Eulogy by his Excellency President Jacob Zuma on the occasion of the Provincial Official Funeral Service of Mrs Martha Mahlangu, Mamelodi West, Pretoria

Members of the bereaved Mahlangu family, friends, relatives,

Gauteng Premier, Ms Nomvula Mokonyane,

Ministers and Deputy Ministers,

City of Tshwane Mayor, Councillor Ramokgopa,

Nkosi Mahlangu and all Traditional Leaders present

Leaders of the ANC, SACP, COSATU and SANCO,


Mama Mahlangu was a pillar of strength not only to her family but also to society in general.

Last month, I had the privilege of hosting mama Mahlangu, other veterans of our struggle and families of those who died tragically in the struggle for freedom, in Cape Town during the important occasion of the State of the Nation Address.

It now seems as if she had come to bid us farewell.

When I visited her in hospital last week, although she was seriously ill, we never lost hope that this fighter would pull through. But her moment came and we heard with sadness that she was no more.

We have lost a great patriot and a resilient mother, who will be remembered for her humility, dignity and her commitment to building the South Africa that her son died fighting to achieve.

As we pay tribute to this selfless patriot, we also remember all parents who went through similar pain, whose children were brutally murdered by the apartheid regime in its desperate attempts to stop the dawn of freedom.

Although young, Solomon had proved to be a very brave warrior. He had joined the struggle as part of the June 16 Detachment in September 1976, after the June 76 uprisings.

His choice caused his mother a lot of hardship, but she never had any regrets.

Solomon joined the ANC and trained as an MK combatant in Angola and Mozambique.

Together with Lucky Mahlangu and Johannes Motloung, they returned to South Africa on 11 June 1977 as trained soldiers conversant in areas of sabotage, military combat, scouting and political education.

Their mission was to join and blend with the student protests commemorating the previous years’ June 16 uprising, and advance the protests to carry out some military acts.

On the 13th of June 1977 the three were accosted by the police, first at Diagonal Street taxi rank in Johannesburg where they had planned to take a taxi to Soweto.

It is reported that on seeing them with huge bags a policeman became curious and demanded to see the contents. In a brief scuffle that ensued, an AK 47 rifle and a hand grenade fell from the bag, a sight a policeman could not face, and ran away, as the comrades also took another direction.

Unfortunately in their escape bid, Solomon ended up hiding in John Orr’s store warehouse and unknowingly, this was opposite the notorious John Vorster Square police station, where in the commotion, his comrade, Motloung, shot and killed two John Orr’s shop employees, Rupert Kessner and Kenneth Wolfendale.

Let us spare a thought for the Kessner and Wolfendale families as well today. The two were victims of circumstances. They were victims of a system that had been designed to bred violence, fear and confrontation.

In fact, the entire story of all who were involved in this episode is full of pain and destruction.

It is a microcosm of many lives that were destroyed by the apartheid regime as it sought to prevent the freedom and democracy we enjoy today.

Johannes Motloung was assaulted by the police so severely that he was considered mentally unfit to stand the trial. He was detained as a State President’s patient and was released in 1992.

He died in 2006 at Pholosong Hospital in Tsakane, Brakpan. His life was completely destroyed at a young age because he was born in apartheid South Africa.

His life ended even before it could really start, because he chose to take up arms to fight for freedom, democracy, justice, dignity and human rights. We spare a thought today for his family and relatives.

Indeed, our freedom was not free.

When we say that the South Africa we live in today is a much better place to live in than it was before 1994, it is not a slogan. It is the truth.

Solomon Mahlangu was tried from the 7th of November 1977 to the 1st of March 1978. He was found guilty on two counts of murder and three under the Terrorism Act and sentenced to death on 02 March 1978.

He was refused leave to appeal his sentence by the Rand Supreme Court in June 1978, and at the Bloemfontein Appeal Court the following month.

Young as he was, he was executed in Pretoria Central Prison on 6 April 1979.

Our country was once ruled by a government that was so cruel that it was willing to take the life of a young man, more so, for a crime he did not commit.

Nothing can be more painful for a parent than knowing that your child is in imminent danger and will lose his or her life, and that there is nothing you can do to save them.

We remember mama’s agonizing words uttered in a media interview.

She said; “I didn’t know who to share this with and what I could do to save my child, I really didn’t have anything to save my child with.”

This is the chilling helplessness to which the apartheid system reduced us.

During this time, mama Mahlangu suffered torture by the apartheid security forces.

She even lost her job as a domestic worker as a result of having to attend his son’s painful trial.

She survived this ordeal and lived to tell it to South Africans through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She also encouraged others who lost their children in the same manner.

Lucky Mahlangu, managed to escape at that time and resurfaced in Swaziland, the only survivor of this tragic episode in our history of struggle.

We honour the three young lions, Solomon and Lucky Mahlangu, and Johannes Motloung, young people who sacrificed so much so that South Africa could be free.


When we gained our freedom in 1994, we introduced a new Constitution and began to build a new society. One of the first key decisions taken was to outlaw the death penalty or capital punishment.

When we think of the pain we felt when Solomon Mahlangu and many others were executed, and also think of the possibility that President Nelson Mandela, the Rivonia trialists and many other leaders could also have been sentenced to death and killed by the regime, we know that this is one of the best decisions we have ever taken as South Africans.

We came to the conclusion that no government should be given the right to kill. The State should uphold and promote the right to life.

The state should lead society in promoting the right to life.

We have thus opted to use incarceration to punish murderers, rather than to stoop to their level and kill.

As we celebrate Human Rights this week, let us celebrate the right to life as one of the primary gains of freedom and democracy.


As we bid our mother farewell, we recall her words when she said;

“My son had aspirations of being a school teacher. He was very conscientious and humble. He stood firm and unshaken in his beliefs. Now in my old age I miss him more”.

On the 14th of March, we proudly launched the Solomon Mahlangu Scholarship Fund with a seed capital of 20 million rand.

This fund should produce exemplary young people who will take this country forward to prosperity, who will fulfil Solomon Mahlangu’s wishes to gain an education and contribute to society.

It should produce young people who will take forward Solomon Mahlangu’s legacy of selfless service to the nation.

To further honour Mama Martha Mahlangu, and the role she and her family played in our struggle for liberation, the Department of Arts and Culture, working together with the City of Tshwane, will convert her old house into a museum.

The museum, together with the Solomon Mahlangu Square and Solomon Mahlangu highways, will stand as constant reminders of the legacy of freedom that Mama Mahlangu and her son Solomon left for us.

These new symbols and monuments form part of our ongoing efforts to promote social cohesion, nation building, reconciliation and common destiny.

They remind us that our freedom was not free, that it came at a high price. We are reminded that we have a duty to guard and defend our freedom jealously.

These new monuments also help us to close that chapter of our painful past and heal our wounds.

They also remind us that what unites us far outweighs that which divides us.

May the memory of those who laid down their lives for us become our guiding light as we continue to build a truly united, non- racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

In their memory we must continue to improve the quality of life of all, eliminate poverty and unemployment, create sustainable livelihoods and substantially reduce inequality.

This path is clearly articulated in the National Development Plan Vision 2030, our country’s collective response to the challenges we face.