OPINION | Mlangeni epitomised the dream of a corrupt-free society

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Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi at the funeral of struggle stalwart Andrew Mlangeni.
Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi at the funeral of struggle stalwart Andrew Mlangeni.
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Struggle stalwart Andrew Mlangeni should be honoured by all of us working toward a corrupt-free society, writes Bennitto Motitswe.


The passing of one of Africa's liberation struggle icons, Andrew Mlangeni marked both the end of a difficult phase and the start of a more difficult phase in the protracted struggle towards total liberation.

To paraphrase Madiba, the pre-1994 period was evidently like "climbing a great hill" and the post-1994 is revealing "many more hills to climb". This observation is supported by persistent inequalities and rampant corruption that derail the immediate fight against Covid-19 and undermine the ongoing efforts to accelerate transformation. What therefore does Ntate Mlangeni bequeath for all to navigate the more difficult times? 

His death befell SA during a more difficult time of increasing Covid-19 infections and mortalities - and rampant corruption which is not assisting the situation by rearing its ugly head and thereby undermining all concerted efforts to win over the novel coronavirus. The increasing allegations of corruption related to Covid-19 tenders across spheres of government must never be treated as business as usual.

Mlangeni and most of his tried and tested generation of freedom fighters demonstrated unmatched traits of principled politics, selfless activism, and upright leadership. They epitomised the dream of a corrupt-free society. Unfortunately, not all of the illustrious freedom fighters survive the temptations of power in the aftermath of the 1994 democratic breakthrough. Mlangeni became increasingly upset with ill-discipline.

When discharging his last organisational deployment as chairperson of the new ANC's integrity commission, established amidst increasing calls to stop corruption and restore integrity, a clear-thinking Mlangeni found himself having to honestly reprimand a sitting ANC and SA president, Jacob G. Zuma. He was clearly disappointed by corrupt practices implicating deployed ANC leaders he comradely trusted.    

Many activists and leaders in the post-1994 era find it difficult to speak out against dehumanising corruption in the same way they spoke out against dehumanising apartheid. Ntate Mlangeni did not find speaking out against wrongdoing to be difficult. He demanded action against those he says were in the trenches with him, but have betrayed the trust bestowed upon them by the organisation that deployed them to serve our people.   

All cadres, activists, and leaders engaged in the ongoing liberation struggle are ordained to uphold the highest standards of revolutionary morality and organisational discipline. To be involved in a revolution is about achieving permanent change. It means you are in it for one reason and one reason only - for the love of serving the people. But revolutionaries are human beings and they have weaknesses like all human beings.

No action 

Therefore, unless society sees every human being as a political being; unless society sees human life as revolving around political life; unless society sees politics as a permanently evolving science, and unless society sees conscious learning and unlearning as essential in everyday politics, human beings would remain fallible and corruptible. It is not only difficult but more difficult indeed to find active revolutionaries, let alone a comrade in the true meaning of what a comrade is, in the post-1994 phase of the ongoing struggle.

Sustaining democracy as a means to achieve total liberation would require more activists than leaders, and therefore urgently need more civic education in communities to breed disciplined and dedicated activists. We have more public representatives tainted by corruption and a few speaking out against it. There has been no serious action to hold those either dragging the good name of struggle in disrepute or found doing wrong, to account. This is a betrayal of Ntate Mlangeni and his rare breed of a generation of freedom fighters.

Cyril Ramaphosa assumed the helm of the ANC and SA's leadership during a more difficult phase of struggle and at the height of corruption. His political tenure would be judged on how he acts, not simply speaks, and how his collective of leaders in the ANC and government either support or defy his handling of rampant corruption, including how he acts against those tainted by corrupt practices in both the ANC and government.

The remaking of a corrupt-free society cannot be postponed any longer and Ramaphosa is seized with leading the charge, albeit that he cannot do it alone. He needs support from both ANC and government, and across society because corruption has permeated society. The continent and the world awaits to see how he handles this revolutionary task in this more difficult phase of enduring democratisation and towards total liberation.

Ntate Mlangeni expressed his trust in President Ramaphosa, who is doing a great job in speaking out, but needs to act fast and effectively if he is desirous about rooting out corruption.

We trust that he will act to hold anyone found doing anything wrong to account. This would be the only way to honour Ntate Mlangeni.

Ntate Mlangeni served as the moral compass of the nation and the few remaining struggle veterans, especially those who espouse similar traits, especially those serving in the ANC's integrity commission, must carry on sharing their experiences, speaking out, and demand action without fear, favour or prejudice.

Ntate Mlangeni without doubt lived fully and without contradiction contributed immensely. He is immortally reunited with his ancestral family and intergeneration of lifelong freedom fighters. It is fair to imagine Andrew Mlangeni arriving side by side with Tanzania's Benjamin Mkapa, a renowned statesman and a fellow combatant to Mlangeni and their intergeneration of freedom fighters across the continent.

I imagine Ntate Mlangeni joyfully hugging his wife who departed ahead of him, June Mlangeni, and beaming with loving smiles.

I also imagine him and Mkapa being summoned to a series of posthumous briefings with Julius Nyerere, OR Tambo, Kwame Nkrumah, and Nelson Mandela, amongst all departed iconic freedom fighters across the broader intergeneration of activists and leaders engaged in the struggle for liberation across the continent wherever ANC and other liberation movements received active support including in Ethiopia where Emperor Haile Selassie helped Mlangeni, Mandela, and others with their first military training and strengthened the understanding that SA's struggle is intertwined to African unity.

Corruption is a threat 

I have no doubt that Ntate Mlangeni would be frank to tell all departed martyrs that rampant corruption has become the single most threat to the continuing struggle towards total liberation. He would lament how he tried to caution the current ANC membership and leadership that meaningful democratisation depends on how we collectively act to uproot corruption from society. He would also inform them that the world is confronting a fatal and invisible enemy and there is hope to win over just like there was always hope to defeat the most oppressive regimes.

The current phase in the journey of liberation is indeed a more difficult phase and Ntate Mlangeni's life of sacrifice offers lessons to emulate and apply in achieving a dream of a corrupt-free society. Mlangeni never lost hope and would not like those he is reunited with, including those he leaves behind, to think that all is doom and gloom.

As we bid farewell to a fallen giant of the liberation struggle and a servant of the people, we must declare without fear of contradiction that a corrupt-free society is possible in honour of Andrew Mlangeni. We must take solace in President Ramaphosa's reassuring eulogy made during a state funeral in honour of the iconic Andrew Mlangeni, including that citizens and government must never submit to corrupt practices.   

- Bennitto Motitswe is a policy specialist and human rights activist.  


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