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The last co-defendant of Nelson Mandela passes away

The final surviving co-defendant of the Rivonia Trial, Dr. Andrew Mokete Mlangeni, passed away Tuesday night according to South African Newspaper, The Daily Maverick, at the age of 95. Mlangeni's passing marks the end of an era in African history. The ANC (African National Congress) released a statement saying, "A giant tree has fallen. The death of Ntate Mlangeni marks the end of a revolutionary life that was dedicated to the struggle for justice and the defense of our freedom."


While most famous for his 26 years of imprisonment on Robben Island in the cell next to Nelson Mandela, Mlangeni also served as a member of Parliament from 1994 to 2004.

Photo of Dr. Mlangeni in a replica of his Robben Island Prison cell in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: EPA/NIC BOTHMA)


The Rivonia Trial (10/1963-6/1964) was named after the suburb where a raid successfully captured a secret meeting of the military wing of the ANC , uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) (The Spears of the Nation) in progress. Nelson Mandela was not present at the meeting as he was already serving a five year sentence for organizing strikes in protest of the Apartheid Regime. Mandela was however, the leader of MK and thus many of the war plans captured and introduced as evidence in the government's case were in his Handwriting. Part of the governments' case against Mandela was his attempts to procure foreign support of their attempt to overthrow the Apartheid Government. One of the governments that the ANC and MK were able to procure support from was the Communist Government of China. This is where Andrew Mlangeni joins the story of MK.

Andrew Mlangeni joined the youth league of the ANC in 1951 and the ANC in 1954. He traveled to China in 1961 to receive military training but he was caught reentering South Africa in 1963. After standing trial with 12 other co-defendants facing the death penalty, Mlangeni was sentenced to life in prison. He was released in October of 1989 after serving 26 years in Prison. Despite having a successful political career after his release from prison, he was celebrated for his humility as he never moved out of his original home in the Soweto ghetto of Johannesburg. He was also awarded several honorary doctorates, including one in education. President Cyril Ramaphosa stated, "The passing of Andrew Mekete Mlangeni signifies the end of a generational history and places our future squarely in our hands."


Many of the defendants at the Rivonia Trial knew they would be found guilty and face the likelihood of the death penalty (The international community, to include the UK, the USA, China, and the USSR all pressured the Apartheid government to not enforce the death penalty after the defendants were found guilty). Despite that knowledge, they all agreed ahead of time that no matter the judges verdict, they would not appeal. They agreed that to appeal would be to weaken their stance: they believed that they were guilty of nothing as the state's illegal actions had promoted their necessary actions.



In forgoing offering a defense of his action's in court, Nelson Mandela chose instead to read a statement that I will quote from his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. I believe that this address perfectly captures the spirit of all of the sacrifices made by these individuals:


From Long Walk to Freedom by Nelsom Mandela:


"I am the first accused.


I hold a Bachelor's Degree in Arts and practiced as an attorney in Johannesburg for a number of years in partnership with Mr. Oliver Tambo, a co-conspirator in this case. I am a convicted prisoner serving five years for leaving the country without a permit and for inciting people to go on strike at the end of May 1961.


I admit immediately that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto we Sizwe, and that I played a prominent role in its affairs until I was arrested in August 1962.


At the outset, I want to say that the suggestion made by the state in its opening that the struggle in South Africa is under the influence of foreigners or communists is wholly incorrect. I have done whatever I did, both as an individual and as a leader of my people, because of my experience in South Africa and my own proudly felt African background, and not because of what any outsider might have said.


In my youth in the Transkei I listened to the elders of my tribe telling stories of the old days. Amongst the tales they related to me were those of wars fought by our ancestors in defense of the fatherland. The names of Dingane and Bambatha, Hintsa and Makana, Squngathi and Dalasile, Moshoeshoe and Sekhukhune, were praised as the pride and the glory of the entire African nation. I hoped then that life might offer me the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to their freedom struggle. This is what has motivated me in all that I have done in relation to the charges made against me in this case.


Having said this, I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of sabotage. Some of the things so far told to the Court are true and some are untrue. I do not however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love for violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the whites.


We of the ANC had always stood for a non-racial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart than they already were. But the hard facts were that fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights. It may not be easy for this Court to understand, but it is a fact that for a long time the people had been talking of violence - of the day when they would fight the White man and win back their country - and we, the leaders of the ANC, had nevertheless always prevailed upon them to avoid violence and to pursue peaceful methods. When some of us discussed this in May and June of 1961, it could not be denied that our policy to achieve a nonracial State by non-violence had achieved nothing, and that our followers were beginning to lose confidence in this policy and were developing disturbing ideas of terrorism.


