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South African anti-apartheid icon Andrew Mlangeni dies

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South African anti-apartheid figure Andrew Mlangeni, who stood trial alongside Nelson Mandela in the 1963-64 Rivonia Trial, has died at the age of 95, the presidency announced on Wednesday.

Mlangeni, 95, was the last surviving Rivonia trialist, spending more than a quarter of a century imprisoned on Cape Town's notorious Robben Island before his release in 1989.

"President Cyril Ramaphosa has learnt with deep sadness of the passing away overnight of the last remaining Rivonia Trialist," the presidency said in a tweet.

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His death "signifies the end of generational history and places our future squarely in our hands," he declared.

Mlangeni was admitted to a military hospital in the capital Pretoria on Tuesday with an abdominal complaint, the presidency said.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 14, 2018 Former apartheid struggle stalwart and one of the last two surviving Rivonia triallists Andrew Mlangeni looks on at the inaugural George Bizos Human Rights Award in Johannesburg. - Andrew Mlangeni, a former apartheid struggle stalwart, died at the age of 95, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on July 22, 2020. (Photo by GULSHAN KHAN / AFP)


Hailing Mlangeni as a "principled and modest" man, the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation said his passing "sounds the last post on a courageous generation of South Africans."

"He is deeply mourned," the foundation said in a statement.

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Born in the Johannesburg township of Soweto, he joined the youth wing of the African National Congress (ANC) in the early 1950s.

In the early 1960s, he was among the first groups of liberation fighters to be sent outside of South Africa for military training.

When he returned two years later, he was arrested.

The eight-month Rivonia Trial, named after the Johannesburg suburb where the ANC leaders were arrested, brought the struggle against apartheid to world attention.

Expecting to be sentenced to death, Mandela declared in a three-hour speech from the dock that freedom was "an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

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Instead, he, Mlangeni and fellow leaders Ahmed Kathrada and Dennis Goldberg were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mlangeni served 26 years behind bars before his release.

With the advent of democracy in 1994, Mlangeni served two decades in parliament under the now-ruling ANC until he retired in 2014.

He was awarded the Isithwalandwe Seaparankwe, the ANC's highest honour, in 1992.

Seven years later, he received the Presidential Order for meritorious service from Mandela himself.

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Sello Hatang, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said in a statement that Mlangeni's fearlessness and dry, self-deprecating sense of humour would be sorely missed.

"He was what Madiba called a great patriot," Hatang said, referring to Mandela by his clan name.

Among recognition abroad, Mlangeni was honoured with the freedom of the City of London in 2018.

The liberation icon lost his wife June, with whom he had four children, in 2001.

The ANC described him as one of the most outstanding fighters and humble servants in the fight for freedom.

"Death has robbed the people of South Africa of one of its finest sons, who valued the freedom of his people more than his own life and personal comfort," the ANC said.

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