South Africa on Wednesday laid to rest anti-apartheid hero Andrew Mlangeni, who faced the death penalty alongside Nelson Mandela and others for plotting to overthrow minority white rule with guerrilla warfare.
Flags flew at half-mast as Mlangeni, who died last week aged 95, was laid to rest in a state funeral.
“We have lost not only a great patriot but a strident moral voice,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his eulogy before mourners who included ministers and elite members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
“While history will place Andrew Mlangeni in the pantheon of the great leaders of our nation, he will be remembered by his people as a person of humility, humanity, and dignity.”
The mourners wore face masks and observed social distancing rules in line with coronavirus precautions.
Like Mandela, the country’s first black president, Mlangeni spent more than a quarter of a century imprisoned on Cape Town’s notorious Robben Island before his release in 1989.
After the first democratic elections in 1994, he became an ANC lawmaker until he retired in 2014.
Mlangeni later became a fierce critic of the factionalism that gripped the ANC and rampant state corruption under President Jacob Zuma, who was in power from 2009 until he was forced to resign in February 2018.
As head of the ANC’s Integrity Committee, Mlangeni addressed Zuma during an earlier interview with a South African journalist, saying: “We are appealing to you, Comrade, to step down.”
Charging that Zuma was “under the influence” of a powerful Indian migrant business family, the Guptas, Mlangeni lamented the declining state of the economy and said: “Things have completely changed… Please step down quietly.”
– Lifelong Soweto resident –
Thabo Mbeki, Mandela’s successor, told mourners in a virtual address that Mlangeni was “concerned” about and spoke out against wrongs within the movement.
“We need to commit ourselves to the renewal of the ANC he built, the ANC he was concerned about,” Mbeki said.
Born in the central Free State province in 1925, Mlangeni joined the youth wing of the ANC in the early 1950s.
He was among the first group of liberation fighters to be sent outside of South Africa for military training in the early 1960s.
On his return home two years later, he was arrested.
The eight-month Rivonia Trial, named after the Johannesburg suburb where the ANC leaders were arrested, brought the anti-apartheid struggle to world attention.
Expecting to be sentenced to death, Mandela declared in an impassioned three-hour speech from the dock that freedom was “an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.
Instead the group was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mlangeni served 26 years behind bars alongside fellow anti-apartheid activists including Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and Dennis Goldberg, who died three months ago.
Mlangeni lived his entire life in Johannesburg’s Soweto township, the crucible of the anti-apartheid struggle.
He was laid to rest at the Roodepoort Cemetery, west of Johannesburg.