Umkhonto was formed in November 1961. When we took this decision, and subsequently formulated our plans, the ANC heritage of non-violence and racial harmony was very much with us. We felt that the country was drifting towards a civil war in which Blacks and Whites would fight each other. We viewed the situation with alarm. Civil war could mean the destruction of what the ANC stood for; with civil war, racial peace would be more difficult than ever to achieve. We already have examples in South African history of the results of war. It has taken more than fifty years for the scars of the South African War to disappear. How much longer would it take to eradicate the scars of inter-racial civil war, which could not be fought without a great loss of life on both sides?


Experience convinced us that rebellion would offer the Government limitless opportunities for the indiscriminate slaughter of our people. But it was precisely because the soil of South Africa is already drenched with the blood of innocent Africans that we felt it our duty to make preparations as a long-term undertaking to use force in order to defend ourselves against force. If war were inevitable, we wanted the fight to be conducted on terms most favorable to our people. The fight which held out prospects best for us and the least risk of life to both sides was guerrilla warfare. We decided, therefore, in our preparations for the future, to make provision for the possibility of guerrilla warfare.


All whites undergo compulsory military training, but no such training was given to Africans. It was in our view essential to build up a nucleus of trained men who would be able to provide the leadership which would be required if guerrilla warfare started. We had to prepare for such a situation before it became too late to make proper preparations.


The ideological creed of the ANC is, and always has been, the creed of African Nationalism. It is not the concept of African Nationalism expressed in the cry, 'Drive the White man into the sea'. The African Nationalism for which the ANC stands is the concept of freedom and fulfilment for the African people in their own land. The most important political document ever adopted by the ANC is the Freedom Charter. It is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state...The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it, to the best of my recollection, ever condemned capitalist society.


The ANC, unlike the Communist Party, admitted Africans only as members. Its chief goal was, and is, for the African people to win unity and full political rights. The Communist Party's main aim, on the other hand, was to remove the capitalists and to replace them with a working-class government. The Communist Party sought to emphasize class distinctions whilst the ANC seeks to harmonize them.


It is true that there has often been close co-operation between the ANC and the Communist Party. But co-operation is merely proof of a common goal - in this case the removal of white supremacy - and is not proof of a complete community of interests. The history of the world is full of similar examples. Perhaps the most striking illustration is to be found in the co-operation between Great Britain, the United States of America, and the Soviet Union in the fight against Hitler. Nobody but Hitler would have dared to suggest that such co-operation turned Churchill or Roosevelt into communists or communist tools, or that Britain and America were working to bring about a communist world.


It is perhaps difficult for white South Africans, with an ingrained prejudice against communism, to understand why experienced African politicians so readily accept communists as their friends. But to us the reason is obvious. Theoretical differences, amongst those fighting against oppression, is a luxury which cannot be afforded. What is more, for many decades communists were the only political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans as human beings and as their equals; who were prepared to eat with us; talk with us, live with us, and work with us. They were the only political group which was prepared to work with the Africans for the attainment of political rights and a stake in society. Because of this, there are many Africans who today tend to equate freedom with communism.


From my reading of Marxist literature and from conversations with Marxists, I have gained the impression that communists regard the parliamentary system of the work - of the West as undemocratic and reactionary. But, on the contrary, I am an admirer of such a system.


The Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights, the Bill of Rights are documents which are held in veneration by democrats throughout the world. I have great respect for British political institutions, and for the country's system of justice. I regard the British Parliament as the most democratic institution in the world, and the independence and impartiality of its judiciary never fail to arouse my admiration. The American Congress, that country's doctrine of separation of powers, as well as the independence of its judiciary, arouse in me similar sentiments.


The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy. White supremacy implies black inferiority. Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion. Menial tasks in South Africa are invariably performed by Africans. When anything has to be carried or cleaned the white man will look around for an African to do it for him, whether the African is employed by him or not.


Poverty and the breakdown of family life have secondary effects. Children wander about the streets of the townships because they have no schools to go to, or no money to enable them to go to school, or no parents at home to see that they go to school, because both parents, if there be two, have to work to keep the family alive. This leads to a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy, and to growing violence which erupts not only politically, but everywhere.


Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society. Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.


This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.


This last paragraph Mandela put his prepared statement down and went off memory looking straight at the judge:


During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."






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