Defence and Military Veterans Deputy Minister Thabang Makwetla has remembered struggle hero Solomon Mahlangu, who was executed on April 6, 1979, after he was found guilty of two counts of murder and three charges under the then-Terrorism Act.
Mahlangu, a uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK, “the spear of the nation”) operative, was sentenced to death by hanging on March 2, 1978. Speaking at a wreath laying event in Mamelodi, east of Pretoria, to commemorate his death, Makwetla said it was important to remember the country’s fallen struggle heroes. “There is a lot that we can learn from our heroes. As a new South Africa, we are a country of freedom fighters, lest we forget what they have done selflessly for this country,” he said. Makwetla said government was still searching for other struggle heroes, whose whereabouts were not known, so they could pay homage to them by recognising their contributions in the struggle for democracy.
“We want to compensate and give them the necessary support they deserve,” he said.
At the cemetery where Mahlangu was buried, the mood was sombre with many remembering him as a person who loved peace, the state BuaNews agency reports. Members of MK were also present, chanting and singing freedom songs.
Mahlangu was born in Pretoria on July 10, 1956. He was the second son of Martha Mahlangu. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in September 1976, and left the country to join MK. He trained in Angola and Mozambique and on June 11, 1977, he returned to South Africa as part of a group of ten, bringing arms, ammunition, explosives and ANC pamphlets into the country.
On June 13, 1977, Mahlangu and his companions Mondy Johannes Motloung and George “Lucky” Mahlangu, were stopped by police on 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.
Mahlangu was tried from November 7, 1977 to March 1, 1978, for charges associated with the Goch Street killings. He was therefore charged with two counts of murder and several charges under the Terrorism Act. Mahlangu pleaded not guilty to the charges. 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, the South African History Online (SAHO) website for Solomon Kalushi (Khala) Mahlangu reads.
On June 15, 1978 Solomon Mahlangu was refused leave to appeal his sentence by the Rand Supreme Court, and on July 24, 1978 he was refused again in the Bloemfontein Appeal Court. Although various governments, the United Nations, international organisations, groups and prominent individuals attempted to intercede on his behalf, Mahlangu awaited his execution in Pretoria Central Prison, and died on April 6, the SAHO site adds.
The ANC hailed him as hero of the revolutionary struggle in South Africa, and subsequently named a training facility in Tanzania 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.
The execution provoked international protest and condemnation of South Africa’s internal policy. In fear of crowd reaction at the funeral the police decided to bury Mahlangu in Atteridgeville. On 6 April 1993 he was reinterred at the Mamelodi Cemetery, where a plaque states his supposed 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.”