'Solomon Mahlangu wanted to die like a soldier'

Pretoria - When Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu was taken to be hanged at the gallows at Pretoria Central Prison, now known as Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre, he refused to be handcuffed, insisting that he wanted to die like a soldier.

Thursday marked the 38th anniversary of the Umkhonto we Sizwe soldier's execution, on April 6, 1979.

Solomon's uncle Gideon Mahlangu said it was a day to celebrate the life of his nephew and the sacrifice he made for the country. 

"The young people of this country must know that this democracy was born out of a great sacrifice by young and brave freedom fighters like Solomon," he said. 

The 37-year-old, who was born a year after his nephew's hanging, said he hoped that Solomon's sacrifice would serve as an educational monument and motivation for the youth.

"The bravery Solomon showed during his persecution and execution will play an instrumental role for the youth of this country," he said.

134 hanged

Referring to the current political state of the country, Gideon said no one was above the law and no one should think the country belonged soley to them.

Family members and correctional services officials solemnly walked up the 52 steps to the gallows on Thursday morning - in the footsteps of the 134 political prisoners executed at Kgosi Mampuru II prison during apartheid.

(Iavan Pijoos, News24)

Born in Pretoria as the second son of domestic worker Martha Mahlangu, he attended Mamelodi High School and was in Grade 10 at the time of the 1976 Soweto uprisings. 

In September 1976, he joined the ANC and left South Africa for Angola and Mozambique to be trained as an uMkhonto weSizwe soldier.

He was convicted of murder and hanged in 1979.

"Some prisoners sang religious songs while they climbed the stairs. Some walked slowly and you needed to almost pull them up. Most climbed the 52 steps briskly and most of them did not say a single word," read the words of a former death row warder written on the walls.

'The last part was almost unbearable'

An old corded telephone sits on a small table in the execution chamber. It was there for the president to use to spare a prisoner's life. It rarely rang.

On a door that leads to the entrance of the gallows are the words of Mahlangu: "My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people I love them. They must continue to fight." 

(Iavan Pijoos, News24)

These were the last words he spoke to his mother.

On the walls are quotes from inmates, warders, and even one from world famous heart surgeon Professor Christiaan Barnard.

"If the pulse is still there - and often is - justice is mercilessly pursued," Barnard said. 

A former death row warder said: "No matter how strong you are, you just want it to be over. The last part was almost unbearable. Prisoners tended to walk fast. Nobody talks." 

'He was always ready to lead'

Families could visit a person for the last time the night before their execution. After the hanging, coffins would be brought down one by one and lined up at the front of the chapel before the family arrived.

A hearse would take the corpse to a graveyard where the deceased would be buried, up to three in a grave, in racially segregated municipal cemeteries.

George Mahlangu, a second uncle to Solomon, said his nephew was a brave man and embraced every part of his short life.

"He was always ready to lead. When he decided on this journey, he was resolute. He read widely, to ensure that he always had context." 

"He made sure that you listen, because it is through listening that you pick up untold stories. He was full of love and abandoned everything to pursue a struggle," George said.

Kalushi, a film about Mahlangu, was released earlier this year and has scooped the Best Film award at the annual Luxor African Film Festival.

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