Mapetla Frank Mohapi was born in the rural village of Jozanashoek, Sterkspruit in the former Transkei (now Eastern Province) on 2 September 1947. He studied at the University of the North (Turfloop), where he graduated with a degree in Social Work in the early 1970s.
While studying at Turfloop, he was drawn to the philosophy of Black Consciousness, and became active in the South African Students Organisation (SASO) regional secretary in the Eastern Cape . After students at several Black universities held pro-Frelimo rallies in October 1974 to celebrate the independence of Mozambique, Mohapi, together with several other leaders of SASO and the Black People's Convention, was detained November 1974. He was released in April 1975 without charge.
In 1973 he married Nonhle. Then in 1974, whilst Nonhle was expecting their daughter, Mohape was detained for eight months. In September 1975, Mohapi was banned under the Internal Security Act and restricted to King Willliamstown, where he was later employed as an administrator of the Zimele Trust Fund established to assist released political prisoners.
Three months after he was elected the permanent Secretary of SASO and while serving as an administrator of a trust that took care of ex-political prisoners and their families, he was banned under the Suppression of Communism Act and confined to the areas of King William's Town and Zwelitsha. A month after the start of the 1976 Soweto uprising, in a swoop of Black Consciousness activists, Mapetla was again detained without charge on 16 July. Twenty days later, on 5 August 1976, Mohapi died in police custody.
Upon his death, police produced a "suicide note", claiming he had committed suicide in his cell. An inquest held later did not make a finding on the suicide claim - the note was confirmed by a leading British handwriting expert as a forgery but found that no one could be held responsible for Mohapi's death.
In her keynote address, at the unveiling of the Mapetla Mohapi memorial, at Jozanashoek, Sterkspruit, on 20 April 2002, former Housing Minister, Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele, said that then Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, Bridget Mabandla told her that she and her husband, Lindelwa, were recruited into the ANC by Mohapi. He helped people leave the country to join the African National Congress (ANC).
On 16 June 2004, the South African Government conferred The Order of Luthuli in Silver to Mapetla Mohapi for dedicating his life to the struggle for a democratic, free and non-racial South Africa.