Revolutions are violent affairs, and South Africa’s fight for democracy was no exception, with murder and destruction taking place from all sides. It was after witnessing the force of the South African police against largely unarmed civilians during the 1976 Soweto Student Uprising that Solomon Mahlangu decided it was time to take up arms against his oppressors. Mahlangu joined the ANC as a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe in September 1976, receiving his training in Angola and Mozambique. In June 1977 Mahlangu and two of his comrades returned to South Africa with suitcases full of political flyers, hand grenades and AK47s.
There’s no disputing that Mahlangu might well have been involved in the violence of the Apartheid struggle given his training, but he never got that far. On his arrival back in SA, he was accosted by police in Goch Street, Johannesburg, and in the ensuing struggle two civilians were killed, with a further two being wounded. Mahlangu and his comrade, Mondy Johannes Motloung, were arrested (the third man, ‘Lucky’ Mahlangu, had managed to escape). After his arrest Motloung was beaten by the police resulting in brain damage so severe that he was deemed unfit to stand trial. With no other defendant to lay the blame on, the government chose to prosecute Mahlangu for the two murders and attempted murders, despite it being accepted that it was Motloung and not Mahlangu who did the shooting, citing the law of Common Purpose*. Mahlangu was found guilty on two counts of murder and three charges under the Terrorism Act, and on the 2nd March 1978 was sentenced to death by hanging. With his various leaves to appeal being denied, and pressure from international organisations having no effect, Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu was executed on the 6th April 1979.
Fearing public violence, Mahlangu was buried in Atteridgeville, with his body being reinterred at the Mamelodi Cemetery in 1993, on the 14th anniversary of his death. A plaque erected at the cemetery states 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.”
Today marks the 38th anniversary of the death of Solomon Mahlangu, and it is clear that all these years later his words have still not been forgotten. Yesterday the ANC paid tribute to Mahlangu: “Comrade Solomon Mahlangu was a young hero of the South African revolutionary struggle, a survivor of the Soweto and other massacres perpetrated throughout the country by the fascist regime in 1976, a dedicated opponent of racism. Solomon Mahlangu’s only crime was his deep love for his people, his commitment and dedication to the noble ideal of freedom, human dignity and happiness of the people”, said ANC Tshwane spokesman, Lesego Makhubela.
A film on the life and death of Mahlangu, Kalushi, recipient of the Best Film Award at the 2017 Luxor African Film Festival, will be shown tonight at Ster Kinekor Gateway. The Film is also currently showing at the British Film Institute, before moving on to the New York African Film Festival in the United States. Click here to watch the trailer for the feature film.
*The legal principle of Common Purpose originates in English law, and argues that all parties committing a crime together should face the same consequences, regardless of whether they carried out the same acts or knew of each other’s intent. It was this principle that was protested against internationally in many political prisoner’s cases. In terms of South Africa’s Bill of Rights it is inconceivable that acts of political dissent could be considered ‘common law’ crimes today.