Tribute to Isithwalandwe Andrew Mlangeni

Today, we pay tribute to a great revolutionary leader of our struggle Isithwalandwe (utatomkhulu) Andrew Mlangeni who distinguished himself by his quiet, disciplined and respectable demeanour. He neither clamoured for limelight nor shirked his duty for lack of recognition. His great passion was to serve the people and his affiliation to the ANC Youth League, the Young Communist League and later the ANC was solely dedicated to that end.

It was no coincident that my grandfather sought him out and selected him to join five other men in the first group of South African anti-apartheid activists to be sent for training to China. He was not only physically fit but demonstrated the requisite leadership qualities that made him a suitable fit for such an important assignment during which he met Chairman Mao Zedong — the head of the Chinese Communist Party — and other leaders, including his deputy, Deng Xiaoping, and Premier Zhou Enlai.

Utatomkhulu Mlangeni served 26 years as Prisoner 467/64 alongside my grandfather who was Prisoner 466/64), incarcerated for much of the time on Robben Island; he was released in 1989.

Isithwalandwe Mlangeni’s self-effacing manner was not feigned but stems from a deeply personal conviction that nothing could separate him from his humble roots of a small village in then Orange Free State. To truly understand his deep-rooted devotion to the people I have to borrow and paraphrase what Commandante Fidel Castro said of Camilo Cienfuegos: …men like (him) emerged from the village and lived for the people. Our only compensation for the loss of a close associate is to know that the people produce men like him. Andrew Makete Mlangeni lives and lives in the village…

He was our last remainding Cedar that once formed part of that proud forest comprising multiple generations who not only demonstrated loyalty to our movement and our people but whose personal life, ethics and sacrifices made them paragons of morality and altruism.

He was a proud but understated member of the Rivonia Trialists that included Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi and others. As each of them passed on we watched as the shadows of this once proud forest receded until only one lone voice remained. This neither disheartened him nor disillusioned him he remained strictly disciplined and only expressed his concerned for future generations and what we as a nation, the ANC and broader Alliance was doing to prepare others to take on the baton when there turn comes.

That proud Cedar has now fallen and we weep in sadness not for his passing only but for the enormity of the task that awaits and the state that we find ourselves in.

Where are we going to find their likeliness and of whom can we now say what Comrade Guevara said of Camilo “companion of a hundred battles, the man of trust ….in the difficult moments of the war and the selfless fighter who always made of sacrifice an instrument to temper his character and forge that of the troops… Isithwalandwe was indeed a man of the vanguard.”

In tribute to him and the other great revolutionaries of our time we must heed their advice. In April 2018 he reminded us at a ceremony during which an honorary doctorate was bestowed upon him by Rhodes University when he said quoting Marcus Garvey: “Liberate the minds of men (people), and ultimately you will liberate the bodies of men.”

Cde Mlangeni’s passion for the people was focused on his concern for the education and training of the youth of our beautiful country and the intergenerational legacy that we must create in order to heal our land and build a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, just, free and prosperous South Africa.

He always maintained that such a noble goal was only attainable through instilling discipline and respect in our youth. To do so is to truly give them roots to ground them and wings to make them fly and soar to even greater heights of success than those who went before them.

We miss all the legends that went before utatomkhulu Mlangeni and now in his passing we are orphaned by the passage of a generation. He will be sorely missed in these trying times for his wisdom and sagacity and we will have to draw deep at the fount of patience, forbearance and perseverance which he was so richly blessed with.

Hamba Kahle Isithwalandwe Andrew Mlangeni, we shall honour your memory and your epitaph shall forever memorialise your words from the dock to Judge Quartus de Wet to “remember what we, African and nonwhite people, have had to suffer. That is all I have to say except to add what I did was not for myself but for my people.”

 

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