South Africa

Tributes for a Hero

Andrew Mlangeni (1925 – 2020): Last of the Rivonia trialists dies

Former Robben Island prisoner, Andrew Mlangeni on December 9, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Vathiswa Ruselo)

Tributes poured in for ANC struggle stalwart and former member of parliament Andrew Mlangeni who passed away on Tuesday night in Pretoria. He celebrated his 95th birthday last month before succumbing to a stomach infection.

Dr Andrew Mokete Mlangeni, the last surviving Rivonia trialist, has died at the age of 95. 

His daughter, Sylvia Mlangeni, told Daily Maverick that her father passed away at around 22:00 last night (21 July) at 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria after being admitted for a stomach infection. 

Tributes streamed in for the struggle icon who was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island in 1964. He was placed in a cell alongside Nelson Mandela and was detained for 26 years. The pair were close friends. 

“A giant tree has fallen,” said the ANC in a statement. “The death of Ntate Mlangeni marks the end of a revolutionary life that was dedicated to the struggle for justice and the defence of our freedom.” 

Anti-apartheid ANC struggle stalwarts Raymond Mhlaba, Oscar Mpetha, Andrew Mlangeni, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Elias Motsoaledi and Wilton Mkwayi after their release in 1989 in Soweto, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Raymond Preston)

Mlangeni was a member of parliament between 1994 and 2004.

In a separate statement, the ANC parliamentary caucus described Mlangeni as a great leader and a revolutionary. 

“Mlangeni joined the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) in 1951 and, in 1954, the African National Congress (ANC). He went for military training outside the country in 1961 and, upon his return, he was arrested in 1963 and spent almost 27 years on Robben Island.” 

Andrew Mlangeni, South African political activist and former political prisoner demonstrates how he used to sleep on the floor in a prison cell during the launch of the replica of Nelson Mandela’s Robben Island Prison Cell in Cape Town, South Africa, 26 September 2016. (Photo: EPA/NIC BOTHMA)

Mlangeni went to China in 1962 for a year’s training in guerrilla warfare. He was arrested on his return after he was fingered as being among those responsible for recruiting and training an armed force. 

In 1992 he was awarded the Isithwalandwe/Seaparankwe, the highest honour by the ANC for an outstanding contribution to the liberation struggle. 

Mlangeni was a man with “many names”. He sometimes had to change his name to Percy or Mokete Mokoena to hide his identity from the apartheid authorities.  

Bantu Holomisa, leader of the United Democratic Movement (UDM), said he knew Mlangeni as a humble man. 

“It always made an impression on me that he decided to stay in his original home in Soweto,” he wrote in a statement. 

“When we played golf with him and he beat us, I always jokingly asked him why he played so well, as there was no golf course on Robben Island for him to have practiced, and that this must be investigated.”

IFP founder, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, also shared fond memories of Mlangeni. 

“Dr Mlangeni served with distinction. Even when we were young men, writing our matric exams together, we were already political activists. As a student, Dr Mlangeni was taught by none other than Mr Oliver Tambo. 

Freedom Fighters Denis Goldberg and Andrew Mlangeni were honoured at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) during a graduation ceremony on April 11, 2019 in Bellville, South Africa. Mlangeni and Goldberg were found guilty of treason in 1964 and sentenced to life in prison with Nelson Mandela. The two were awarded honorary doctorates, Mlangeni in (Public Administration) and Goldberg (in Engineering), respectively. (Photo: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

“His lessons were imbued with the same political bent as my own were under Professor ZK Matthews. Being exposed to such great leaders, we could not help but embrace the political ideals of freedom and democracy,” said Buthelezi in a statement.

Mlangeni’s death comes shortly after Zindzi Mandela was laid to rest on 17 July. DM

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