Remembering Solomon Mahlangu, a South African Hero

Whenever a list of Africa’s foremost Nationalists is compiled the list usually has many South Africans. Names like Chris Hani, Albert Luthuli, Govan and Thabo Mbeki, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and undoubtedly the most famous, Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela, take their rightful place besides Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, Nkrumah, Nyerere, Machel and our very own Robert Mugabe.

It is therefore not very surprising that some comrades of South Africa’s struggle for equality are overshadowed and not as well-known as their world famous countrymen. One such man is Solomon Mahlangu, a young cadre of the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, the Spear of the Nation, who was executed on the 6th of April 1979 at the tender age of 23 by the racist apartheid regime for supposedly engaging in ‘terrorist’ activities and murder. In a statement released on the day of his death the ANC condemned the political execution by the ‘fascist’ regime and added that “Solomon Mahlangu’s only crime was his deep love for his people, his commitment and dedication to the noble ideal of freedom, human dignity and happiness of the people.”

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.”

Like so many unsung heroes of the collective African struggle, Solomon Mahlangu died so that we could live as free men. Mahlangu the man died but his idea, the dream is still alive.

He did not die to promote inequality, so that now, almost two decades after South Africa’s independence, the gap between rich and poor in South Africa is perhaps the widest in the world.

Solomon Mahlangu did not envision a South Africa where more than thirty miners are shot to death in a manner reminiscent of apartheid massacres, only this time it’s by a largely black police force under the supervision of an ANC government.

I have no doubt that Solomon Mahlangu’s idea of freedom was not one where the killers of Andres Tatane are allowed to go free, or the freedom for South Africans to become intolerant people who kill, maim and burn the citizens of other African countries or drag them to their deaths in senseless, callous and gratuitous acts of xenophobia.

I refuse to believe that the fight he told his people to continue is a fight for our leaders to amass more wealth and high sounding titles whilst the majority of Africa’s people suffer and lack basic education, food and shelter.

So, today the 6th of April 2013, on the 34th anniversary of Solomon Mahlangu’s death the people of Africa must remember that our fight is not yet done.
More importantly we must always know that the freedom we have came at a terrible cost: human life. Today as we celebrate the life of Solomon Mahlangu, a little known South African revolutionary, we must also celebrate the lives of other Africans who fell victim to the enemy’s noose, his bullets, parcel bombs and poisons: Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, Hebert Chitepo, Thomas Sankara and other comrades who lie in unmarked graves across the length and breadth of our beautiful continent.

And we must make sure that they did not die in vain, in all our actions we must not dishonour their memories by failing to change Africa’s fortunes and proving our detractors right. Rather we should honour their memories, not only by naming schools, hospitals, airports and streets after them- displays which the likes of Sankara or Cabral may have found empty- but truly honour them by filling those schools, making the hospitals accessible to all and creating harmonious and diverse societies, societies where injustice is unheard of.

We must do away with the last vestiges of colonialism in our laws and conduct and promote the ideals of comrades like Solomon Mahlangu- the ideals of freedom: freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, the right to self-determination, the right to choose our leader- and remove them, the right to strike.

These ideals we must guard jealously, even from our own leaders who, from time to time, must be reminded of the men who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be free.

Men like Solomon Mahlangu.

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