Solly Mapaila apologises to Sobukwe family and PAC, says comments were distorted

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. PHOTO: Drum Photographer Baileys Archives
Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. PHOTO: Drum Photographer Baileys Archives

The SACP's Solly Mapaila says he has apologised to the family of former PAC leader Robert Sobukwe as well as the party's current leadership for comments he made.

On Wednesday, IOL reported that Mapaila described Sobukwe as someone who was favoured by the apartheid regime.

Mapaila reportedly made the comments on Tuesday at a dialogue celebrating the Rivonia Triallists at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia.

But, in a statement released on Thursday, Mapaila said he offered "an unreserved apology" to the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), the Sobukwe family as well as Sobukwe's legacy.

"This morning I met the leadership of the PAC, President Narius Moloto, to express my apology. 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."

Mapaila said he fully respected the anti-apartheid activist's contribution to the liberation struggle.

He added that while his apology was unreserved, he wanted to clear up some "distortions" that had been made by "some elements in the media".

"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."

According to the IOL report, Mapaila claimed that the anti-apartheid activist was treated as the only political prisoner on Robben Island, while others were regarded as terrorists.

On Wednesday, when asked about his claims by a reporter from broadcaster eNCA, Mapaila stood by his claims and added that he blamed the apartheid government - not Sobukwe.

"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.

"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"

READ: 'I don't understand his thinking' - Robert Sobukwe's son reacts to comments about his dad

Reacting to the comments on Wednesday, Sobukwe's son Dini Sobukwe dismissed Mapaila's utterances and told News24 that they were "borne out of anger".

"My father was in Robben Island. He served his sentence. There are many people who served in many prisons with him who are alive and can tell a better story. If he was given preferential treatment, he would not have missed his family.

"It is unfortunate to think about isolation only. He suffered a lot while in isolation. Mapaila's remarks were borne out of anger. I don't understand his thinking. I don't know where his utterances came from," Sobukwe said.


The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation's executive director, Neeshan Balton, said it was astonishing that historical distortions of such a nature could be perpetuated.

"The comments by… Mapaila are unwarranted and come across as being malicious. They are a distraction from the core issues besetting the country currently."

Balton also called on Mapaila to apologise for his comments, saying that Kathrada, who was a Rivonia Trialist, had on several visits to Robben Island where he was also imprisoned, spoken about the cruelty of Sobukwe's imprisonment.

"…Irrespective of being imprisoned in a house and having greater access to members of his family – in some ways, had a far more difficult time on the Island than himself. Kathrada would say that in B-Section, where he, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and others were jailed, prisoners could communicate with each other, while the level of political isolation faced by Sobukwe, was designed specifically to break his spirit," said Balton. 

He added that as a prisoner, Sobukwe would have no say about the type of conditions that he was held under, and would have no bargaining power over the apartheid authorities.

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