Elmon Malele was born in Mapulaneng in the Limpopo Province (Transvaal) in 1920. Malele came to Johannesburg in 1943, and stayed in Alexandra township. He was one of the residents forcibly removed by the apartheid regime to Moroka Emergency Camp.
Malele joined the African National Congress (ANC) during the 1952 Defiance Campaign, as an ANC organiser in Soweto. In 1957, he moved to Mapetla, where he was arrested by government security forces. He was later put under house arrest and banned from attending any gatherings or meetings.
On 5 December 1956, Malele was charged with treason and detained at the Fort, and released on £50 bail on 21 December 1956. He was freed in January 1958, at the end of the preparatory examination.
In 1961, he was charged under the Suppression of Communism Act for taking part in the activities of the Communist Party of South Africa, or carrying out its interests. His “crime” was that he was caught by two African Special Branch policemen carrying a parcel of leaflets issued by the CPSA, calling on people to strike at the end of May 1961. Malele was sentenced to two years imprisonment without the option of a fine.
On 20 January 1977, Malele died in detention. The police claimed he had hurt himself while trying to escape, but other sources said that he had a big gash on his head and was lying naked on the floor in a room at John Vorster Square Police Station in Johannesburg. The police stated that Malele had fallen down and hit his head on a table after being interrogated from 9am to 3pm. He died a few days later in a nursing home, from a brain haemorrhage and hypertension.
On Tuesday, 16 December 2008, Johannesburg’s Executive Mayor, Amos Masondo, officially renamed Mapetla Park as Elmon Malele Freedom Park in his honour.