Andrew Mlangeni: A comrade until the end

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

Between October 1963 and June 1964, Mlangeni stood in the dock 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 violent revolution against the apartheid government.

Eight of the accused were sentenced to life imprisonment. Mlangeni served 27 years and was released in 1989. He continued to participate in politics and, after 1994 was an MP until his retirement in 2014. 

Goldberg died in April this year. Debbie Budlender, the manager of the Denis Goldberg House of Hope, said despite living in separate cities the two men remained close and visited each other regularly. 

“Both of them were aware that they represented more than themselves. It was a burden in some ways, but also a privilege for them,” she said. “When one saw the two of them together you saw the comradeship, the warmth, and respect for each other, and one knows they would have had this for the whole group. Denis always felt facing the death sentence together create a bond that’s stronger than anything.” 

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s Neeshan Bolton said Mlangeni had become more and more vocal about what he saw as the ANC losing its way and increasing instances of corruption and maladministration in government. 

Bolton said that during a conversation with Mlangeni, “He said, ‘There is something we are not doing right’” and added that the party could not blame a third force if voters lost faith in the ANC.

Mlangeni “believed the trust put into officials who have lined their pockets could come back to haunt the party”, Bolton said.

Kathrada, a loyal ANC member, wrote to Jacob Zuma in 2016 asking him to do the right thing and resign as president. Kathrada died in 2017. 

The Nelson Mandela Foundation said Mlangeni and the Rivonia Trial class represents selflessness that now appears to have been lost. 

“These men were willing to not be sent to Parliament after 1994; they had to be persuaded. Madiba himself initially rejected being president because he didn’t think he should be. He thought it should be a young man or woman. So Andrew Mlangeni’s death reminds us that the baton has been passed on to us. And that we need to be better people,” said the foundation’s chief executive, Sello Hatang.

He added: “One of the last few times I interacted with him, he indicated that it saddens him that people are stealing from the poor. He said to the effect that he did not participate in the liberation struggle for people to be stealing.”

But Mlageni’s disappointment did not discourage his commitment to the party and he campaigned for the ANC until the end. 

“Both Denis [Goldberg] and Andrew [Mlangeni] remained loyal to the ANC in the end. The ANC was their party. When the Cape Peninsula University of Technology conferred both of them with honorary degrees, comrade Andrew used his speech to exhort the young graduates to support the ANC. But both he and Denis were troubled by what was happening under the name of the ANC and both spoke up openly about that,” Budlender said. 

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