The former freedom fighter, who was also a former speaker of the City of Joburg, died on Friday following a short illness.
During the state of emergency in 1985 Bapela was detained and spent three months in the Norwood police station cells. Her family was denied access to her.
She was later taken to Joburg Prison, where she was confined for three years.
While in jail, Bapela and other inmates helped form Operation Phambana (Operation Turn Mad). They burnt their prison beds to get the attention of the authorities and to be given the chance to appear in court.
They were eventually released.
Bapela joined the City of Joburg in 1995 and served on several committees
She became became the speaker in the council, a position she lost after the 2016 local government elections when the DA took over the reins of the city.
Bapela’s death came as party members in Gauteng were already trying to find suitable candidates to fill key vacant positions in the provincial leadership.
Her passing has effectively created another headache for the ANC in Joburg as its regional chairman, Parks Tau, is among the favourites to secure the position of Gauteng ANC deputy chairman.
If Tau secures that job it would leave the region with two key positions to fill.
Tau’s supporters are believed to be lobbying a cross-section of ANC members to vote for him.
Announcing Bapela’s death on Friday, Joburg ANC spokesman Jolidee Matongo said the region had lost “a dedicated, committed and disciplined comrade”.