Andrew Mokete Mlangeni was born on 6 June 1925 on a farm in the Bethlehem, Orange Free State (now Free State Province) district, as one of a twin (he has a sister). He grew up in Soweto, Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng). He was the ninth child in a family of fourteen. Although Mlangeni started schooling at the age of 10, financial problems drove him to seek work at the age of 12 to assist his mother in maintaining the family, as his father had passed away.
After school he worked as a caddy at the Johannesburg Golf Course. In 1942 his elder brother who was staying in Pimville Soweto, assisted in paying his school fees. At that time he was a student at St. Peters Secondary School, where he obtained his Junior Certificate in 1946.
After 1946, owing to financial difficulties, he was unable to continue with his studies. As a result, he began working as a bus driver for Putco (a bus company) where he was active in the strike for better working conditions and a living wage.
In 1951 he joined the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) and later in 1954 he joined the African National Congress (ANC). During the Congress of the People he was a branch delegate at Kliptown.
Mlangeni became a journalist on the newspaper New Age when Ruth First was editor. He was recruited to the Young Communist League by Ruth First in 1944 and later joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) full time in 1959 as its secretary for the Johannesburg region, responsible for black groups. In 1951 he formally joined the ANC Youth League, and then the ANC in 1954.
In 1961 he was among the first, along with Nandha Naidoo, Raymond Mhlaba, Joe Gqabi and Patrick Mthembu, to be sent for military training outside the country to China. After an initial induction as a group, Mlangeni and Naidoo were taken to Shenyang (Mukden) to be taught radio technology and communication.
Following a police raid on Lilliesleaf Farm at Rivonia, almost all the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) High Command were arrested on 11 July 1963. Although not in the High Command, Andrew Mlangeni would be charged alongside the others with sabotage and conspiracy, for which the maximum penalty was death by hanging. Patrick Mthembu was listed to give evidence for the state.
Eight of the Rivonia trialists were sentenced to life imprisonment on 12 June 1964, including Andrew Mlangeni who had not been in the leadership. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island.
Before the court passed judgment on him, Mlangeni told the court that:
Though leaders of many countries throughout the world have tried to persuade the Government to abandon its apartheid policy, and although resolutions have been passed in the United Nations against South Africa, this has met with no result. All that the Government has done is to reply to the people's demands by putting their political leaders in gaol, and breaking up families"
At time of his sentencing Mlangeni was married to Johanna Junny with whom he had ten children. His wife died in 2001.
He spent 27 years in prison on Robben Island. After his release in 1989 and South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, Mlageni served as a member of a democratically elected Parliament from 1994 to 2004 and in the National Assembly from 2009 until 2014, when he retired.
In 1992, Mlangeni was awarded the Isithwalandwe Seaparankwe, the highest honour from the ANC for those who have made an outstanding contribution to the liberation struggle. He received the Presidential Order for Meritorious Service: Class 1: Gold from former President Nelson Mandela in 1999.
Andrew Mokete Mlangeni who turned 95 on 6 June 2020, was admitted to 1 Military Hospital in Tshwane on Tuesday after an abdominal complaint, where he passed away on 21 July 2020.
- NUM News. (1989). Leaders, heroes, fighters and fathers from NUM News, December 1989. Available at https://disa.ukzn.ac.za/sites/default/files/pdf_files/NuDec89.1684.4890.000.000.Dec1989.33.pdf online. Available Accessed on 22 July 2012
EWN. (2020). ANC stalwart Andrew Mlangeni dies at 95 from EWN, 22 July 2020. Available at https://ewn.co.za/2020/07/22/anc-stalwart-andrew-mlangeni-dies-at-95 online. Accessed on 22 July 2020
BusinessDay. (2020). Last surviving Rivonia trialist Andrew Mlangeni has died from BusinessDay. Available at https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/2020-07-22-last-surviving-rivonia-trialist-andrew-mlangeni-has-died/ online. Accessed on 22 July 2020
Kiewit, L. (2020). Rivonia trial veteran Andrew Mlangeni dies from Mail & Guardian online. Available at https://mg.co.za/politics/2020-07-22-rivonia-trial-veteran-andrew-mlangeni-dies/ . Accessed on 22 July 2020
- Shoba, S. (2020). Struggle stalwart, Andrew Mlangeni, laid to rest as ANC officials speak out against corruption from Daily Maverick, 29 July 2020. Available at https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-07-29-struggle-stalwart-andrew-mlangeni-laid-to-rest-as-anc-officials-speak-out-against-corruption/ online. Accessed on 29 July 2020
- Dube's ''Backroom Boy'' - Andrew Mlangeni, University of Johannesburg, Library
- Andrew Mlangeni, 1925 – 2020: The life of the quiet revolutionary and the last Rivonia trialist by Alet Law, News24