Andrew Mlangeni was comfortable to carry the weight behind the giants he was with.
In a span of oxen, animals at the back carry most of the weight and feel much of the pain of the yoke because they are closer to the load than the rest.
It is not because of cowardice that Andrew Mlangeni, 95, chose to be at the back throughout what Madiba called the “long walk to freedom”. But he was comfortable to carry the weight behind the giants he was with.
From behind he had a good view of what was happening and what should be done to move forward. He was a plotter of the struggle and a real frontman on ideas to advance the cause. Mlangeni’s death marks the end of an era, the era of disciplined ANC leaders who wanted nothing but to liberate people and ensure the ushering in of democracy.
In their struggle there was nothing about them. It was all about the people’s freedom. When Nelson Mandela served only one term in office and left, he demonstrated that it was not about power for him. Although we all wished he should have stayed longer, at least two terms, we wouldn’t have minded even if he stayed on till death.
As one freedom song would say: “Akekho ofana naye” – there’s no one like him. Oliver Tambo, though he would have been basking in the glory of being ANC president in exile, respected the imprisoned Mandela and reserved his seat as president of organisation. That’s a demonstration of humbleness in that generation of Mandela, Tambo and Mlangeni.
That is different to the post-1994 era – particularly the Polokwane period, when the governing party became acutely an organisation of patronage and kleptocrats in power. It was hijacked by a faction and it would take much longer if at all for it to recover, for the divisions have deepened.
Mlangeni remained ordinary and often referred to himself a “backroom boy” who, by choice, preferred to stay in his humble Dube, Soweto, home instead of moving to leafy suburbs like many others in the ANC. This shows that Mlangeni did not struggle to be famous or rich like some did, but was strong on original ANC principles of being a selfless cadre and a servant of the people. He was shy, but his voice was strong and respected by all. That’s what made him different from the contemporary ANC members, who have poison tongues and thrive on divisions.
When it is said he spoke truth to power, it’s because they knew he told them that their actions were un-ANC and contrary to the values it originally stood for. He told Jacob Zuma to step down when his conduct proved to be going wrong. His committee was vilified by Zuma and his followers but he endured the pain like he endured the yoke of apartheid at the back of the struggle value chain. Mlangeni led from the front as a symbol of ethical conduct within the party he loved so dearly.
Of the three veterans who were left from the 1963-64 Rivonia Trial, Ahmed Kathrada and Mlangeni were the most vocal about the shenanigans in the ANC and backed up by the so-called 101 Stalwarts. He was not a controversial leader, but a disciplined one who spoke only to give counsel and direction to restore integrity.
We need leaders like Mlangeni in our democracy.
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