Image Credit: City of Joburg

Memorial Service for the late Hon. Dr Andrew Mlangeni

Tribute by
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Founder and President Emeritus of the Inkatha Freedom Party

Via Zoom, 26 July 2020


Members of the Mlangeni family; leaders of our nation; and friends from throughout the world –

I consider it a particular honour to speak about my brother, Isithwalandwe, as we remember his remarkable life. I have spoken often about his leadership, his legacy and his character, most recently at the celebration of his 95th birthday. It has always been a pleasure, for I have the greatest admiration for Dr Andrew Mlangeni.

Over the past few days, I have been asked several times what this generation can learn from his life. The answer is easy: responsibility. Isithwalandwe had an unerring sense of responsibility, believing that if South Africa was to change, it was up to him to change it. That driving force was evident in him from the beginning.

I remember when we were young men, still students, how he worked hard at everything, believing that his contribution mattered.

I have often recounted how we wrote matric at the same time, in 1947. I was at Adams College and Dr Mlangeni and Mr Joe Matthews were at St Peter’s. We liked to boast that we were not simply writing a senior certificate exam, but that we in fact took the Joint Matriculation Board Examinations, which were far more important in our minds. There was a sense, even then, that nothing short of our best was acceptable.

It was inevitable that we would become political activists. At school, Dr Mlangeni found himself being taught by none other than Mr Oliver Tambo, while I had classes under Professor ZK Matthews. Being exposed to such great minds and great leaders, we were encouraged to believe that South Africa could be changed.

Born into a struggle for identity and rights, Dr Mlangeni lived through some of the most unique moments in South Africa’s history. He saw our country become a sovereign independent state. He saw the National Party take power and adopt the policy of apartheid. He saw the beginning of a campaign of civil disobedience, and the banning of Africa’s oldest liberation movement. He saw the creation of homelands and forced removals, student uprisings, township revolt and a state of emergency.

Thanks God, he also saw apartheid crumble and negotiations begin. He saw the birth of democracy and the beginning of a journey to build a nation. He saw the triumph of human rights, five democratically elected presidents and the growth of South Africa’s footprint in the international arena.

Tragically, he saw missteps as well; the burgeoning of corruption and the stagnation of economic growth. But he saw our nation return to hope again and again, enduring suffering, pursuing unity and believing that we can emerge victorious.

That is a remarkable life. It does not begin to capture the life of Dr Andrew Mlangeni. It simply provides the context in which he lived. But it is important, because Dr Mlangeni was never just a spectator. He was a man of action, deeply involved, and always participating. He fought, he sacrificed, he served, and he led.

One could not have asked for a better compatriot. Dr Mlangeni was committed, courageous and smart; a man of unshakable principles, who was always prepared to do the work. When he spoke, we listened, because we could trust that whatever he said was motivated by a love of country. It gave him the guts to say what needed to be said.

I understand why Dr Mlangeni was never able to stop serving, even into his twilight years. That love of country and that spirit of responsibility never fade.

As much as we talk about public life, however, it is in our private lives that we find the greatest joy. Perhaps too little has been said about the wonderful support he received from his beloved wife, June, and their children. Having been blessed with a long marriage myself, I know what this meant to him.

I want to thank Dr Mlangeni’s children for lending us their father. Because of the service he gave to our country, we all feel as though he was ours. But truly, he was yours. The greatest loss has been suffered by the Mlangeni family, and it is to you that we extend our deepest sympathy. Please know that you have our prayers and support.

I cannot help but think of what my brother said when he lost those close to him. It would not be long, he said, before he was with them again. For me, perhaps, that is truer than it is for many of you. But the reality is that we will all arrive at the day when we slip this mortal coil and step into eternity.

This life is not permanent. It matters, therefore, how we live it. Dr Mlangeni lived with zest, with courage and with hope. We will remember him with gratitude for showing us the way.