Anti-apartheid stalwart Andrew Mlangeni, who was the last surviving Rivonia trialist, has died, Mlangeni was 95 years old.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office had earlier issued a statement of well-wishes for Mlangeni, who celebrated his birthday last month, saying he had been admitted to a Military Hospital in Thaba Tshwane in Pretoria on July 14 after complaining about abdominal pain.
However, early on Wednesday the Presidency tweeted saying, “President Ramaphosa has learned with deep sadness of the overnight passing of the last remaining Rivonia Trialist… Andrew Mekete Mlangeni,”.
Mlangeni was the only man still alive from the group of political activists who were in the dock in the so-called Rivonia Trial, after the death of 87-year-old Denis Goldberg in April. Goldberg was the only white member of the group.
Mlangeni was born in 1925 in Soweto, he left school at 12 years old to look for work and help his mother take care of the family after his father passed away.
In the 1940s he worked in several industries and factories where he experienced labour exploitation, culminating his participation as a bus driver in a strike for better working conditions and wages.
Mlangeni joined the youth league of the now-governing African National Congress (ANC) in 1951 and the party itself in 1954 and was among one of the first people to be sent for military training outside South Africa in 1961.
On his return in 1963, he was arrested after state witnesses said he was one of the people responsible for recruiting and training an armed force. He was found guilty and then sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island, where he spent more than 20 years.
At Mlangeni’s birthday celebration in June, Ramaphosa said the struggle veteran had in his later years been the “conscience” of the ANC. Ramaphosa said over the years Mlangeni had encouraged and supported the ruling party and steered it back on course when it faltered.
“He (Mlangeni) has not hesitated to speak out when necessary,” Ramaphosa told those gathered at the birthday party.
“It has been of great concern to him, and is a concern we share, that 26 years into democracy we have still not fully met the developmental aspirations of our people, and that this is an affront to human dignity.”