Pumzile Mayapi was born on 8 September 1956 in Willowvale, Eastern Cape. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in June 1980 when he was still a student at Fort Hare University. Mayapi went into exile to Lesotho, where he joined uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) with the likes of Thenjiwe Mthintso, Slumko Sokupha, Ngalitye Ondala and the late Ngweduna Vanda, Roji Skenjana and Chris Hani. In March 1981 he went for military training to Mozambique en route to Angola. Here he underwent a basic commander course from December 1981 to the end of 1982.

Thereafter the ANC send him to attend a Party School in Bulgaria for ten months. In 1983, upon his return to Angola, he was appointed Staff Commissar in one of the training camps at Qiubaxe, Angola. In June 1984 he infiltrated South Africa and was stationed in Eastern Pondoland (Eastern Cape). At this base he worked closely with a veteran of the struggle, Comrade Leonard Mdingi, undertaking underground work at the base until he was arrested in 1986.

On 18 April 1986, Mayapi and his accomplice, Ian Ndzamela were arrested for the bombing of the Wild Coast Sun Casino at Mzamba in Transkei that left two people dead and three injured.

He was detained till 1988 when his trial commenced. The trial continued until he was sentenced on 12 May 1989, to the maximum sentence of 18 years for terrorism and sabotage. Mayapi was released with other political prisoners after the first political amnesty was granted in February 1990.

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