solomon mahlangu

Solomon Mahlangu: SA remembers struggle icon 42 years later

Published by Andile Sicetsha

On this day, 42 years ago, Solomon Mahlangu, a Mkhonto Wesizwe operative, suffered an excruciating death at the hands of the apartheid government. His crime? — Well, that is a complex subject that still divides opinion in post-apartheid South Africa.

Was Solomon Mahlangu a struggle icon or a murderer?

Detailing the double murder charge Mahlangu was found guilty of raises perplexing philosophical questions about morality in an era where revolting against the oppressive apartheid regime meant that you were, in essence, an enemy of the state.

At the age of 22, Mahlangu was thrust into the furore of struggle politics where he and his peers were recruited into the MK’s web of gorilla operatives. While their leaders lobbied for the emancipation of the oppressed, Mahlangu was part of the ANC’s plans to destabilise the apartheid regime using guerilla war tactics.

However, he would not live to execute his mandate. The ANC had relied on Mahlangu and 10 other operatives it had deployed to South Africa, to send a strong message to the apartheid government on the first anniversary of the June 16 uprising.

Carrying briefcases filled with assault rifles, explosives and anti-establishment propaganda, the 22-year-old made his way, accompanied by George ‘Lucky’ Mahlangu and Monty Motloung, into Johannesburg, on 11 June 1977.

Two days later, their plans would be foiled by a patrol officer who spotted the trio looking suspicious on Diagonal Street, in centre city Joburg.

Lucky, George Mazibuko and others managed to escape the clutches of the apartheid police who, by that time, had realised the plans of the MK operatives.

It was left to Mahlangu and Motloung to see through the mission at hand. However, a gun battle that claimed the lives of two John Orrs employees and wounded two others culminated in the duo’s arrest.

Mahlangu would face the music in a Supreme Court trial that went on 17 months, from November 1977. Motloung was deemed unfit to stand trial after he was tortured in prison.

After numerous appeals, the Supreme Court saw it fit to institute the harshest punishment permissible in the Criminal Act at the time — death by hanging.

Mahlangu’s last words, on the day of his execution, have long been recited in dialogue around South Africa’s fight for freedom from oppression.

“Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue the fight, my blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom, Aluta continua.”

Solomon Mahlangu, 1979

His co-accused skirted the death penalty. Motloung was granted clemency along with other political prisoners in 1992. The damage he suffered at the hands of the apartheid government would lead to his passing in October 2006.

South Africa remembers Mahlangu, 42 years later

42 years after Mahlangu’s death, South Africa commemorated the struggle icon. Here are some of the reactions we’ve picked out on social media: