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22.07.2020 South Africa

South African anti-apartheid icon Andrew Mlangeni dies

By AFP
Man of history: Andrew Mlangeni, who has died at the age of 95.  By GULSHAN KHAN (AFP/File)
LISTEN JUL 22, 2020
Man of history: Andrew Mlangeni, who has died at the age of 95. By GULSHAN KHAN (AFP/File)

South African anti-apartheid figure Andrew Mlangeni, who stood trial alongside Nelson Mandela in the 1963-64 Rivonia Trial, has died at the age of 95, the presidency announced on Wednesday.

Mlangeni, 95, was the last surviving Rivonia trialist, spending more than quarter of a century imprisoned on Cape Town's notorious Robben island before his release in 1989.

"President Cyril Ramaphosa has learnt with deep sadness of the passing away overnight of the last remaining Rivonia Trialist," the presidency said in a tweet.

His death "signifies the end of a generational history and places our future squarely in our hands," he declared.

Mlangeni was admitted to a military hospital in the capital Pretoria on Tuesday with an abdominal complaint, the presidency said.

Born in the Johannesburg township of Soweto, he joined the youth wing of the National African Congress (ANC) in the early 1950s.

In the early 1960s, he was among the first groups of liberation fighters to be sent outside of South Africa for military training.

When he returned two years later, he was arrested.

The eight-month Rivonia Trial, named after the Johannesburg suburb where the ANC leaders were arrested, brought the struggle against apartheid to world attention.

Expecting to be sentenced to death, Mandela declared in a three-hour speech from the dock that freedom was "an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Instead, he, Mlangeni and fellow leaders Ahmed Kathrada and Dennis Goldberg were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mlangeni served 26 years behind bars before his release.

With the advent of democracy, Mlangeni served as a member of parliament under the now-ruling ANC from 1994 to 1999.

He was awarded the Isithwalandwe Seaparankwe, the ANC's highest honour, in 1992.

Seven years later, he received the Presidential Order for meritorious service from Mandela himself.

Among recognition abroad, Mlangeni was honoured with the freedom of the City of London in 2018.

The liberation icon lost his wife June, with whom he had four children, in 2001.

The ANC described him as one of the most outstanding fighters and humble servants in the fight for freedom.

"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 ANC said.

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