By Dumisani Sigogo
Tributes streamed in for Dr. Andrew Mlangeni, the struggle icon and last surviving anti-apartheid activist convicted with Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Trial, who died after being admitted on July 21 at the 1 Military hospital in Pretoria because of a stomach infection.
Mlangeni was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island in 1964 and was incarcerated alongside Mandela for 26 years.
Paying tribute to the 95-year-old Mlangeni, South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa said Mlangeni’s death signified the end of a generational history.
President Ramaphosa said: “Bab’ Mlangeni’s dramatic life was a unique example of heroism and humility inhabiting the same person and throughout his long life, he remained a beacon of ethical leadership and care for humanity in our own country and around the globe.
“With his passing as the last remaining Rivonia Trialist, Bab’ Mlangeni has indeed passed the baton to his compatriots to build the South Africa he fought to liberate and to reconstruct during our democratic dispensation.
“He was a champion and exemplar of the values we need to build a South Africa that provides dignity and opportunity for all and which takes its rightful place in the global community of nations, President Ramaphosa said.
Citizens, politicians, academics, religious and business leaders took to social media to pour tributes to the late gallant freedom fighter.
Inkhatha Freedom Party founder, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, remembered the stalwart as someone who embraced the ideals of freedom and democracy at an early age. in a statement.
“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,” said Buthelezi.
Former Democratic Alliance leader, Mmusi Maimane, twitted: “Lala Ngoxolo Nkokheli yethu! You were a leading light to South Africa and we all can express gratitude for the incredible life you lived and sacrificed for our freedom.”
“The news of Baba Andrew Mlangeni’s passing this morning has brought the end to the Rivonia Trialists. They are now all gone. May his soul rest in perfect and eternal peace. Seaparankwe, Isitwalandwe ???” wrote— Economic Freedom Fighters’Mbuyiseni Ndlozi (@MbuyiseniNdlozi
Political commentator Somadoda Fikeni said: “The last standing baobab giant of Rivonia Trial, seasoned principled leader, sithwalandwe, Babá Andrew Mlangeni, has fallen. He finally answered to nature’s final decree having served his people with sacrificial distinction. Talking with him was such a joy, humility oozing. RIP baba”
Bantu Holomisa, the leader of the United Democratic Movement described Mlangeni as a humble man who had impressed him by the fact that he continued living in Soweto, at his original home.
“I started my walk with Andrew Mlangeni 31 years ago, he was a humble man and great role model. When we played golf with him and he woud 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, we always had a good laugh about that,” Holomisa wrote in a statement.
“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.”
Renowned academic and former Wits University Vice Chancellor, Adam Habib, tweeted: “Andrew Mlangeni – the last of the Rivonia trialists – is no more. A human being of incredible commitment and dignity. May he forever Rest in Peace. He made a magnificent contribution to his country and humanity. Thank you and Rest well Tata Mlangeni. ????”
Mlangeni’s 2017 biography, The Backroom Boy, explains that Mandela selected him to join five other men in the first group of South African anti-apartheid activists to be sent to Ethiopia and China for training.
Mlangeni liked to describe himself as “a backroom boy”, because he never wanted political fame but instead preferred working behind the scenes in helping to achieve a new South Africa at the end of apartheid.
After their training in China which included classes in bomb-making, booby traps and secret communication techniques he returned to South Africa in 1963 and became a member of the high command of the ANC’s armed movement, Umkhonto we Sizwe.
Disguised as a priest, he travelled across South Africa recruiting young fighters to go for military training abroad.
Mlangeni was arrested, put on trial in the Rivonia treason trial and was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island along with Mandela, Denis Goldberg, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and several other struggle icons in 1964.
Former president Kgalema Motlanthe said Mlangeni served as a moral compass and led by example and ANC Deputy Secretary General Jessie Duarte said the late Mlangeni served South Africa with dignity.
After his release in 1989, Mlangeni who has been described as a father figure, man of principle, a quiet authority, whose humility won over the hearts of many South Africans, served as a member of parliament and lived in Soweto until his death.
Mlangeni’s death comes shortly after Zindzi, Nelson Mandela’s youngest daughter who was laid to rest on 17 July after she succumbed to COVID-19.
Nelson Mandela died in 2013, also aged 95.