/ 22 July 2020

Rivonia trial veteran Andrew Mlangeni dies

Andrew Mlangeni043
Andrew Mlangeni, the last surviving member of the Rivonia trialists, has died.

Andrew Mlangeni, the last surviving member of the Rivonia trialists, has died, the office of the president said in a statement today.

The anti-apartheid struggle veteran was admitted to a military hospital in Pretoria last night with an abdominal complaint. He celebrated his 95th birthday in June.

In 1963, Mlangeni stood alongside Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mahlaba, Ahmed Kathrada, Lionel Bernstein, James Kantor and Dennis Goldberg in the Supreme Court on charges of sabotage and planning to embark on guerilla warfare for the purpose of violent revolution against the apartheid government.

All the men, except Bernstein — who was released, rearrested, released on bail and then fled into exile — were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Goldberg died in Cape Town in April. 

“The passing of Andrew Mekete Mlangeni signifies the end of a generational history and places our future squarely in our hands. Until recently, we were able to sit at Bab’ Mlangeni’s feet and draw on his wealth of wisdom and his unfailing commitment — even at his very advanced age — to a better life for all South Africans,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement. 

Mlageni joined the liberation struggle through boycotts and strikes while working as a bus driver, later becoming a member of the ANC Youth League in 1951. 

He spent 27 years in prison on Robben Island. After his release in 1989 and South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, Mlageni served as a member of a democratically elected Parliament from 1994 to 2004 and in the National Assembly from 2009 until 2014, when he retired.

Anti-apartheid ANC struggle stalwarts Raymond Mhlaba, Oscar Mpetha, Andrew Mlangeni, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Elias Motsoaledi and Wilton Mkwayi after their release in1989 in Soweto, South Africa. (Sunday Times/Raymond Preston/Avusa Media Ltd/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

The stalwart has been honoured with multiple awards and decorations, most notably the ANC’s highest accolade, Isithwalandwe Seaparankwe in 1992. In 1999, he received national honours in the form of the Presidential Order for Meritorious Service: Class 1: Gold from Mandela, then the president.

“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,” Ramaphosa said. 

Adding their voice to tributes flowing in, the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation echoed calls for the next generation of leaders to follow Mlangeni’s example. 

“His passing sounds the last post on a courageous generation of South Africans who forfeited their freedom, careers, family lives and health so that we could all be free. It is now for younger hands to pick up the heavy baton they carried and complete the journey to equal justice for all. He is deeply mourned,” Tutu said in the foundation’s statement.