President Cyril Ramaphosa tackled the accusations levelled against him by Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota and EFF leader Julius Malema head-on when he appeared in the National Assembly for his Sona reply.
Ramaphosa said that while he was advised not to dignify some comments that were made with any form of response and particularly, those by Lekota, he wanted to set the record straight.
The house was silent as Ramaphosa recounted the circumstances around his arrest in 1974, while a 21-year-old student at the University of the North. He said that Lekota was correct that they were detained as part of the same “trial event”.
At the time, Ramaphosa said, he and other prominent student leaders responded to a call to organise pro-Frelimo rallies. The president of the SRC, who Ramaphosa referred to only as Sedibe, and many others became deeply immersed in their task and thereby attracted the attention of the police.
The student leaders decided to march on the Mankweng police station. While the SRC went into the police station, Ramaphosa remained outside with the rest of the student mass. Ramaphosa said the police used the SRC to lure him inside the police station in order to arrest him before allowing them to leave.
“You can all leave now, Ramaphosa is under arrest,” Ramaphosa recalled the police telling SRC members.
Describing the arrest as “very traumatic” Ramaphosa said he was subsequently transferred to Pretoria Central Prison where he was held in solitary confinement before anyone was allowed to see him.
At that point, according to Ramaphosa, his father – who was a police sergeant at the time – came to see him and told him that the police wanted him to be a state witness against his fellow student leaders.
After interrogating him, police told him they wanted him to testify against amongst others Saths Cooper, Muntu Myeza and Lekota. Ramaphosa says he refused despite attempts to use his father the apply pressure on him.
Ramaphosa says he was transferred to Silverton Police Station where he was placed in a cell next to another student organiser who told him that he had also been approached to become a state witness. This person, who Ramaphosa refused to name, subsequently testified against Lekota and others – resulting in their conviction. Like many other anti-apartheid activists, they were sent to Robben Island to serve their sentence while Ramaphosa’s neighbour was released.
Recalling a conversation with his father during his detention at Silverton, Ramaphosa said he told his dad: “I will never betray my comrades. And if I did, where will I go and live afterwards? I refused”
The president says police eventually released him when they realised that he would not testify against his fellow students, but was again arrested and subsequently released without being charged.
“When you deal with security police there are three things they want from you: Either you give evidence against your comrades, or you become an askari and kill them, or you become a paid agent,” Ramaphosa told MPs.
“I did not do any of the three things they wanted. Not at all.
Ramaphosa says when police released him for the last time asked him to work with them. According to Ramaphosa, he responded: “I will never agree to work with you and betray my people.”
Turning to EFF leader Julius Malema, the president dealt with the allegations surrounding his time as a union organiser on the mines. “There is a story that is perpetuated by some that the NUM was a project of Anglo American. There is no such,” he said.
“At the time, Anglo American and Rand Mine were the only two mines that allowed mine workers to organise themselves. The union naturally grew from then onwards. Many claim that NUM was a project of Anglo.
“Now the question, why would Anglo work against its own interest because the NUM ended up having the most historic worker strikes and protests of the error.
“The same allegations were made against Nelson Mandela, that he was a sellout. I spoke to Comrade Silulu and he said they judged Mandela on his character, and that those allegations were unfounded based on the character they knew him to be.”
Ramaphosa went on to caution both Lekota and Malema against spreading these “divisive” rumours.
“These poisonous messages about people are dangerous. They can even lead to being people killed. As Oliver Tambo said ‘Be aware of the wedge driver.’
“I have never sold out anyone. I have never worked with the Apartheid state. All I have ever done is to fight for the liberation of our people.”