Bishops in Southern Africa Eulogize Anti-Apartheid Icon for Legacy of Democracy, Equality

South Africa's anti-apartheid icon, Andrew Mlangeni who passed on July 22.
Credit: Public Domain

Catholic Bishops in Southern Africa have eulogized the late Andrew Mlangeni, the anti-apartheid icon who stood the 1963-1964 Rivonia Trial alongside Nelson Mandela, applauding him for his contribution to democracy and equality in South Africa.

Mr. Mlangeni died Wednesday, July 22 at a military hospital in the country’s capital, Pretoria. He was 95.

In his July 22 Tweet announcing the death of Mr. Mlangeni who has been the last surviving person of the Rivonia Treason Trial, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa posted, “His death signifies the end of a generational history and places our future squarely in our hands.” 

Members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) have expressed their “sincere condolences to the Mlangeni Family and to the people of South Africa as a whole on the passing on of Mr. Andrew Mlangeni.”

In their Wednesday, July 22 collective statement obtained by ACI Africa, SACBC members say in reference to Mr. Mlangeni, “As a Catholic Church, we applaud him for his contribution in bringing about a democratic South Africa in which all people are equal. We acknowledge with appreciation the sacrifice he made in his personal life to realize the ideal of an equal society,”

The Prelates thank God for gifting Mr. Mlangeni a long life thus “affording South Africa the benefit of his wisdom as an elder in helping to establish a mature democracy in our country.”

“We acknowledge the contribution of his generation to the freedom enjoyed by all in our country today. His passing away is a historic moment for the people of South Africa,” the Bishops say in their collective statement signed by SACBC President, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka.

The life and service of Mr. Mlangeni, the Bishops further say, “is a challenge to all our people and our leaders to take our country forward in the spirit of sacrifice and service, evidenced by the generous life of this hero.”

“Despite the scourge of COVID-19 we will continue to celebrate the life of Andrew Mlangeni in our hearts,” the Bishops say, adding, “We would like to convey our special condolences to President Cyril Ramaphosa on the loss of this icon of our nation.”

“May the soul of Mr. Andrew Mlangeni rest in perfect peace,” SACBC members conclude.

Born in South Africa’s Soweto township in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg in June 1925, Mr. Mlangeni joined the youth wing of the African National Congress (ANC) in the early 1950s.

According to his 2017 biography, The Backroom Boy, Mr. Mlangeni was among the first groups of anti-apartheid activists be sent to China for military training in the early 1960s.

He returned to South Africa in 1963 and became a member of the top command of ANC’s armed movement, Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Disguised as a priest, he would go around the country recruiting young people to go abroad for military training until he and his allies were arrested for treason and taken through the Rivorian Treason Trial, named after the Johannesburg suburb where the ANC leaders were arrested.

The eight-month trial is credited for bringing the struggle against apartheid to the world’s attention.  

Alongside his ally Nelson Mandela and four others, they were sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage. Mr. Mlangeni served his jail term for 26 years before he was released.

With the realization of democracy in South Africa, Mr. Mlangeni served as a Member of Parliament from 1994-1999 under the presidency of his ally, ANC’s Nelson Mandela.

Among the awards Mr. Mlangeni has received for his role in the realization of democracy in the country include ANC’s highest honor, Isithwalandwe Seaparankwe awarded in 1992, and the Presidential Order for meritorious service awarded by the then President and his closest ally, Nelson Mandela.

Internationally, Mr. Mlangeni was awarded the Freedom of the City of London Prize in 2018.

“Death has robbed the people of South Africa of one of its finest sons, who valued the freedom of his people more than his own life and personal comfort,” the leadership of ANC said Wednesday, July 22.

ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]