On 6 April 1979 the apartheid regime hanged Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu for a crime he didn’t commit. His last words: “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.”
Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu, born on 10 July 1956 in Doornkop, Middelburg in what was then known a Eastern Transvaal, was barely 20 years old when Soweto school pupils protested against the introduction of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.
He was the second son of Martha Mahlangu. His father left him in 1962, and from then on only saw him infrequently. His mother was a domestic worker and took sole responsibility for his upbringing. He attended Mamelodi High School up to Standard 8, but did not complete his schooling as a result of the school’s closure due to ongoing riots.
By the end of 1976 many hundreds of youths had been killed, including a 12-year-old schoolboy named Hector Petersen, and more than 2 000 wounded. Thousands more had been prosecuted or detained, and banning orders had been imposed. A large number of South Africans went abroad, often clandestinely, many of them vowing to pursue the struggle. One was Solomon Mahlangu, who left his home one night in great secrecy.
He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in September 1976, and left the country to be trained as an Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) “The Spear of the Nation” soldier. The training was received in Angola and Mozambique and on 11 June 1977 he returned to South Africa as a cadre, heavily armed, through Swaziland to assist with student protests.
On 13 June 1977, Mahlangu and his companions, Mondy Johannes Motloung and George “Lucky” Mahlangu, were accosted by police in Goch Street, Johannesburg. “Lucky” Mahlangu managed to escape, however, in the ensuing gun battle two civilian men were killed and two wounded. Solomon Mahlangu and Motloung were arrested.
The judge accepted that Motloung was responsible for the actual killings, but since he had been so brutally beaten during the course of his capture, he had suffered severe brain damage and was unfit to stand trial. However, as common purpose had been formed, Mahlangu was therefore found guilty on two counts of murder and three charges under the Terrorism Act.
Solomon Mahlangu was tried from the 7th of November 1977 to the 1st of March 1978, for charges associated with the attacks in Goch Street in June 1977. He was therefore charged with two counts of murder and several charges under the Terrorism Act. Mahlangu pleaded not guilty to the charges. His council stated that he entered South Africa in June 1977 as part of a group of ten, bringing arms, ammunition, explosives and ANC pamphlets into the country.He was duly found guilty, and on 22 March 1977 was sentenced to death. His response was a defiant shout of “Amandla!”
Mahlangu’s sentence was not carried out immediately, however. His case had aroused widespread international concern, and he spent two years awaiting execution while heavy pressure was exerted on the South African government to commute his sentence and recognise freedom fighters as political prisoners.
On 15 June 1978 Solomon Mahlangu was refused leave to appeal his sentence by the Rand Supreme Court, and on 24 July 1978 he was refused again in the Bloemfontein Appeal Court. Although various governments, the United Nations, international organizations, groups and prominent individuals attempted to intercede on his behalf, Mahlangu awaited his execution in Pretoria Central Prison.
The apartheid government would not give way, however, and on 6 April 1979, aged 23, Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu was executed, his spirit unbroken by the long time he had spent in the shadow of the gallows. His last words were: “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.”
In 1993, the Solomon Mahlangu Square in Mamelodi was dedicated to his memory. The ANC hailed him as hero of the revolutionary struggle in South Africa, and subsequently named a school after him, in honour of his courage and dedication: The Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO). He was awarded “The Order of Mendi for Bravery in Gold for bravery and sacrificing his life for freedom and democracy in South Africa” posthumously in 2005.