Friday, April 11, 2008

Remember Solomon Mahlangu and Chris Hani: Build a Society Worthy of Their Sacrifice

Remember Solomon Mahlangu

Let's build a society worthy of the sacrifice of Solomon Mahlangu

Twenty-nine years ago Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu was executed by the apartheid regime at the Pretoria Central Prison. Like many of his generation Mahlangu was radicalised by the attempt to impose Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in African schools and the subsequent brutality unleashed by the apartheid government upon student protesters.

As we remember the ultimate sacrifice that he was to pay for our freedom, we must consider too the relevance of his life and death to the tasks we must today undertake as a nation.

Solomon Mahlangu left for exile and military training in the wake of the 1976 revolt. His training entailed more than the handling of weapons; he was also trained in revolutionary conduct, behaviour and discipline. A year later his unit re-entered South Africa on a mission and were intercepted in Goch Street in Johannesburg.

They fought a fierce battle with the apartheid forces in what came to be known as the "Goch Street shooting" in which two whites died. Solomon Mahlangu was arrested together with Mondy Motloung.

They were both severely tortured and assaulted, and were not allowed to see lawyers. Mahlangu did not even know he was represented. Motloung suffered brain damage and was declared a patient of the state until his death last year. In March 1978 Mahlangu was sentenced to death. He had pleaded not guilty and as the death sentence was passed he raised his clenched fist and shouted "Amandla".

He spent more than a year in a death cell in Pretoria Central Prison; not allowed visits except family and a minister of religion appointed by the state; and allowed no reading material except the Bible.

Once the day of execution was confirmed for 6 April 1979, the whole world was galvanised into action. The then UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim issued a "solemn call" to South Africa to halt the execution; all over Europe people held vigils and pickets at South African embassies until the morning of the execution. The call for sanctions against South Africa intensified.

Inside the country political organisations protested; signatures were collected to stop the execution; a vigil was held outside the Mahlangu family home in Mamelodi; The Citizen newspaper "warned" other newspapers about encouraging sympathy for Mahlangu; and Mrs Kasner, widow of one of those killed in Goch Street, had sent a telegram calling for a reprieve.

Mahlangu was secretly buried by the police in Atteridgeville, west of Tshwane. His family was left to look everywhere for his grave. A big memorial service was held at the St Francis of Assisi Church in Rockville Soweto addressed by leaders such as Dr Nthato Motlana.

Later the media reported that the prison psychiatrist had said: "Solomon was scared of death". His mother, Martha Mahlangu, responded: "I firmly believe that my son left home one day and decided he should do something to help free his people from suffering. I see the report as mere propaganda designed to instil fear into those youths who follow in his footsteps."

Throughout his ordeal, Solomon Mahlangu showed fearlessness, courage and dedication to the people's cause. He believed in the cause of freedom. He symbolised the spirit of the youth of 1976 and the fighting traditions of our people. He was a shining example of a revolutionary patriot to all future generations of South Africans. What strengthened our resolve and inspired our supporters internationally was the way in which Mahlangu faced his murderers.

The day before execution Mahlangu told his family: "Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue the struggle. My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. A Luta Continua!"

In response the ANC, which had declared 1979 The Year of the Spear, said: "The ANC, the whole liberation movement including members of Umkhonto we Sizwe, mourn the death of Solomon Mahlangu.

"But we pledge that the criminals will not go unpunished. Mahlangu and all our fallen heroes shall be avenged! We call on the international solidarity movement and all progressive and democratic forces to heed Mahlangu's words and continue the struggle. Let us intensify the all-round isolation of the racist regime and strengthen the call for recognition of captured freedom fighters as prisoners of war. The force and effect of the Mahlangu Campaign has proved once again the need for solidarity in struggle. We must re-double our efforts on all fronts, until we have won the free, democratic and non-racial South Africa that Solomon Mahlangu fought and died for."

Mahlangu's execution reminds us of the legalised brutality of the apartheid regime, and should reinforce our commitment to a culture of human rights and respect for the dignity of all. Never again can we accept a state that rides roughshod over the basic rights of its people, violating the most basic right of all people to life.

We must reaffirm our commitment to rid our society of all acts that threaten the lives and safety of our people. We must rise up as one against the criminals that prey on our people, without respect for live or dignity or property.

