The last survivor of a defiant group of young activists who stared down death in the name of freedom has been laid to rest in his home of Soweto, in Johannesburg among the people he had served in politics for seven decades. With him died a lot of the hopes for freedom and prosperity for all South Africans that he fought for until his last breath.
In paying tribute to Andrew Mlangeni,who died aged 95, Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi had stinging words for the country’s post aprtheid leaders as he spoke as the funeral on behalf of Gauteng premier David Makhura, laid low by COVID-19.
“”The struggle you waged may turn to be something else if we don’t self-correct. That the sacrifices you made, if nothing drastic is done, may be fruiltess,” says Lesufi.
“The mistrust between the leadership and our people is growing daily, Never in our history have greediness and corruption preoccupied the mind of our people . In your honour , we need to let go of all these wrong things.”
Mlangeni was accused number 10 in the so called Rivonia trial that began in 1963 and lasted for a year. Accused number one was Nelson Mandela who was to turn world opinion in favour his band of brothers who stood, resolutely, behind their principles in the face of the death penalty. The apartheid authorities had failed to secure convictions of the increasingly troublesome activists, with treason charges, in the 1950s because of the complexities of proof. Sabotage was a lot easier to prove and prosecutors pressed for the death penalty when the trial concluded in 1964.
Even on the cold morning in 1964, when the accused ascended the stairs at the Palace of Justice in Pretoria for teh verdict they didn’t know whether they were going to hang. The judge sentenced them to life in prison, which meant that Mlangeni, who had been trained by the military in China, spent 27 years behind bars.
Ironically Mlangeni spent a lifetime in prison for doing nothing wrong. The authorities transferred the sabotage of the late defence minister Joe Modise to Mlangeni’s charge sheet and never even bothered to question him about it in court.
Mlangeni pleaded guilty to all charges in solidarity with his comrades, on principle, in the cause of putting the apartheid government of the day on trial. It worked and soon the desperadoes of the struggle were being seen as the principled Benjamin Franklins of Africa, in the words of advocate George Bizos, one of the men who defended them.
The kind of selfless principle that South Africa, in 2020, is crying out for.