Mthethwa was speaking on Saturday - during the ceremony to mark 40 years since Mahlangu’s execution by the apartheid regime - at the Mamelodi West Cemetery, where the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) soldier is buried.
He said Van Riebeeck’s arrival in the country was responsible for events which eventually led to Mahlangu’s execution.
Coincidentally, the day April 6 also happened to be the day Van Riebeeck arrived in the country in 1652.
Mthethwa said: “The 6th of April marks a double tragedy in the sense that it marks the arrival on our shores of that convicted criminal called Jan van Riebeeck.
“His landing had a devastating effect that led directly to Solomon Mahlangu being hanged. No wonder that he went on with his programme to rob the indigenous people of their land.
“Having being convicted in his country of origin, he was made to choose whether to serve the whole sentence in Netherlands or come to South Africa and he chose to come here.
“Solomon Mahlangu was murdered in cold blood by those he referred to as dogs. I think dogs were much better too. The anniversary coincides with four important landmarks in the evolution of our society.”
The wreath laying ceremony was attended by ministers, deputy ministers, Mahlangu’s family, MK soldiers, National Heritage officials, National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) leaders and other government officials.
Mahlangu’s family performed a ritual outside the prison to announce their arrival and ask for his blessing for the rest of the proceedings, which were in honour of his life and his sacrifice for freedom.
Almost every speaker shared Mahlangu’s last words before his death: “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight.”
Mthethwa said: “Events such as these evoke unpleasant memories of the turbulent apartheid years, but it can also help those who were born after the dawn of democracy to understand the heavy price their forefathers had to pay for the freedom of this land.”
He said Mahlangu was in the camp of the heroes of South Africa.
“We have gathered here today not to mourn the fact that a criminal regime hanged him for his efforts for a humane society but to celebrate a life that was dedicated to freedom and construction of a national democratic society.”
Mahlangu was hanged on April 6, 1979, after being found guilty of murder. He had been arrested on his return from exile where he received military training from MK, the ANC’s then military wing.
ANC provincial deputy chairperson Panyaza Lesufi said: “We have now confirmed that history is going to be a compulsory subject to all our children so they must know their history.
“That history will also demonstrate to the future generation that the sacrifices of people like Solomon Mahlangu were sacrifices that made it possible for them to be where they are today.
“I can extend a hand to you NYDA and want you to partner with us so that there must be no child in this particular province that must go to matric who has never gone past this grave of Solomon Mahlangu or gone through that prison cell, so that our children must know that this was not free.”
Lesufi said the generation that was coming would tell the government to keep its social grants.
“They will say ‘we are educated we no longer need to queue for social grants, but queue for graduation ceremonies because of the quality education that they will be receiving’.
“This is the generation of Solomon Mahlangu that is going to break the backbone of RDP houses. They will tell government keep your RDP houses because we are empowered we can buy our own houses,” he said.
Executive chairperson of NYDA Sifiso Mtshweni raised concerns about the history of the country not being fully accessible to its people.
“It must be made accessible to our people. It cannot just be a tourism site where international people come and learn about our history and our own people cannot access those particular areas. Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre, where Mahlangu was hanged, must be open for the community to be able to access it,” he said.