjected to hard labour.
Sobukwe’s son Dini, speaking to Times Select on Thursday, said the family had accepted Mapaila’s act of contrition and now considered the matter closed.
“I have spoken to the family, and we have accepted the apology, and really, after all this there is nothing left to say.” Mapaila fell on his sword on Thursday after his comments drew widespread condemnation on social media, where he was quickly labelled a “fake communist”, “yellow communist” and heartless.
He also moved to clarify the intent and context of his comments.
“I made comments regarding the unforgivable segregatory approach that was followed by the apartheid regime with regard to the treatment of prisoners, specifically Robben Island prisoners. In emphasising the point, I included the name of Robert Sobukwe as an example,” he said.
He conceded the PAC founder had suffered greatly during his internment, cloistered away from other prisoners as a form of torture.
“I have 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,” he said.
He said while his apology was unconditional, it “remained necessary” to clear up the distortion of his comments by the media.
“In my address, I never said, and never did I infer, that Sobukwe colluded with the apartheid regime or betrayed the struggle,” he said.
“I must concede that this distortion followed the posture I adopted on the presentation of this matter. I could have been more restrained.”
According to an IOL report, Mapaila had initially described Sobukwe as someone who was favoured by the apartheid regime.
He claimed the anti-apartheid activist was treated as the only political prisoner on Robben Island, while others were regarded as terrorists.
Later that day, he told eNCA he stood by his comments.
“They put him in a house. He was treated as the only political prisoner while others were treated as terrorists and slaves, and were condemned to hard labour in Robben Island. All over the world it is known. Political prisoners are treated better. The worst criminals are condemned,” the station reported.
“That is what happened to our leaders in Robben Island. They were crushing stones every single day in the quarry. Robert Sobukwe had privileges. He could receive clothing, he could receive books, he could have a radio, he had a whole house to himself, although he was in isolation.”
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said in terms of struggle history, Sobukwe had been ostensibly canonised and it was no surprise Mapaila’s comments were met with backlash.
“Personally, I wondered what he [Mapaila] was trying to achieve. For someone like Solly to have the temerity to take that position was unbelievable,” he said.
Mathekga said Mapaila’s faux pas should not be viewed in isolation.
“Nelson Mandela has been called a sellout, Sobukwe’s contribution was denigrated now, and even President Cyril Ramaphosa was criticised by Mosiuoa Lekota. Maybe we have become so disenchanted as a nation that we want to destroy the history of our liberation struggle,” he said.
Mapaila’s apology should be welcomed, Mathekga said. “But we should be concerned that the statement was made in the first place,” he added.
President Cyril Ramaphosa used a joint sitting of parliament to rubbish claims that he colluded with the security branch.
This after Lekota on Wednesday dropped a shocking allegation in parliament that Ramaphosa had sold comrades out to the apartheid security branch in 1974 when they were student activists taking part in a Frelimo rally.
Ramaphosa responded on Thursday, saying he refused to sell out his comrades, even after the security branch tried to get his father, who was a police officer at the time, to get him to agree to turn state witness against his fellow activists.