Andrew Mlangeni (1925-2020)

The stalwart South African anti-apartheid activist and member of the Rivonia Eleven dies, aged 95

Andrew Mekete Mlangeni, the last surviving man of ten brought to court in the infamous Rivonia Trial, has died at 95.

His death on Wednesday signifies, in the words of Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president, “the end of a generational history and places our future squarely in our hands”.

Mlangeni died on Tuesday just over six weeks after celebrating his 95th birthday. He had been admitted to the 1 Military Hospital in Thaba Tshwane, Pretoria on 14 July after complaining of abdominal pain.

Soldier “priest”

Andrew Mekete Mlangeni was born on 6 June 1925. At 26, he joined the youth wing of the African National Congress (ANC). He was later sent to China for military training.

On his return to South Africa in 1963, he became a member of the high command of the ANC’s armed movement, Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Andrew Mekete Mlangeni (1925-2020)
Andrew Mlangeni (right) with Nelson Mandela in 1990

Until he was arrested and put on trial, Mekete Mlangeni travelled around South Africa disguised as a priest, recruiting young people to go abroad for training as fighters.

Mlangeni was tried along with Mandela and eight others in the Rivonia treason trial in the early 1960s. The Rivonia Trial is widely considered to have been a focal point in the fight against white minority government in South Africa and to have brought Mandela to the world’s attention.

Lost years on Robben Island

Mandela and Mlangeni were found guilty of sabotage along with six others in the trial, which lasted close to a year, running between October 1963 and June 1964.

The trial was named after the suburb in Johannesburg where some of the suspects had been arrested.

Mlangeni spent most of his sentence on Robben Island and was released in 1989, after serving 26 years in prison.

On his release, he became an MP for the African National Congress and sat in parliament from 1994 to 1999. He served again in the National Assembly from 2009 to 2014, when he retired. He lived in Soweto until his death.

Mlangeni, who described himself as “backroom boy”, stood for the black people of South Africa. He believed in their rights; he believed that their lives mattered; and, most of all, he believed in unity.

End of an era

President Ramaphosa expressed his grief and offered his sympathy to the family, friends and allies of the apartheid struggle hero globally.

“The passing of Andrew Mekete Mlangeni signifies the end of a generational history and places our future squarely in our hands,” the president said.

“Until recently, we were able to sit at Bab’ Mlangeni’s feet and draw on his wealth of wisdom and his unfailing commitment to a better life for all.”

Nana Abena Boakye-Boateng

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