College of Human Sciences

Last Rivonia triallist and Unisa alumnus dies

On the occasion of the conferment of his honorary doctorate, Mlangeni made it clear to the audience that he was still passionate about education and what it meant for the future of South Africa. "I look around this hall today and I see fellow graduates, especially young ones who have experienced challenges in acquiring a university degree. I congratulate you on your academic achievements. I also want to emphasise that life should be one of learning. Lifelong learning. Don't stop in getting your degree; always continue to study until you go down to the grave," he urged.

Unisa mourns the passing of Isithwalandwe Andrew Mokete Mlangeni, politician, Rivonia triallist, struggle stalwart and Robben Island alumnus. Bab’ Mlangeni, who turned 95 last month, was admitted to 1 Military Hospital in Thaba Tshwane on 21 July 2020 after an abdominal complaint.

Prof Mandla Makhanya, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, saluted Mlangeni's journey. "Unisa, as an institution that strives to be the African university shaping futures in the service of humanity, honours a fellow African whose life personifies a dedication to service and whose actions have left an indelible mark on the contemporary South African society in which we are rooted."

His was an immense contribution to the cause of liberation for all South Africans and an unrelenting pursuit of social justice and resilience for pursuing education for himself and others. On receiving the degree of Doctor of Literature and Philosophy (honoris causa) from Unisa on 20 May 2014, Mlangeni urged his fellow graduates "to continue to study until you go down to the grave", advice that he himself followed.

This struggle hero was more than an icon of liberation from the bondage of colonial and apartheid marginalisation of the majority. He remained a beacon of hope for many after rising above the shackles of apartheid and putting education at the top of his priority list whilst making a meaningful contribution to the struggle for freedom, social justice and equality.

The ANC recognised Mlangeni’s pivotal contributions by bestowing its highest award, Isithwalandwe, on him for his selfless and excellent service.

Mlangeni’s distinguished career as a political activist began when he joined the African National Congress Youth League in 1951, before moving on to the African National Congress in 1954. He was already in a leadership position at another pivotal moment in South Africa’s history, namely the adoption of the Freedom Charter, where he was a branch delegate leader at Kliptown.

His commitment to ensuring South Africa’s liberation from the yoke of apartheid took him to China in 1961 as one of the first ANC members to go abroad for military training. Upon his return, he continued his service by joining the underground Umkhonto we Sizwe as a member of the High Command. Together with other great struggle heroes like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, Mlangeni was arrested in 1963 on charges of treason. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and he spent 26 years on Robben Island.

Irony that imprisonment was the opportunity to study

Life in prison, just like out of prison, was a terrain of struggle to Mlangeni and his comrades. Their right to education while in captivity was the first matter they fiercely took up with their jailors. The regime was opposed to allowing political prisoners to study. However, they fought tirelessly until their right to study was granted in 1967.

After matric, he enrolled for a BA degree with Unisa, majoring in Public Administration and Political Science. This course of study took Mlangeni about 12 years to complete, partly because of lack of funds and also because the authorities decreed that inmates were not going to be allowed to continue studying after their first degree. He completed his first degree in 1979 and further enrolled for a BA Honours in Political Science in 1982. He completed his postgraduate studies cum laude at the university in 1986.

Although Unisa was his alma mater, Mlangeni jokingly referred to it as his "second" university. Speaking on the occasion of the conferment of his honorary doctorate, he said that he was also the graduate of a university that had given him the title of PG. "You know what that is? Prison Graduate," he said, drawing much laughter and applause from the audience. "My first university was the Robben Island Prison where I spent more than 26 years of my life together with my comrades. For me, there’s an irony of being sentenced to life imprisonment. It gave me the opportunity to study and therefore prepared me for life outside prison and to be able to face the world with confidence."

Unisa conveys its sincerest condolences to the family and close friends of Isithwalandwe Andrew Mokete Mlangeni. #RIPAndrewMlangeni

* Compiled by Sharon Farrell, Editor: Internal Communication, Department of Institutional Advancement

Struggle stalwart and Unisa alumnus dies

Farewell to Unisa’s struggle icon son

Publish date: 2020/07/23