Today, he’s everyone’s Solomon Mahlangu
As we celebrated Freedom Day this week, my mind was preoccupied by the recent spat between the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Mahlangu family over who has the right to celebrate the life of struggle icon Solomon Mahlangu.
According to a quote attributed to family spokesperson Gideon Mahlangu, “the political organisation that would be relevant to commemorate and honour Solomon Mahlangu is the ANC and the mass democratic structures ... that is our position”.
This view reflects the crisis we find ourselves in, 22 years post democracy, regarding what constitutes our national identity, and, more specifically, who lays claim to our national heroes and heroines.
Though Mahlangu was a cadre and product of the ANC, today he is a national asset. The sacrifices that he and many others endured are captured in this powerful quote attributed to him: “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people I love them.”
The selflessness that he and others symbolise has given birth to the nonracial constitutional democracy that is present-day South Africa. As such, his memory is no longer the preserve of the liberation movement alone, but of the entire nation.
To this end, a number of public institutions have been named after him, including:
The National Youth Development Agency, which has established a Solomon Mahlangu Scholarship Fund;
Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu Freedom Square, located in Mamelodi;
The former Hans Strijdom Avenue in Pretoria, now Solomon Mahlangu Drive; and
Wits University, which is being lobbied by the students’ representative council to rename the main administration building, called Senate House, to Solomon Mahlangu House.
I have deliberately avoided making mention of the dedications bestowed on him by the ANC, to make the point that he has transcended his recognition as party hero to become a national hero.
I therefore appeal to the Mahlangu family and to my party, the ANC, that we refrain from negating the contributions that icons such as Mahlangu have made in creating the post-apartheid South Africa we cherish today by contesting the right of all South Africans to celebrate them. This may well imply that we tolerate situations in which we disagree with those who use an exemplar’s memory for expediency or other motives. Mahlangu’s sacrifices, like those of many others, did not only serve to liberate the ANC and the mass democratic movement, it liberated all South Africans. The ANC executed the struggle not as an end in itself but as a means to attain a democratic and just South Africa built on a common national identity. It follows that the heroes of our movement are heroes of this nation. Hence, all South Africans, including those we disagree with – irrespective of their religious, cultural and political differences – have the right to honour the memory of Mahlangu. Mashishi is chairman of Masong Capital
Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu Freedom Square in Mamelodi