I have been in Johannesburg for several weeks, and the name Solomon Mahlangu has popped up in several different locations. The first is on the side of our university building, which is named ‘Solomon Mahlangu’ House. The second was when we visited the Apartheid Museum and I saw his name in one of the exhibits. As I wasn’t able to take photos, I don’t quite remember what the exact story was that they displayed but I was interested in learning more.
I first went to figure out the University’s reasoning for renaming Senate House to Solomon Mahlangu House. I found an article that stated that the naming committee recommended changing the name; this article linked to a page about the building’s new namesake.
Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu was born in 1956, almost a decade into Apartheid. In 1976 he joined the African National Congress (ANC), and went to Angola and Mozambique to be trained as a Umkhonto we Sizwe, or ‘The Spear of the Nation’ soldier. Mandela founded this military force in 1961 when he lost hope in a nonviolent response to incredibly violent attacks by the apartheid government. In 1977, Mahlangu returned to South Africa with his companions Mondy Motloung and George ‘Lucky’ Mahlangu to help with student protests commemorating the one year anniversary of the June 16 Uprising and ensuing police massacre.
A few days after he returned, he and his companions were attacked by police in Johannesburg. George Mahlangu managed to get away, but in the battle with the police, Mondy Motloung killed two civilians and he and Solomon were arrested. Mahlangu was charged with two counts of murder and other charges as listed by the Terrorism Act.
Motloung was confirmed as being the one responsible for killing the civilians, but he was unable to stand trial because he had been beaten so severally during the arrest and while in custody. Mahlangu was seen to have common purpose with Motloung, and so was guilty of murder regardless of who pulled the trigger. He was sentenced to hang on March 2, 1978.
Mahlangu attempted to appeal several times but was denied by the courts. Multiple international organizations, including the UN, tried to get him freed, but they were unsuccessful. His brother said in an interview “He was the youngest to be hanged. The apartheid system was waiting for the ‘right age’ for him to die. They said 22 years is old enough.” Still barely a grown man, Mahlangu wanted to die like the soldier he was, and refused to be handcuffed as he was marched to the gallows. After the execution on April 6, 1979, the international community protested heavily and condemned South Africa’s apartheid government.
Having been initially buried outside of Pretoria by the police, on April 6 1993, Mahlangu was reinterred in a cemetery within city limits and near his family’s home.
Solomon Mahlangu’s supposed last words are on a plaque by his grave:
“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.”
Forty years on, his name is commemorated in protest songs and his family and others gather every year to invoke their ancestors and pay tribute to his fight for freedom.
Elizabeth Hampson is a visiting researcher at the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits University in South Africa, but the views expressed in this personal blog are hers alone and do not represent the views of the ACMS. She does not receive funding from any organization that would benefit from this article.
Bibliography & Further Reading
Khoabane, Rea. “Forty Years after Solomon Mahlangu Was Hanged, His Family Continues to Remember His Legacy.” TimesLIVE, TimesLIVE.
Kupe, Tawana. “Naming Committee Recommends Senate House Be Renamed Solomon Mahlangu House.” University of the Witwatersrand, 6 Apr. 2016.
Pijoos, Iavan. “’Solomon Mahlangu Wanted to Die like a Soldier’.” News24, News24, 6 Apr. 2017, http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/solomon-mahlangu-wanted-to-die-like-a-soldier-20170406.
Tinashe. “Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu.” South African History Online, 11 July 2017, http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/solomon-kalushi-mahlangu.
There is also a movie entitled Kalushi, which I have not watched but I plan to soon!
Featured Image taken by me outside of the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg