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From death row to legal eagle

Having once stared death in the eye, newly admitted advocate Pumzile Mayapi has come a long way from the dingy death row cells of Mthatha’s Wellington Prison where he was incarcerated 27 years ago.

Last week he proudly took his oath in the Grahamstown High Court and swore to abide by the constitution. But it was a bittersweet moment which evoked raw emotions – the last time Mayapi stood before a judge he was sentenced to death for his political activities.

“I proposed to my wife through the bars of my cell and she agreed. We got married at the end of 1990 and we have been together since then.”

Mayapi and others were released in February 1990 by General Bantu Holomisa after the first political amnesty was granted.

Mayapi enrolled at Rhodes University to complete the courses he had started at the University of Fort Hare all those years ago. He graduated in 1995.

Years later, he enrolled at UFH again for his LLB degree, finally graduating last year.

Mayapi said his hope was to encourage students involved in the #FeesMustFall protests, saying as important as their demands and struggles were, they must not forget why they were at university and that their families needed them to graduate.

“Their challenge must not distract them. They must remain focused on acquiring skills and knowledge. They must fight within reasonable means.” — siyab@dispatch.co.za

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