This year marks the 40th anniversary of the judicial murder of an outstanding hero of our struggle, Cde Solomon Kalishu Mahlangu. Mahlangu was swept in the turmoil following the Soweto uprisings of 1976 and was forced to abandon his studies to join Umkhonto we Sizwe.(MK). After training, he secretly returned into the country, together with Monty Motloung and George Mazibuko, on a mission for MK. Intercepted by the police in Gosh Street in Johannesburg in June 1978, a shoot-out ensued, in the course of which two whites were killed. George Mazibuko managed to escape, and later claimed that he was the one who fired the fatal bullets. Arrested with Mahlangu was Monty Motloung, who couldn’t stand trial because he had sustained extensive brain damage at the hands of the security police.
Solomon Mahlangu was sentenced to death on March 8 1979 for his part in the Gosh Street incident. During the application for a re-trial in the Pretoria Supreme Court, his mother – Martha Mahlangu said in anguish: “What else can I do for my son, but to pray daily for him to be given another hearing”. On April 5, an emergency meeting called by the African Group, was held at the United Nations Security Council. A ‘solemn call’ was issued demanding that the racists halt the execution. Dr Kurt Waldheim, UN Secretary General and Mr Ole Algard, Security Council President also registered their protest.
The international community appealed to the apartheid regime to stop the judicial murder of Solomon Mahlangu. Britain, Holland, India, France, Belgium, West Germany, the USA, German Democratic Republic and the USSR were among the countries which added their voices to the plea. These demands were supported by trade unionists, church leaders, student bodies and democratic lawyers internationally.
Solomon Mahlangu was a worthy representative of his people and showed in his ordeal the courage and determination which are the guarantee of future victory. In the first place, he chose to fight rather than submit to unendurable tyranny indefinitely prolonged. When captured by the enemy, he displayed the greatest courage under torture by the police. He told the court how he had been assaulted by Captain Cronwright and Lieutenants De Waal and Struwig. He had been advised by a major to make a statement to a magistrate without mentioning the assaults, but he refused and was again assaulted.
Inside South Africa, our peoples anger mounted. Six thousand signatures calling for a stop of execution were collected in one night alone. Several hundred people mounted a night vigil outside the Mahlangu home and church services were held to protest against the apartheid murder. Mrs Kassner, wife of one of those killed in Gosh Street sent a telegram calling for a reprieve for Mahlangu.
On Friday April 6. 1979, the world was outraged to learn that the racist regime had murdered ANC Freedom Fighter Solomon Mahlangu. Despite an international campaign to stop the execution, the Botha/Vorster regime continued to disregard the demands of the overwhelming majority of humankind with callous impunity. Special Branch police informed the Mahlangu family that Solomon was to die, only days before execution. Within hours the apartheid regime was swamped with protests. At the same time, messages of support and solidarity inundated the Pretoria home of Martha Mahlangu and her family.
The decision to execute Mahlangu on the same day that Jan Van Riebeck landed on the shores of South Africa in the Cape shows a deliberate contempt by the racist regime for the liberation struggle for the African people. Van Riebeck’s arrival culminated in land dispossession and colonial conquest in our country. It is for this reason that our endeavour to resolve the land issue must be accelerated in the living memory of Solomon Mahlangu.
Millions of our people throughout the world shared the agony of Mahlangu on the night before his execution. His execution, like that of many liberation heroes, was meant to be a “deterrent” but instead had the opposite effect. New battalions of freedom fighters flocked to Umkhonto to occupy the space he had left vacant.
Solomon Mahlangu’s deeds transformed the politics of South Africa. He imbued the youth with the spirit of no surrender. He had sharpened his spear to continue the heroic example of combat bequeathed to us by our gallant fighters at Isandlwana and elsewhere in our country during the wars of resistance to colonial conquest and land dispossession. With the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe all the best fighting traditions of our past were brought together in an organised form.
The young people who left the country before the Soweto Uprising of 1976 did so for so many reasons but the biggest group and the most honourable was one which swelled the ranks of Umkhonto we Sizwe. They had prepared their minds for the hardships that lay ahead and had fixed their sights on the enemy and were ready for any eventuality. When the enemy tried to instil fear into them, they did not flinch, and their courage and determination filled the enemy with rage. This was a crop of young cadres who brought an impetus to the revolution and instilled a sense of hope for the future.
Almost overnight the Soweto generation finally enabled us to breach the barriers by which the enemy had sought to separate liberation movement from the masses. Within the ranks of Umkhonto We Sizwe and under the tutelage of the Umgwenya (as members of Luthuli Detachment were affectionately known) they proudly absorbed the heritage of struggle that resides in the various formations of our national liberation movement and were awarded the title of the June 16 Detachment. They were to be rapidly joined by the Moncada Detachment who swelled the ranks of MK. They wrote a glorious chapter in the history of our struggle.
The flame held by the Luthuli Detachment and the spirit that consciously surged from prisons where our leaders and fighters had been held inspired the revival of the fighting capacity of our people inside South Africa. Activists cut off from activism through a wave of repressive laws and prison joined forces with a new generation of freedom fighters.
Throughout his ordeal, Mahlangu showed fearlessness, courage and dedication to the people’s cause. He symbolised the spirit of June 16 Detachment and the fighting tradition of our people. Solomon Mahlangu became a shining example of a revolutionary patriot to all future generations of activists. They honoured Mahlangu and pledged their loyalty to the cause for which the People’s Hero had so bravely perished. These are the men and women, many of them who ultimately paid the supreme sacrifice without expecting any personal material gain, except for the freedom of their compatriots. Indeed, in fighting for freedom, they felt honoured in laying down their precious lives so that millions of our future generations could live in peace and harmony, free from the scourge of racism and poverty.
What strengthened our resolve and inspired our supporters internationally, was the way in which Solomon faced his murderers and quality of his last message to his people. He was not afraid to die. Reverend Nyathi who administered Solomon’s last rites said that Solomon had given the ANC salute, stood upright and smiling, walked tall to the gallows. During the last visit allowed to his mother a day before he was executed, he told her that he had no regrets. He said: “Do not worry about me, but worry about those who are still suffering”. “Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue the struggle. My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. They must continue the struggle.”
Dr Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi is the Free State Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) Member of the South African Communist Party (SACP). He writes in his personal capacity.