Ramaphosa: 'They wanted me to be an askari, I refused'

President Cyril Ramaphosa responds to Mosiuoa Lekota's allegation that he was a sell-out during apartheid.

FILE: President Cyril Ramaphosa answers questions in Parliament. Picture: GCIS

CAPE TOWN - President Cyril Ramaphosa has responded to claims that he sold out his comrades during apartheid.

On Wednesday, struggle stalwart and Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota branded Ramaphosa a sellout.

During his reply to the debate on his State of the Nation Address on Thursday, Ramaphosa stated he was advised not to respond to the accusations, but felt it important to set the record straight.

The president has told the house that despite being arrested as a 21-year-old student in 1974 and being detained in solitary confinement for six months, he refused to turn state witness.

Ramaphosa says his father, a policeman, visited him in detention in Pretoria and supported his decision.

“There are three things that security police want from you: it’s either you cooperate with them and you give evidence against your comrades, or you become an askari and go and kill your comrades, or you become a paid agent. I did not do any of the three things they wanted.”

He says after his release from prison, he was not allowed to return to university and joined the Black People’s Convention.

Ramaphosa was arrested again in 1974, but again refused to turn on his comrades and was eventually released.

“And they said you’re going to be like Nelson Mandela, you’re going to break rocks on Robben Island. I said, in the end, I rather go and break rocks and will never ever betray my people.”

The president has warned MPs against wedge drivers that he says could lead to people being killed. Ramaphosa says ANC leaders knew better than to listen to tall tales about Madiba.

“Many people said Nelson Mandela was selling out because he had agreed to be separated from his comrades and was therefore in Pollsmoor [Prison] alone and he was being manipulated and he was selling out. That is the story that was peddled around, but when I met Walter Sisulu I asked him about this, I said how did you as the elders of our movement handle all of this, they said they were never concerned about this, they looked at the character of a leader like Nelson Mandela.”