Editor's note: On Tuesday evening Andrew Mlangeni passed on, aged 95. The struggle stalwart and Rivonia Trialist launched a book in 2017, this is the report filed at the time.
“We should value [freedom] and not squander it as we are doing now. We should diligently keep guard of it … I don’t know if we are keeping guard of this freedom that we have, or whether some people are squandering it.”
These were the words of struggle stalwart and Rivonia trialist Andrew Mlangeni at the launch of his book on Thursday in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg.
Indirectly referring to the current political events in the country, he said “freedom is not free”, quoting American novelist and activist Alice Walker.
Written by Mandla Mathebula, The Backroom Boy: Andrew Mlangeni’s Story, is about a long life in the struggle for freedom before and after democracy in 1994.
The book captures the story of Mlangeni’s fascinating journey – from being a military trainee before the formation of Umkhonto weSizwe, to the Rivonia Trial, spending 25 years on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, to now being the voice of the ANC’s conscience as chair of the party’s integrity commission.
Advocate George Bizos, who represented Mlangeni and other freedom fighters during the Rivonia trial, also attended the launch.
“Thank you very much for sending me to prison, saving us from being sentenced to death,” Mlangeni said, to which the crowd laughed and applauded.
“If this book is being received as a gift and worthy of contribution to the history of our country and its people. I suppose it is in order to say thank you for considering the book as something of value,” he said when thanking the attendees.
“In more ways than one, our hopes in prison were kept alive by the undying hopes of the struggling people … that someday we would be free.
“We could easily have been erased from the memory of this nation. The nation did not forget. Being unforgettable, our hopes rose higher.”
Mlangeni spoke devotedly of his fellow trialists Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg, saying he was saddened that they could not be present.
“My cheer of this moment is tampered by the thought of friends, leaders and comrades with whom I had answered the call of liberation, who have now passed on.
“How sweet it could have been if all my Rivonia trialists were to stand with me before you on this celebratory night, each with a book in hand about our lives,” he said.
Mlangeni and Goldberg are the two remaining trialists, following the death of Kathrada in March this year.
“Your struggles are a special part of me, and believe [that] I’m a valued part of you. May the bond of solidarity that defeated the force of imprisonment be with us to face up to the new invisible forms that seek to divide us from being a united nation.
“In this anxious moment of our country, Mandela’s words must not be forgotten: ‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others’,” he concluded.
Former president Kgalema Motlanthe, who penned the book’s foreword, was due to speak at the launch but did not manage to attend.