The 6th of April holds memories of a life past, a life of lessons, growth but most importantly a life of those who came before us and gave their very soul for us to learn important lessons and hopefully have the courage to continue sharing these lessons.
As a young girl growing up in South Africa, April 6th held no special place in my life, it was just another day. It was not until I became an active member of the African National Congress Youth League that my eyes were opened. Being active meant that one was engaged in learning and internalizing the policies and founding documents of the League, participating in the livelihood of the branch and in the campaigns and programs – being engaged from the conceptualization to the implementation of a campaign or program. I learnt that April 6th was the day in 1652, Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape of Good Hope, and so began centuries of subjugation and oppression of the back majority of South Africa. Fast-forward almost three hundred and thirty years to April 6, 1979 Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu was executed by the apartheid regime.
The natural question that followed in my mind and I never dared to ask it because soon I learned how shallow of me it was to even think it. Who is Solomon Mahlangu and what is his claim to fame?
In responding to that question I hope I will be able to share some of the lessons I learned as I continued to be educated on the ins and outs of Kalushi Mahlangu. Born on the 10th July 1956 in Mamelodi, he was the second son of Martha Mahlangu. His father left the family in 1962, leaving Martha who was a domestic worker to raise their children alone. The story of single mothers is not a new one to South Africa , but it is definitely a defining moment in the lives of many who were inspired , charged , called or even moved to seek a better life for them and their off spring . Kalushi was no different to those who continue to seek for a better world because of the sacrifices they saw their mothers perform to provide a better life for them.
Kalushi observed the hardship the black majority of South Africa suffered represented by the realities of his upbringing in Mamelodi. Like many young people of his time who are heroes of our revolutionary struggle, Kalushi had no choice but to get involved in the 1976 students uprising in South Africa when the students took to the streets to protest the introduction of Afrikaans as the main language of instruction in South African Schools. He joined the African National Congress in September 1976 and left to undergo training in Angola and Mozambique as a soldier of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). He returned to South Africa on the 11th June 1977 through Swaziland to assist with student protests.
Comrade Solomon Mahlangu’s childhood is reminiscent of the challenges experienced by many impoverished families in South Africa. Raised by a single mother, who worked as a domestic, meant that everyday around 5am Kalushi and his siblings were left by their mother who had to go take care of a white family. She would leave her kids not sure if they would wake up in time to get ready for school, what they would have for breakfast and lunch. She would not be sure if they would make it to school and home safely, who would help them with their home -work, yet she would leave her home to help the white family she was working for to achieve exactly those basic questions she left hanging over her head.
Add to that the reality that his neighborhood was not exactly designed to be child or teenager friendly , there were no community centers to go to, no parks to play in or even watch your younger siblings play in. The only reality you had was that mom would get home around 6 or 7 pm, and hoping that her employee was kind enough to allow her to bring the left overs from their dinnertable , otherwise your dinner would be served at 10 pm that night.
So you have all this social pressures you are dealing with than one day to arrive at school to be advised that moving forward, all instruction will take place in Afrikaans. It is understandable that Kalushi was moved to join in with the hundreds of students who took to the streets of South Africa determined that there must be a different better and efficient way to process this change.
But of course the Apartheid government responded in a manner that is well documented and ushered in the historic Soweto Uprising. The next question was then, what is to be done if our peaceful protests are met with such ruthless actions. The ANC Statement on the execution of Solomon Mahlangu in 1979 says, “Thousands left the country in the face of this repression. They left to carry on the struggle from outside the country. Nineteen years old Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu was amongst them.” He left his home at night, not even telling his mother where he was going or if he would return”. Bear in mind this is a young man who was raised by a single mother on the account of this father leaving the family. On this evening he leaves his mother with no word, to fight for the opportunities that me and you enjoy today.
As we remember Kalushi, perhaps we can also look back and reflect on what may be construed as the biggest and deepest sacrifice we each performed at 19 years old? I know for a fact I was still learning to appreciate what this young man and the generation he represents did for me. They left to join the Armed forces of the Liberation Movement to ensure that we, our children will never have to :
- Wake up in the morning and find black mothers with no option but to take care of another family without having the necessary support system of her own.
- Spend our lives being second best because of the color of our skin.
- He left so that you and I will have the opportunity to choose those who will govern us and hold them accountable to the dream of equality, peace and justice for all
- He left so that women, young and old, like me can represent our country as Diplomats, can serve as Consul General in the US and be treated as an equal to their colleagues without gender being a defining moment of what they can or cannot achieve
So as we commemorate the 36th Anniversary of this execution and are brought to remember his words, when he faced his last moments alive and he said:
“Mama tell my people that I love them and they must continue the struggle. My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Aluta Continua!”
He left never to return to Mamelodi, never to walk the its streets again . He left to ensure that you and I will never forget that our success is pinned on the sacrifices of young man and women like him. Kalushi lived and died so that you and I ARE FREE.
Comrade Vuyiswa Tulelo is the Former Secretary General of the ANC Youth League and Consul-General in Chicago