A noose at the gallows in Pretoria Central prison where freedom fighters were hanged during the apartheid regime.
301111. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu
894 A noose at the gallows in Pretoria Central prison where freedom fighters were hanged during the apartheid regime. 301111. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

More PAC activists hanged in 60s

By Time of article published Dec 14, 2011

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THE EXECUTION of more than 50 Poqo members in the 1960s was a fatal blow to the PAC’s military wing.

Of the more than 100 people hanged during this period at the Pretoria Central Prison for political reasons, more Poqo or PAC members were executed than those belonging to Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).

In a research paper, Madeleine Fullard of the National Prosecuting Authority’s Missing Persons Task Team, formed as per a recommendation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to search for missing graves of political prisoners, wrote that the strategies adopted by MK and Poqo differed in important ways and had different judicial consequences.

“Whereas attacks undertaken by Poqo members specifically sought to kill their targets, MK operatives adopted more classic clandestine small-scale cell structures and underground methods using sabotage to target state infrastructure in primarily symbolic attacks that actively sought to avoid loss of life.

“As a result, MK’s sabotage campaign involving at least 190 attacks led to very few deaths and injuries.

“The structure of Poqo was more along the lines of a conventional branch-based organisation with paid-up members. Their membership doubtless exceeded that of MK.

“Their methodology sought to involve large groups of people in attacks – a mass movement with clandestine activity. This combination could offer little secrecy. The consequences were severe; large numbers of trials and executions.”

She said the bulk of Poqo activity that resulted in trial and death sentences took place in the Transkei (24 hangings) and in the Cape (27 hangings) with some overlap between the two and two unconfirmed incidents in the Transvaal that led to 10 hangings. Most incidents took place in 1962.

The ANC regarded the Poqo efforts as misguided and doomed, she said.

Aside from a handful of cases that received campaign focus, most of the executions took place in a largely anonymous fashion and most of those executed never acquired the legendary status of other people who suffered other severe forms of state repression in this period, such as the Rivonia triallists, Fullard said.


1960s executions were characterised by “group hangings”, where four or more people were hanged for a particular offence.

“First, there were nine persons executed for their role in the Cato Manor riot of January 1960.

“Second, at least 21 persons were executed for their involvement in the Pondoland Revolt of 1960.

“Third, seven MK members were executed from the eastern Cape area.

“Fourth, at 61 by far the biggest group were Poqo members for their role in a range of incidents from 1960 to 1965,” she said.

The last execution was in 1968, and no further political executions would take place for 11 years. From the 1980s on, almost every death row inmate was linked to the ANC or its internal proponent, the United Democratic Front, or allied labour organisations and unions.

Mlungisi Luphondo, 21, a member of the Azanian National Youth Unity, was hanged on November 6, 1987.

He was apparently related to Cunningham Ngcukana, the general secretary of the African Allied Workers Union.

No other PAC-linked members or supporters were sentenced to death in the 1980s.

But while the judicial environment was harsh and racist towards political prisoners, it did not discriminate towards criminal prisoners.

In her testimony to the TRC regarding the death penalty, Paula McBride stated that according to a study, 47 percent of black people convicted of murdering white people were given the death sentence. Only 2.5 percent of black people convicted of murdering black people were sentenced to death. No white people convicted of murdering black people were sentenced to death.

According to Amnesty International, between June 1982 and June 1983, 81 black people were convicted of killing white people. Of that 81, 38 were hanged. None of the 21 white people convicted of murdering black people was executed.

A 1991 Black Sash report stated that more than 90 black men had been executed for raping white women, while not a single white man had been executed for raping a black woman. Except for one white man, John Harris, all those who were hanged in SA were male and African.

One coloured man, Robert McBride, and three African women Theresa Ramashamola, Evelinah de Bruin and Daisy Modise, were sentenced to death in the 1980s but were subsequently reprieved.

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