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John Nyathi Pokela

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John Nyathi Pokela

John Nyathi Pokela
Chairman of the Pan Africanist Congress
In office
February 1981 – June 1985
Preceded by Vusumzi Make
Succeeded by Johnson Mlambo
Personal details
Born 1922 or 1923
Herschel, Transkei, South Africa
Died 30 June 1985
Parirenyatwa Hospital, Zimbabwe
Political party Pan Africanist Congress

John Nyathi "Poks" Pokela (1922[1] or 1923[2] – 30 June 1985) was a South African political activist and Chairman of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). Born in Herschel in the Transkei region, he was educated at Healdtown Comprehensive School and the University of Fort Hare. Originally a member of the African National Congress Youth League, he left the African National Congress and helped found the PAC in the late 1950s.[2]

Incarceration on Robben Island

In 1966, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison on Robben Island on charges of sabotage related to the Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA), the militant wing of the Pan Africanist Congress; he had helped found the APLA (originally known as Poqo) in 1961, along Z. B. Molete and Clarence Mlali Makwetu.[3]

While incarcerated, Pokela worked towards uniting the various factions of the PAC. In 1980, having served his sentence, Pokela was released from Robben Island. In February 1981, he was appointed to succeed Vusumzi Make, (who had resigned after the Chunya massacre in March 1980 when APLA troops refused to accept his leadership), to become head of the Tanzanian backed faction of the PAC.[1] His leadership was rejected by the survivors of the 500 strong APLA Chunya force as well as the Maoist PAC factions in Zimbabwe, Libya, Ghana, and Kenya but Tanzania persuaded the Mugabe government to deport or imprison the major opponents (Leballo, Leeman, Gaelisiwe, Buqwana) .[4]

Chairmanship of the Pan Africanist Congress

Attempts at intra-party reconciliation

Once he assumed the position of chairman, Pokela set to work reuniting the PAC, which had been fractured since the 1979 Tanzanian-backed deposition of Chairman Potlako Leballo, leader of the party from 1962 to 1979. He held talks with the 70 member Azanian People’s Revolutionary Party (APRP), a short-lived offshoot of the PAC formed by members expelled by 1978 PAC National Executive meeting in Arusha. Because of this reconciliation effort, they rejoined in 1982 and the APRP disbanded.[1]

Support for Iraq

During the Iran–Iraq War, Pokela visited Baghdad, Iraq with a PAC delegation, and stated his support for Iraq. However, this was contrary to the position of the PAC, which was to not pick sides in a conflict between members of the Non-Aligned Movement, and Pokela was criticized for this action by other members of the party, including Henry Isaacs and Mike Muendane. Iraq later sent 50,000 dollars to the PAC.[1]

Reorganization of the party

Pokela also attempted the reorganization of the party itself, which was suffering from both differences between various Central Committee members and differences between the leaders and the party members. He appointed outgoing Chairman Make to the position of Deputy Chairman, even though Make was being investigated for misuse of funds at the time, and increased the power of the Chairman. Pokela also encountered more opposition from Isaacs about his organizational changes (Isaacs eventually resigned.)[1]

Under Pokela, the use of funds was set, with 50% set aside for military operations, 30% going to administration, and 20% used for propaganda; the idea of members submitting annual financial reports about their use of PAC funds was also floated. Nevertheless, money went missing at various points in time, and the PAC ran out of funds between March and November 1981.[1]


Pokela died in Parirenyatwa Hospital in Zimbabwe in June 1985. He was buried in a state funeral in Zimbabwe officiated by Dr. Stanley Mogoba, a Methodist bishop, and was praised by Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe for reuniting the PAC. Pokela was succeeded as chairman by Johnson Mlambo.[1]

Literature written by Pokela

  • "Segregatory Bodies Must Go." Inkundla, 24 December 1949. [5]
  • "The Birth-Pangs of African Unity in the Sub-Continent" Manuscript, possibly written in 1962.[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Kondlo, Kwandiwe Merriman (2004-01-01). "The generation of strained intra-PAC relations in exile 1962-1990". In the twilight of the Azanian Revolution: the exile history of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (South Africa): (1960-1990). University of Johannesburg. pp. Chapter 4, pp 146–246. Retrieved 2006-12-25. 
  2. ^ a b Gerhart, Gail M.; Thomas G. Karis (1977). "John Nyathi Pokela". From Protest to challenge: A documentary History of African Politics in South Africa: 1882-1964, Vol.4 Political Profiles 1882-1964. Stanford University Press. Archived from the original on 2006-10-02. Retrieved 2006-12-25. 
  3. ^ "The Azanian People's Liberation Army Submission". Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Department of Justice and Constitutional Development). Archived from the original on 2006-12-07. Retrieved 2006-12-26. 
  4. ^ Leeman, Bernard Mandela, Sobukwe, Leballo, and Mokhehle Azania Press 2008
  5. ^ a b Cooperative Africana Microform Project. "Pan-Africanist Congress of South Africa 1944-1959". Cooperative Africana Microform Project Guide. Center for Research Libraries. Archived from the original on 2006-09-24. Retrieved 2006-12-26. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Vusumzi Make
Chairman of the Pan Africanist Congress
February 1981—June 1985
Succeeded by
Johnson Mlambo
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