Andrew Mlangeni would have spoken out against the corruption we are seeing now during the Covid-19 pandemic, writes Mbhazima Shilowa.

Andrew Mlangeni is no more.

Earlier this year, it was his comrade, friend and fellow Rivonia triallist Denis Goldberg. Now, it is Mlangeni, known to his fellow combatants as Comrade Reliable. He was as the nickname suggests someone you could rely on. He was selfless, committed to serve his people without expectations of reward or position. 

Like Goldberg, the country will not be able to pay its last respect to him in a manner befitting his heroism and stature because of Covid-19. Maybe, this is how he preferred to go: low key, the same way he shunned fame and positions when he was alive. 

Living a frugal life, even in death he has denied those who see the death of our stalwarts as an opportunity to loot state coffers a chance to do so. Who can forget the looting and inflating of prices for the official funerals of Madiba, Mam Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Zola Skweyiya, among others?

A lot will be said about Mlangeni. We are likely to run out of adjectives to describe him. Already through tributes, words have been used here and elsewhere in the world to describe who he was, what he was, what he stood for and what his death means to them. 

A great man has fallen

There is, however, not one statement, one word or phrase that can adequately capture who he was, what he stood for and what he meant to all of us.

Perhaps if we were to consult our ancestors we would find a better expression to say what Mlangeni really meant to us. In northern Sotho we would say: “Mokgapa o mogolo o wele, dithaga tsa lla boshogoshogo. Le ge gole jwale, moriri o moshweu ke lehumo. Bahu ba hwile ba o llela. Ge ele ditaola tsona tate wa rena Mlangeni o tlogile a re rutile.” (A great man has fallen. He lived his life to the fullest. He has completed his race. He achieved all that he set out to achieve. Most importantly, he has left us a legacy which will live on in the millions who continue to defend and advance what he stood for.)

Mlangeni may have departed, but he has left us a legacy which will live on in the millions who continue to defend and advance the freedoms for which he stood. The best way we can pay tribute to him is by intensifying our efforts to better the lives of all our people and to strive for a truly non-racial and non-sexist society where women and children do not live in fear of rape and abuse.

Like millions of black South Africans, Mlangeni grew up in poverty and endured the pain and suffering that was afflicted by centuries of colonialism and apartheid. He endured the hated pass laws and constantly faced being sent to the Orange Free State in terms of the Group Areas Act. 

He was an ordinary person who lived among ordinary people, ate with them, drank with them and socialised with them. 

Many will attest to seeing him on the golf course hitting the fairways, making birdies and pars. As he once said to his wife: “Golf was his first love.”

As he grew up, he developed a clear vision, courage, determination and great ability to find solutions to complex situations.

He had the confidence to stand alone. He had the courage to make tough decisions. He had the compassion to listen to the needs of others. When South Africans called for leadership during the Zuma presidency, he responded to the call without any hesitation.

When some of his comrades dithered on the wayward ways of former president Jacob Zuma, he spoke out, both as the head of the ANC’s Integrity Commission and on his own behalf. He stood firm even as some who today shed crocodile tears about his death insulted him and questioned his struggle credentials and commitment to the ANC and country. 

That no action was taken against Zuma at the time is through no fault of his as his committee had called on the ANC to institute disciplinary proceedings against him for bringing the party into disrepute following the Nkandla ruling by the Constitutional Court. He was let down by his own organisation.

A true leader 

Mlangeni was a true leader whose actions touched the lives of the people at every step of his life. He was the epitome of a true patriot and the most humane person our country seeks to build.

While he was an ANC cadre through and through, service to the people and country came first. He had no holy cows. Only ethical conduct, revolutionary morality, integrity and service to the people mattered.

Early this year, during the celebration of his 95th birthday, held virtually due to Covid-19, he told Ntebo Mokobo of the SABC that “his biggest disappointment was the corruption that had rocked the ANC which derailed it from its core mandate of ensuring a better life for all”.

“When we elected people to become our leaders in government we elected, at the time, people in whom we had confidence that they will carry out the policies of the ANC, that of bringing about prosperity and peace in our country. But our leadership associated with people who are corrupt. You know the Guptas. It is not a secret anymore. We are terribly disappointed by those people whom we have confidence [in] that they fell victims to the Guptas.”

Despite his growth in stature, Mlangeni never allowed his status as a leader to separate him from the ordinary people. He remained accessible to the ordinary folks. He could relate to anybody everywhere regardless of standing in society.

He was also a family man. He was a passionate husband as well as a loving and carrying farther.

Who could forget him speaking openly about love and passion for his wife. “We agreed with my wife, that we’ll not have sex every night. Three times a week we said was sufficient and we strictly kept to that. Only occasionally will we go above three.” 

He leaves us in the time of Covid-19 which is having a devastating effect on our health, lives, health care, incomes, livelihood and the economy. 

In our hands 

Government actions and communications have at times been erratic if not schizophrenic. Often we are left alone to decipher the message and its meaning.

Mlangeni would not have shied away from facing the nation and explaining why certain decisions have been taken and to change course should it be shown that he had chosen a wrong path, something our government is loathe to do.

We know already a number of politicians and officials have been fingered in fraud and corruption related to Covid-19 funds for protective clothing, water and sanitation, food, UIF relief funds. Yet no one has been arrested, prosecuted and jailed for these acts. Statements to fight corruption will ring hollow as long as there are no consequences. 

We should point out the hypocrisy of anyone or parties involved in theft of public funds, without integrity, revolutionary morality or exemplary ethical conduct who calls on South Africans to emulate Mlangeni. 

As he was last of his generation, we cannot any longer look up to him or any of his comrades. Neither should we behave like people who when in trouble expect their ancestors to take up the cudgels for them. As Madiba once said, it is now in our hands. They fought against all odds for our liberation and freedom. We dare not fail them.

May Mlangeni’s soul rest in peace.

– Mbhazima Shilowa is the former premier of Gauteng and former general-secretary of Cosatu. 

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