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Last Rivonia trialist Andrew Mlangeni reflects on SA's struggles past & present

Twenty-five years into the democracy of the country he calls home, Mlangeni – through his foundation – has joined a new battle of economic equality brought to the fore by the coronavirus pandemic.

Former apartheid struggle stalwart and one of the last two surviving Rivonia triallists Andrew Mlangeni looks on at the inaugural George Bizos Human Rights Award in Johannesburg on 14 March 2018. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG – Born to labour tenants on a Free State farm near Bethlehem in 1925, and as the sole surviving Rivonia trialist, Andrew Mlangeni’s name is synonymous with the South African liberation struggle which saw many black lives snuffed out by an oppressive regime.

As he celebrates his 95th birthday, the story of Mlangeni’s life of sacrifice for all our freedom is highlighted by the reminder of the continued unjust treatment of black people across the world – reignited by the death of George Floyd, and many like him, in the United States.

Twenty-five years into the democracy of the country he calls home, Mlangeni – through his foundation – has joined a new battle of economic inequality brought to the fore by the coronavirus pandemic.

The struggle stalwart continues to be vocal against corruption and the social ills that grip South Africa today.

“At an age when he should be relaxing and enjoying the fruits of a life spent fighting for liberation, Mlangeni has once again heeded a call to arms. This time the fight is against the economic fallout of COVID-19, which has deepened poverty and hunger in the country. He also remains vocal against social ills, including corruption, and violence against women and children. No one knows what tomorrow will bring but we can rest assured that Mlangeni will continue to fight for clean governance and remain a moral compass for the country", said the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation in a statement on Friday.

In 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the keynote address at the stalwart’s 93rd birthday celebration. However, due to the coronavirus regulations which prohibit social gatherings, this year celebrations will be held online.

WHO IS ANDREW MLANGENI? HIS EARLY FAMILY AND POLITICAL LIFE

Reflecting on his childhood, Mlangeni remembered how his twin sister died in 1989, just months before his release. He was denied the opportunity to attend her funeral.

Mlangeni also remembers the suffering and sacrifice of his farm labourer father, and how laws that aimed to condemn black people to landlessness and cheap labour drove him into the world of politics.

LISTEN: More than just a prestigious backroom boy

THE TRIAL THAT CHANGED HIS LIFE AND SOUTH AFRICA

This year marks 30 years since most of the Rivonia trialists were released from prison.

Known as Reverend Mokete Mokoena, Mlangeni joined the likes of Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba and Govan Mbeki in the African National Congress national command upon his return from China.

Mlangeni recounts the night of his arrest at his Dube home on 24 June 1964.

LISTEN: The trial that changed South Africa

Reacting to the news of the death of the only other surviving Rivonia trialist Denis Goldberg in May, Mlangeni said that the lifelong contribution to the liberation struggle by the 87-year-old should serve as a reminder to South Africans about the cost of freedom.

Distraught and emotional, Mlangeni recalled the bravery and boldness Goldberg showed as one of the youngest to stand trial in 1964.

“He was very brave and bold in telling the court what he stood for. He was saying if a black man is free in South Africa, we will all be free,” Mlangeni said.

Mlangeni said that Goldberg’s commitment to end oppression was a task that many in his position feared.

“My heart is very sore because he decided to join black people in fighting for our freedom and for the liberation of South Africa as a whole. We’ve lost a man who had sacrificed himself completely in fighting for freedom,” he said.

Additional reporting by Mia Lindeque.