We must build a society that is worthy of the profound sacrifice that Solomon Mahlangu made.

** Kgalema Motlanthe is the Deputy President of the ANC. This is an extract from an address at the ANC Youth League Congress, 6 April 2008.

Remember Chris Hani

Ideals that will never perish

Fifteen years ago this week, on 10 April 1993, a martyr was taken away from his people. The brutal killing of Chris Thembisile Hani on the driveway of his home threatened to derail the negotiations process that was then nearing finality.

Speaking in Durban this week, ANC President Jacob Zuma said: "Our hearts still bleed from the tragic and untimely loss."

"The brutal assassination was a moment of great sadness in our nation's history, an event that threatened the country with upheaval and widespread violence. The anniversary reminds us of how far we have come as a nation, and how the abiding memory of Chris Hani urges us to intensify our efforts to build the kind of society for which he so bravely fought, and for which he ultimately lost his life," he said.

Chris Hani's life was cut short before he could realise the fruits of the struggle for liberation to which he had dedicated his entire life.

Addressing the nation in a televised address in the days following the assassination, then ANC President Nelson Mandela captured the mood of the people. He said:

"Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin.

"The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world. Our grief and anger is tearing us apart. What has happened is a national tragedy that has touched millions of people, across the political and colour divide.

"Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for -the freedom of all of us.

"This is a watershed moment for all of us. Our decisions and actions will determine whether we use our pain, our grief and our outrage to move forward to what is the only lasting solution for our country - an elected government of the people, by the people and for the people.

"Chris Hani was a soldier. He believed in iron discipline. He carried out instructions to the letter. He practised what he preached. Any lack of discipline is trampling on the values that Chris Hani stood for. Those who commit such acts serve only the interests of the assassins, and desecrate his memory. When we, as one people, act together decisively, with discipline and determination, nothing can stop us.

"Let us honour this soldier for peace in a fitting manner. Let us rededicate ourselves to bringing about the democracy he fought for all his life; democracy that will bring real, tangible changes in the lives of the working people, the poor, the jobless, the landless.

"Chris Hani is irreplaceable in the heart of our nation and people. When he first returned to South Africa after three decades in exile, he said: 'I have lived with death most of my life. I want to live in a free South Africa even if I have to lay down my life for it.'.

"Chris Hani has made the supreme sacrifice. The greatest tribute we can pay to his life's work is to ensure we win that freedom for all our people."

South Africans in their resolve to attain the freedom for which heroes like Hani had paved the way, soldiered on despite the attempts of those who sought to divert the people's attention from achieving freedom.

Because of his confidence in his people, Hani knew that victory was certain, that change was unavoidable, that freedom could not be postponed forever, and that one day all the people of South Africa would overcome their divisions and live together as one people.

In his address to a rally just four days before his death, Chris Hani said: "I do not accept people calling for war because I feel we have achieved something in this country where those who oppressed us in the past are actually talking to us and showing readiness to negotiate for democratic elections. I am saying to these comrades here that everyone should be a combatant, a fighter for peace".

Those of us who were fortunate to have seen the birth of the new and democratic South Africa, enjoying the freedom to which Chris Hani dedicated his life, should continue to uphold the humane values that defined his life and leadership, knowing that we are living out ideals that will never perish because of their moral force.

At the very height of racist bigotry, Chris Hani sustained the long, tried and tested tradition of his predecessors in the ANC, championing forgiveness, advocating non-racialism, non-sexism, equality and justice for all. Hani championed the cause of peace, trudging to every corner of South Africa calling for a spirit of tolerance among all our people.

We remain heavily indebted as a nation in the sacrifices that people like Chris Hani made. In recognition of his selfless dedication to the struggle, the ANC posthumously bestowed upon him the honour of Isithwalandwe Seaparankoe - the highest honour awarded by the ANC to those who have made an outstanding contribution and sacrifice to the liberation struggle.

We who continue to witness the fruits of the liberation struggle that Hani and others so hard fought for, must ensure that we safeguard this freedom and democracy won through the loss of lives. The ANC makes a passionate call to all its cadres to not only remember Chris Hani and what he stood for, but to emulate his work as we move towards the realisation of a better for all.

No comments: