Andrew Mlangeni: Kathrada wanted a united ANC

Mlangeni said while South Africa attained democracy in 1994, the country still had a long way to go to defeat remnants of the evil system. (M&G/Paul Botes)

Mlangeni said while South Africa attained democracy in 1994, the country still had a long way to go to defeat remnants of the evil system. (M&G/Paul Botes)

ANC struggle veteran Andrew Mlangeni says his long-time friend and fellow Rivonia trialist Ahmed Kathrada has died an unhappy man because of the behaviour of senior ANC leaders who have abandoned the founding principles and values of the organisation for self-enrichment.

In an interview on Tuesday, Mlangeni warned that if nothing drastic was done to change the current state of affairs within the ANC - which has been plagued by infighting and factionalism, the party would soon lose its relevance in society and lose power.

“The organisation [of Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Oliver Tambo] has deteriorated so badly because of some leaders,” said the 91-year-old ANC veteran.

He was careful not to single out president Jacob Zuma, who has mainly been blamed for the decline in support for the ANC, which resulted in the party losing three key metros, Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, during the 2016 local government elections.

He said he was aware Kathrada was one of the leaders who called for Zuma to step down as president of the country after the Constitutional Court judgment which found he has failed to uphold his oath of office, but he did not want to blame one individual for the party’s troubles.

“I am not going to call anyone to step down. I blame the entire [ANC] leadership [for the decline in support]. I told them to correct their mistakes.
The entire leadership is making mistakes. The NEC is making mistakes and if they don’t correct their mistakes, we [the ANC] will continue to go down,” said Mlangeni.

Speaking from his home in Dube, Soweto, Mlangeni described Kathrada as a loving man and a great freedom fighter who would go out of his way to ensure unity in South Africa. The two leaders who received military training in China, first met in 1945 during the Young Communist League meeting. But they only became close in 1953 after the defiance campaign according to Mlangeni.

“He [Kathrada] was a peace loving man. Very loving,” said a frail looking Mlangeni, who from time to time had to pause from the interview to answer his cellphone to filter other questions from different journalists around the country to share memories of his time uncle Kathy.

Both Mlangeni and Kathrada were deployed as ANC MPs in Parliament.

“Soon after that, Madiba, appointed him [Kathrada] as his special adviser and he excelled in his job. He was humble and respected the elderly. He loved humanity,” Mlangeni said about his friend whom he spend more than 10 years with at the Robben Island.

He told journalists this week he was not shocked but saddened by the news of Kathrada’s passing on Tuesday because he visited him in hospital about two weeks ago and already knew his deteriorating health condition.

“I was not shocked but sad that one of the comrades who dedicated his life for freedom has left us. I was disturbed [when] he could not talk [to me] or open his eyes. I saw the end of Kathy coming. I saw his end nearing,” said Mlangeni.

He said South Africans should learn from Kathrada and other struggle stewards like Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, who sacrificed everything to fight the evil system of apartheid in South Africa.

Mlangeni said while South Africa attained democracy in 1994, the country still had a long way to go to defeat remnants of the evil system.

“Apartheid is still very strong in the country. We have not destroyed it. On paper, we might have done that, but it is still there,” said Mlangeni.

He appealed to all South Africans, particularly the youth, to emulate Kathrada and other struggle heroes by working towards a common goal of building a non-racist, non-sexist and democratic society.

“The future is in your [youth] hands. Tomorrow, we will all be gone. We laid the foundation and we even put walls for you. Yours is to put the roof and live in peace,” said Kathrada.

He also appealed to ANC members to disassociate with factional groupings within the party, which threatened to destroy the 104-year-old liberation movement.

“Stop factionalism. Talk about the struggle [for economic transformation] and how best to achieve it. It’s important to know the future is yours. If you destroy it, it will not come back. We were united in prison. We have a common purpose like to have the right to study for example. We never got bread in prison but we fought against that. By the the time we left, we were getting bread. We fought for common purpose. Let’s work for unity and fight factionalism,” said Mlangeni.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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