Anti-apartheid struggle veteran Andrew Mlangeni celebrated his 95th birthday on Saturday. Photo: Supplied
Anti-apartheid struggle veteran Andrew Mlangeni celebrated his 95th birthday on Saturday. Photo: Supplied

Andrew Mlangeni's son speaks on the Struggle stalwart's life

By Loyiso Sidimba Time of article published Jun 7, 2020

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Cape Town - Sello Mlangeni, Struggle stalwart Andrew Mlangeni’s youngest son, recalls the first time he met his father in 1990 after being separated by prison and exile for almost three decades.

The Rivonia Trialist was visiting Sweden with his late wife June following his release from Robben Island in 1989 and Sello had not seen his father since 1962, when he first went to exile.

His parents decided to send their children to Botswana to live with their maternal grandmother after realising that they could both be arrested for their anti-apartheid activism.

Speaking to Independent Media on Saturday, the day his father turned 95, Sello said he was given the number of his parents’ hotel room in Stockholm but his father, who was in his mid-60s, could initially not recognise him.

After knocking on the door, Mlangeni opened and said to his exiled son: “Sorry, I thought it’s someone I knew.”

Sello said he stood at the door shocked because he was outside the room he had been referred to and yet Mlangeni had just told him he did not know him.

”June, June, Sello is here,” Mlangeni shouted after realising that the visitor he almost turned away was in fact his son, who he had not seen since 1962 even before he was sent to Robben Island.

Sello’s first foray into exile was in 1962 and a year later he went to Rhodesia.

However, he was deported in 1971 after the colonial authorities discovered he was not from Botswana.

He returned to South Africa until he returned to exile for what turned out to be four decades.

While a student at Mncube High School, Sello was active in the June 1976 uprising that swept through Soweto and was jailed for public disturbance, which he described as stopping people from getting into the trains and telling them not to go to work and to support the students fighting against Bantu education and the imposition of Afrikaans as a language of instruction.

"We were addressing students as part of the Soweto Students Representative Council,” he said.

Sello managed to evade lengthy jail time after telling apartheid cops at the Meadowlands police station he was 15 and therefore under age when he was in fact 18.

He said his activism meant he was no longer sleeping at home but at relative’s places and had to move every night to evade police until he took a decision to go to exile after police beat up his late elder brother Aubrey after they came looking for him but could not find him.

Sello maintains that deciding whether or not to go to exile was not an easy one as activists had to choose whether they wanted to take that risk and remain in the country, where one could end up dead in detention or on Robben Island.

He said the decision to go to exile was also informed by the belief that they would be trained and be sent back to South Africa to fight the apartheid regime.

They did not inform their mother June about their decision to go to exile in 1976.

"She didn’t even know about my decision to go to exile,” he said.

Sello and Aubrey woke up around 5-6am on the day they were going to exile.

He said their mother and their sister must have thought Aubrey had gone to work and that he was busy with his youth activism.

"She must have only realised later that day or a few days later,” Sello said.

Through ANC contacts, they left the country for Swaziland for a week and later Maputo, Mozambique, where they separated with Aubrey going to Angola while he flew to Tanzania.

He said during their travels they had to change their names whenever they moved to another country.

Sello was separated from his brother between 1976 and 1988 and his mother discovered he had gone to exile only in 1982.

"I can imagine the pain she was going through, losing two sons to exile,” he said.

Sello continued: “We were just like orphans even though we had parents”.

He made his first contact with her in 1982 through underground contacts.

Sello had to send his letter to friends in Australia and they in turn would forward it through to another family in South Africa until it reached his mother.

"I could not tell her about my brother because I didn’t know,” he remembers.

His mother had to read his letters and burn them immediately after.

“That’s how I used to communicate with my father,” he said, adding that he was only allowed to write him one letter in six months and he had to pretend to be sending it from South Africa.

Throughout his years of exile, Sello said what kept him and other exiles going was that they knew the conditions they were coming from.

"It was difficult but one thing I believed was that South Africa will be free even if it’s not in my lifetime. It was difficult but we never lost hope that one day we will be free,” he said.

Even after the unbanning of political parties in 1990, Sello remained in exile until 2013.

At the time of the unbanning of political activity and release of prisoners he was still studying and Mlangeni understood that education comes first.

"He was supportive of my decision to remain in exile,” said the father of two children, a son and a daughter who live in Denmark.

Sello said being a Struggle icon’s son was something he is preoccupied with but he always just tries to do the right things just like his father.

"He is a humble man, I think I’ve inherited that from him,” said Sello, who is a trustee of the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation.

Political Bureau

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