Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu remains one of the most controversial freedom fighters in history. He lived a short life but has a strong legacy – which continues to cause a divide among critics and students of African history.
He was born on July 10, 1956, in Mamelodi, Pretoria, South Africa, and died by hanging on April 6, 1979. Mahlangu is remembered today as a freedom fighter and activist who contributed to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
A 1996 movie titled ‘Kalushi’ is perhaps the most popular piece of documentary about the fearless freedom fighter, which has not been favoured by history in recent years. He was an operative of the African National Congress (ANC) militant wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). But there is evidence (like his neglected moment) that he falls into the class of rebel freedom fighters whose methods are not favoured by modern African scholars.
Mahlangu was raised by his mother – a domestic worker, and attended the Mamelodi High School up to Standard 8. His education was brought to an end by riots of the 1976 Soweto uprising, which led to the closure of schools.
After a brutal encounter with the police during the riots, which left him severely wounded from the beatings he received, he fled to Mozambique. He spent six months in a refugee camp near Xai Xai before being taken to a training camp in Angola operated by the African National Congress (ANC).
In the camp, he received training in sabotage, military combat, scouting, and politics. As part of his early duties, he was tasked with the transportation of some supplies along with two others – George ‘Lucky’ Mahlangu and Mondy Motloung.
They were requested to transport large suitcases containing pamphlets, rifles and hand grenades from Swaziland (now Eswatini). On June 11, 1977, they crossed the border into South Africa and started making their way to Johannesburg – where they were arrested.
While trying to board a taxi in Johannesburg, Mahlangu and his companions, Mondy Johannes Motloung and George “Lucky” Mahlangu were accosted by the police. “Lucky” Mahlangu managed to escape. However, in the ensuing gun battle, two civilian men were killed and two wounded. Solomon Mahlangu and Motloung were arrested.
According to reports, Mahlangu’s trial started in the Supreme Court on November 7, 1977. He was defended by two advocates, Messrs Ismail Mohamed, S.C., and Clifford Mailer. The two suspects were charged with two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, and various counts under the Terrorism Act.
In its judgment, the court found that Mahlangu and Motaung had acted with a common purpose. Saying that, it consequently did not matter which of the two had done the shooting and killing. Mahlangu was convicted on all counts.
The court handed Solomon Mahlangu the maximum sentence of death by hanging, and all requests for appeals were refused on two separate occasions.
Solomon Mahlangu was hanged on April 6, 1979, at the age of 22. His last words were, “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, A luta continua.”
To date, many critics are of the opinion that the legacy of Solomon Mahlangu has been neglected by the ANC, South Africans, and Civil Right Groups.
They argue that he died for the struggle and should be celebrated as a hero like some of his compatriots. What are your thoughts?