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Isaac Lesiba Maphotho (1931 - )

The Order of Luthuli in

Isaac Lesiba Maphotho (1931 - ) Awarded for:
Outstanding contribution and dedicating his life to a free and just democratic South Africa.

Profile of Isaac Lesiba Maphotho

Born in Ga-Makgato (Blouberg Municipality) on 26 February 1931, Isaac Lesiba Maphotho completed his Standard 6 at Uitkyk Secondary School in 1952.

Maphotho left his home town towards the end of 1952 to search for employment in Pretoria. Upon finding a job at the City Council, working in the Department of Native Affairs, 'Bra Ike', as Maphotho is affectionately known, was soon confronted with the discriminatory laws and exploitative conditions under apartheid labour laws, prompting him to seek a political solution to this suffocating atmosphere.

He found the answer in the African National Congress (ANC) and soon became an active member. Atteridgeville and Benoni were his areas of political operation and he soon became recognised as a strong and principled political leader. Through the ANC, Maphotho became involved in underground activities to destabilise the apartheid regime, before he left the country for Dar es Salaam on 28 February 1961.

He became one of the first recruits of Umkhonto We Sizwe, which was established in December 1961. In 1962, the ANC sent him to Beirut International School from where he returned to Dar es Salaam in 1963. In the same year, he was enrolled for military training in the former Soviet Union as part of the Luthuli detachment.

Some of his comrades included current Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, Pat Mmolawa and the late Joe Modise (former Minister of Defence). Maphotho was the commander of the detachment and after completion of his training in 1965, he returned to the Kongwa Camp in Dodoma region, Tanzania, where he continued to serve as commander until 1967.

He rose among the ranks of the ANC when he was given the mammoth task of chief logistics officer for the Luthuli detachment during military operations. This led to the fateful day of 6 April 1968 when he was captured by the erstwhile Rhodesian security forces.

He was duly tried and sentenced to death on 9 August 1968 before being imprisoned at the Gami Maximum Prison. There he continued to serve the ANC as a group leader for 13 years until his release by the new Zimbabwe Government under Robert Mugabe on 14 May 1980.

In the 1980s, he travelled extensively in his capacity as the regional leader of the ANC to mobilise the international community against the apartheid system. Some of the countries he visited included Libya, Cuba, Scotland, England, Italy, Spain, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Germany, Chile, Sudan, Ethiopia and Switzerland.

After the unbanning of the ANC, Maphotho returned to South Africa in 1992, 31 years after he left the country. He continued to serve the ANC in various capacities and initiated the Limpopo Premier's Bursary Fund tasked with funding tertiary education for needy students. In a fitting honour to this struggle icon, the ANC's Isaac Maphotho Branch in Polokwane was named after him.

Maphotho dedicated his entire adult life to the struggle for liberation and human rights in this country. The racist conditions into which he was born aroused in him a principled political consciousness that sought to restore the humanity of all.

Isaac Lesiba Maphotho is still serving the ANC with loyalty and is a member of the provincial legislature in Limpopo.