We salute you, my hero Andrew Mlangeni
By Sello Mashao Rasethaba
JOHANNESBURG - This has been a very painful and terrible year for me as I sat and watched your final send off on TV from a hospital bed when you were laid to rest on Wednesday.
I would have loved to have been part of the 50 mourners who were there to bid you farewell and could not do so because of the state of my health. I thought it would be appropriate to give a complimentary copy of your book to everyone, including President Cyril Ramaphosa.
This was made possible by the sponsorship of Lexmark International, which is a long-standing partner of the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation.
Another ton of pain was inflicted after I failed to be with you on July 6 when you celebrated your 95th birthday. For 10 years or so, I have always made it a point to be attend your birthday celebrations.
A little consolation is that I managed to hook up with you via a telephone call, where I wished you well on your special day. Little did I know it would be my last conversation with you.
Since meeting more than 20 years ago, you have changed my life for the better.
I remember how my colleagues at Matodzi Resources derided and condemned me when I suggested that you become chairperson of the group.
“How can you take an ex-Robben Island political prisoner who has spent 26 full years behind bars to be chairperson of a JSE-listed company?” asked one board member.
To the surprise of many, you performed very well in the position. You fitted in and it as though we had recruited you from a well-oiled listed company.
Together and through your distinguished leadership we delivered shareholder value, something which many shareholders still talk about to this day.
We travelled the world for business, golf and pleasure. Particularly golf - a sport you much loved and cherished. I remember an interview you had where you told of how angry your wife was, when you said she was your second wife.
To diffuse her anger, you explained that your first love was golf as you fell in love with it before meeting her.
The highlight of our travel escapades was to the UN in New York where you addressed the UN General Assembly on the occasion of fellow Rivonia Trialist Tata Nelson Mandela’s birthday. Your speech, which was covered by prominent media channels in the world, was presented meticulously, and impressed many of the global leaders attended.
Later on we were invited to the New York Stock Exchange and my delight in that trip was when they gave you an opportunity to ring the stock exchange closing bell.
This was also a gracious moment and made us proud to be South Africans.
You also became patron of the Yacht Racing team sponsored by the world number two Mediterranean shipping company, Team Shosholoza, which took part in the America’s Cup and performed extremely well. Shosholoza was a yacht racing team representing the Royal Yacht Club of Cape Town.
According to media reports, sailing scored ahead of cricket and rugby for the first time in the history of South African sport during the America’s Cup.
Ours has been a journey of more than 20 years after meeting and being with you at ANC events and conferences.
After completing my matric in 1976 I worked for Lebowa Transport (LT) as an accounting clerk, but unlike you I wasn’t a driver. I ended up going to jail with eight other comrades for masterminding and leading the 1980 Seshego bus boycott against fare hikes by LT buses. This was organised under the auspices of the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo). We spent several months at the Victor Verster prison now known as Drankenstein Correctional Facility
Like you, I became familiar with the Western Cape because of my incarceration.
The publication of your biography could not have come at a more opportune moment in the historical process.
Aptly titled The Backroom Boy: Andrew Mlangeni’s Story, this book shares with the reader the value of making a contribution to a people’s cause in a classically selfless fashion, without seeking the glory of limelight attendant to leadership positions. As post-apartheid South Africa evolves in both intended and unintended ways, there is much in the process that warrants looking back to analogous moments in history.
Such an exercise is not only valuable in enabling us to avoid repeating mistakes of the past but serves to deepen our understanding of the possibilities of our human agency both as individuals and at a collective level.
While some people say the book has not done well, a TV channel has decided to buy licensing rights to your movie, produced by my son, Lebogang Rasethaba. I hope this will develop a documentary which will become an international success.
I hereby give an undertaking that the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation shall grow from strength-to-strength. Furthermore, that future generations will come to regard your foundation as one of the best and support it with endowments.
I am happy that my association with you can prove to the world that anyone can thrive against all odds.
You always were humble, down to earth and cared deeply about others. I remember when you took long trips to Limpopo to bury my mother, and also recently when Julius Malema’s grandmother was laid to rest in Seshego. That is humility at its best and I wish many of our leaders have learnt from you like some of us did.
What our relationship has proven to all is that regardless of age, education level and personal circumstances, any human being can succeed in living a life of joy, love, leisure and travel.
Fare thee well my hero, Andrew Mlangeni. We shall meet again.
Sello Mashao Rasethaba is chairperson of the South African United Business Confederation (Saubc), a non-profit and non-racial business organisation that represents cross-cutting business interests in South Africa.
Saubc consists of members representing export confederations, industry associations and joint action groups. Rasethaba writes in his capacity as a donor and trustee of the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation