Ex-Robben Island political prisoners plan reunion

CAPE TOWN. — The Ex-Political Prisoner Association of South Africa (EPPA) will hold a reunion of apartheid political prisoners on Robben Island in April, its national deputy secretary, Mpho Masemola, said yesterday.

The reunion and conference follows after a meeting with President Jacob Zuma in December, where some of the former political prisoners discussed a number of issues, and the assistance they required from various government departments.

The conference would address the association’s concerns over public criticism of President Zuma and calls for him to step down, as well as how to galvanise support for a push towards agrarian and socio-economic reform.

At the meeting on December 6 in Pretoria, the EPPA representatives questioned why veterans were not included on the SA National Defence Force’s Military Veterans’ database. They also called for the presidency to honour those who had been arrested and had served time on the island during apartheid.

They want a review of their funeral scheme and for a Robben Island Institute of Leadership to be established to “restore” the history of the island.

Reunion delegates were expected to include freedom fighters from the South West African People’s Organisation (Swapo) who operated in what is now independent Namibia, including Toivo Ya Toivo. Namibia was previously part of apartheid South Africa and a protracted war for independence was led by Swapo.

The EPPA was formed by the late former president Nelson Mandela, who spent almost 30 years on the island.

The cells that he and other political prisoners were locked in, have been preserved.

Ferries are usually fully booked for days with tourists who want to make the pilgrimage to see the cells which held Mandela and other liberation leaders.

The conference comes as political veterans and former Robben Island prisoners, such as Ahmed Kathrada, have criticised President Zuma’s refusal to heed calls for him to step down after the Constitutional Court’s Nkandla judgment and “state capture” allegations.

Other high profile anti-apartheid activists, like former finance minister Trevor Manuel and struggle stalwart Cheryl Carolus, have also been critical of the ruling party.

Masemola said that “sporadic calls, by born again politicians, for regime change” were unwarranted, and that they were undermining the Constitution.

“It is surprising that these individuals and organisations have not spoken out on land, rising unemployment, monopoly capital, agrarian issues and the control of the means of production by a few foreigners,’’ he said in a statement on the reunion.

“Saving South Africa is a collective effort. Not the preserve of a self-congratulatory few who lack the moral superiority to pass judgement on our people and leadership.”

The Department of Arts and Culture would be assisting with the preparations for the reunion, said Masemola.

ANC will use the celebrations to reclaim lost support — Mbalula. — News24.

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