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David Wilcox Hlahane Bopape (Posthumous)

The Order of Luthuli in

David Wilcox Hlahane Bopape (Posthumous) Awarded for:
His exceptional life-long contribution to the liberation movement and resistance to the unjust laws of apartheid. His political and social activism continued to the day he passed on.
Profile of David Wilcox Hlahane Bopape (Posthumous)

David Wilcox Hlahane Bopape was born on 22 September 1915, in Houtboschdorp, in Limpopo. He attended school in Kratzestein, a Lutheran Church mission school. In 1936 he enrolled at Botshabelo completing high school and educator’s training qualifications. He was an educator, political and human rights activist. Bopape championed the cause of freedom and equality for South Africans during the struggle for democracy. In 1941 he settled in Brakpan and secured his second teaching post at the Berlin Mission School.

Bopape became an active member of the Transvaal African Teacher’s Association and subsequently the secretary of Teacher’s Salary Campaign. In 1940, he joined the Communist Party of South Africa and in 1942 he joined the African National Congress (ANC). He served the ANC (Transvaal) as secretary in 1944. He was one of the founding members of the ANC Youth League along Anton Lembede, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Dr Mda and others.

In May 1944, Bopape delivered a speech that spiralled into a political turmoil at the Non-European Council Meeting. Addressing a racially segregated audience, he called for the dismantling of racially based councils and demanded an African representation in political matters.

The response was the expulsion of Bopape from teaching by the Transvaal Education Department in collaboration with the Department of Native Affairs. As a result 2 000 pupils and the entire 7 000 strong local workforce embarked in a stay-away campaign. Despite the failure to reinstate Bopape, the Department of Native Affairs could not reduce his influence in the location. Brakpan remained a centre for political fermentation from which the ANC benefited 50 years later. He led the Blanket Campaign in 1941 in which educators were demanding better salaries. From 1943 to 1944 he was secretary of the Anti-Pass Campaign.

The campaigns were held against the enforcement of pass laws. In 1950 he led the Defend Free Speech Convention in which 10 000 men met in Marshall Square in support of the May Day strike. He was a leading figure in the Alexander Bus Boycott of 1943 and 1944 when thousands walked to and from work rather than submit to an increase in bus fares. He was an organiser of the 1948 Vote for All Convention.

In 1953 he hosted a special conference in Brakpan in solidarity with expelled Orlando High School educators, Zeph Mothopeng, Eski’a Mphahlele and Peter Mathlare. In 1955 he established ANC cultural clubs in defiance to Bantu Education. Bopape, Dr Dadoo, JB Marks and Moses Kotane were served with banning orders before the launch of the Defiance Campaign. After the campaign Bopape was arrested for canvassing for the Congress of the People for the adoption of the Freedom Charter. He was arrested in the then Transkei and served 24 days of hard labour.

Bopape and Dadoo were imprisoned at Number 4 Prison for violating their banning orders and sentenced to two years. He continued fighting the South African cause whenever the opportunity arose. After the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, Bopape remained in the country to continue mobilising for underground work. As a listed person he worked underground from 1960 to 1990 until all political parties were unbanned. In the 1970s Bopape took ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church and qualified as a lay preacher. Post-1994 he co-founded a land restitution body seeking compensation for people who were forcefully removed from the old Brakpan location.

Bopape died in Brakpan, Ekurhuleni, in Gauteng on 2 September 2004.