Friday Feature

Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu

Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu was born in Pretoria on the 10th of July, 1956. He was the second son of Martha Mahlangu, a domestic worker. His father left his family, and Mahlangu saw him infrequently. Consequently, Mahlangu’s mother was solely responsible for raising Mahlangu and his siblings.

Mahlangu’s anti-apartheid activism started when he was a student at Mamelodi High School. During that time, protests against Bantu Education were ongoing throughout South Africa, and as a result the school closed down and Mahlangu did not complete the 10th grade. After being recruited by Thomas Masuku, Mahlangu joined the protests in Mamelodi.

Shortly after the 1976 Soweto Uprising, Mahlangu left South Africa to join the African National Congress (ANC), to be trained as an Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) cadre. He was part of a new generation of MK named the June 16 Detachment, which mainly consisted of individuals who were part of the student protests. Mahlangu travelled with Temba Nkosi and Richard Chauke to Angola. On their way to Angola, they spent six months at Xai Xai Refugee Cape in Mozambique; thereafter, they were taken to an ANC training facility called Engineering in Angola. At Engineering, Mahlangu joined a unit of ten men under Julius Mokoena, and amongst the ten were George ‘Lucky’ Mahlangu and Mondy Motloung. The unit underwent courses in sabotage, military combat, scouting and political education.

When Mahlangu left South Africa, he did not inform his family. He left a letter under his brother’s pillow that read: “Boet Lucas, Boet Lucas, don’t look for me, I have left and you’ll never find me.” His family assumed he was selling goods on trains and had settled in Pietersberg. Nkosi’s father later on informed Mahlangu’s family that their son had left the country to join the ANC in exile.

In 1977, Mahlangu’s unit left Angola for South Africa, with the aim of joining the student protests commemorating the one year anniversary of the 1976 Soweto Uprising. Mahlangu travelled with Lucky Mahlangu and Motloung to South Africa via Mozambique and Swaziland. On 13 June, and in South Africa; Mahlangu, Lucky Mahlangu and Motloung made their way to Diagonal Street Taxi Rank in Johannesburg, where they planned to catch a taxi to Soweto. However, a black policeman on patrol noticed three men entering a taxi with large bags. The policeman approached them, asked to see what they have with them and grabbed a bag which opened to reveal a hand grenade and an AK-47. The policeman ran for cover, and the three men fled from the taxi. Lucky Mahlangu ran in the direction of Park Station, and managed to escape; on the other hand, Mahlangu and Motloung ran in the direction of Fordsburg towards John Vorster Square where infamous police station in the country was situated. Whilst running in the direction of Fordsburg, Motloung was involved in a scuffle with an off-duty policeman. He succeeded in freeing himself, but the policeman shot at the running men and hit Mahlangu in the ankle. Mahlangu, running ahead of Motloung, sought cover in John Orr’s warehouse. Upon entering, Motloung fired shots and killed two John Orr’s employees.

Mahlangu and Mothloung were beaten by bystanders, and afterwards, the police arrested the two men. They were detained at John Vorster Square under the 90 Day Detention Law; and while there, the two men were brutally beaten. When the trial started, Motloung was so badly beaten that he sustained severe brain damage, and was deemed unfit to stand trial.

Mahlangu’s trial commenced on 7 November 1977, and he was charged with two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and several charges of sabotage under the Terrorism Act. Mahlangu pleaded not guilty to all charges, but, on 2 March 1978, he was found guilty by the State and sentenced to death. Mahlangu should have been sentenced to five years imprisonment for his acts, since it was Motloung who committed murder. The State, on the other hand, argued that under Common Purpose Law, Mahlangu shared intent with Motloung and Lucky Mahlangu, and therefore, he should face the same consequences regardless of whether they carried out the same acts or knew of each other’s intent.

While awaiting the death penalty in Pretoria Central, Mahlangu attempted to appeal his sentence. He was, however, turned down on 15 June 1978 by the Rand Supreme Court and on 24 July by the Bloemfontein Appeal Court. At the same time; the United Nations; various governments; prominent individuals; and international and local organisations and groups attempted to intercede on Mahlangu’s behalf. Their efforts, however, did not work.

On 6 April 1979, Mahlangu, at the age of 20, was hanged at the Pretoria Central Prison. In an apparent defiance of Prime Minister PW Botha, Mahlangu’s last message before he was executed was, “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight. A luta continua.”

Fearing that there might be protests at the funeral, the police buried Mahlangu in Atteridgeville. Their attempt was in vain, as protests and appeals in South Africa and the rest of the world continued and heightened.

The late ANC President OR Tambo, delivering a speech in Asia called the spirit of Bundung said of Mahlangu: “In his brief but full life Solomon Mahlangu towered like a colossus, unbroken and unbreakable, over the fascist lair. He, on whom our people have bestowed accolades worthy of the hero-combatant that he is, has been hanged in Pretoria like a common murderer. Alone the hangmen buried Solomon, bound by a forbidding oath that his grave shall remain forever a secret, because, in his death the spirit of Solomon Mahlangu towers still like a colossus, unbroken and unbreakable, over the fascist lair.”

On 6 April 1993, Mahlangu’s body was reinterred at the Mamelodi Cemetery, and recently, Mahlangu has been honoured. A statue of him stands in Mamelodi, and there is Solomon Mahlangu Freedom Square in Mamelodi too. A school in South Africa and a college in Tanzania is named after Mahlangu; and in 2005, he was posthumously awarded the “The Order of Mendi for Bravery in Gold for his bravery and sacrificing his life for freedom and democracy in South Africa.” A film named Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu, based on his life, was released in South Africa this year.

Most recently, higher education students from across South Africa have found strength and inspiration in Mahlangu. During the decolonisation project, and more specifically in the #FeesMustFall movement, the struggle song, Solomon Mahlangu, has been adopted as the unofficial anthem of the movement. It continues to be sung today, as students fight for the decolonisation of universities across South Africa, and on 7 April 2016, Wits University management agreed to name its administrative building, Senate House, to Solomon Mahlangu House. This, among other notable achievements accomplished by students, has been seen as a step closer to decolonising higher education.

Remembering her son, Martha Mahlangu, whom she only saw after his trial, said this about him: “My son had aspirations of becoming a school teacher. He was very conscientious and humble. He stood firm and unshaken in his beliefs. Now, in my old age, I miss him even more.”


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