Last updated: 08 June 2011
Comrade Oscar Mafakafaka Mpetha was born in a village in the Mount Fletcher district, Transkei on 5 August 1909. He was educated at local schools and at Adams College in Natal.
He came to Cape Town as a migrant worker in 1937. In June 1938, he approached cde Ray Alexander together with another migrant worker Mr Mtinto, who had an accident. Oscar asked Ray to help Mr Mtinto to obtain Workmens Compensation. At that time there was Compensation Act. Employers registered some of the workers with private insurance companies. With Oscar’s help as interpreter, FAWU succeeded to get compensation for Mr. Mtinto. This made an impression on Oscar.
Cde Oscar then joined the People’s Club and attended lectures on trade unionisms and socialism. He became imbued with the idea of socialism.
Oscar had various jobs. In 1945 he worked at a fish canning factory at Laaiplek at the West Coast of Cape Town where he managed to recruit many workers on the West Coast into the Food and Canning Workers’ Union.
Not long after, cde Oscar was elected branch secretary. On 1 September 1950, cde Oscar was appointed as organizer for the African Food and Canning Workers’ Union. In 1952, he was elected general secretary of the AFCWU, the same year that he joined the ANC. By September of 1953, many of the union’s leaders were banned under the Communism Act. By then, cde Oscar had a great deal of responsibility resting on him.
In 1954, he joined the Communist Party. He also attended the Conference of the South African Trades and Labour Council. The council was dissolved in October 1954 and the Trade Union Council of South Africa (TUCSA) was established with a constitution that accepted registered trade unions only to the exclusion of African trade unions. Our union delegation with Oscar, Becky Lan, and other freedom loving delegates protested at the formation of TUCSA, and in March 1955 formed the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) SACTU was the first non-racial trade union body committed to fight for trade union democracy and for a democratic South Africa.
Cde Oscar was banned and harassed under the apartheid regime but carried on working during difficult circumstances. In 1958, he was elected president of the ANC in the W. Cape until the party was banned in 1960. Oscar, with 10 000 freedom fighters was detained in April 1060 under the emergency regulation. After his release in August 1960,Oscar continued to work underground.
In 1976-1977 during the Cillie Commission of Enquiry on Soweto and death by torture of Cde Elijah Loza, chairperson of SACTU’S Cape town branch, Oscar came forward. Not only did he make an indictment against the regime to the Commission of the death of Elijah Loza but demanded to investigate its cause.
In 1978, Cde Oscar’s banning order lapsed and he rejoined the FCWU and AFCWU and helped with the Fatti’s and Moni’s strike which ended in a victory for workers.
Oscar was a founder member of the Nyanga Residents Association which campaigned for decent housing, health facilities, adequate transport, etc. On 11 August 1980, fire was set to some vehicles by a group of protesters, injuring two whites, who died later on. On 13 August Oscar issued a statement to the press in which he condemned the role of the police in the incident. He was detained together with 18 young freedom fighters. He was held in Pollsmoor Prison dungeon, the same place where Elijah Loza had died. In March 1981, Oscar was convicted of terrorism and after a three- year trial in the Cape Town Supreme Court, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment. He was released on bail pending an appeal.
His appeal failed in 85 and he was re- arrested at his Nyanga home to serve his sentence. When FAWU was established in 1986 it accepted cde Oscar as a leader and participated in a national and international campaign for his release. In 86, his wife Rose died and the regime did not allow him to attend her funeral nor of his son Karl.
Oscar was only released in October 89 with our Rivonia political prisoners.
Spent most of his sentence under armed guard at Groote Schuur Hospital. He was an ill man who had both his legs amputated and moved around in a wheelchair with the aid of his private nurses. Comrade Oscar was happy his wish to see freedom in his lifetime was fulfilled. He voted in South Africa’s first democratic elections in April 1994 to win a government free of race and sex discrimination’’’
Comrade Oscar died on 15 November 1994 at his Gugulethu home.