Forty years after Solomon Mahlangu was hanged, his family continues to remember his legacy
Saturday marks 40 years since Solomon Mahlangu was hanged - and every year his family commemorates his death by performing a ritual to invite his spirit and the Mahlangu ancestors over.
The preparations start a week before. Welcomed to his home in Mamelodi West, where his brother Lucas Mahlangu still lives, we find a potjie on the fire with tlhothla, the traditional porridge used to make traditional beer.
"We invite our ancestors a week before and let them know there’s a celebration and they must send a message to Solly as he’s the youngest," says Lucas. "In our African culture, you can’t invite people into your yard to celebrate with you before you let the ancestors know.
"We slaughter a goat and then the modern celebration will happen afterwards."
Solomon was born on July 10 1956 and was hanged on April 6 1979. He was the second son of Martha Mahlangu who worked as a domestic worker. They lived in one of the typical four-roomed matchbox houses built in apartheid townships.
Solomon left South Africa to be trained as an Umkhonto weSizwe soldier in Mozambique and Angola. He spent six months in a refugee camp near Xai-Xai in Mozambique and then received military training at an ANC camp in Angola.
On June 11 1977 he returned to South Africa as a cadre, heavily armed, through Swaziland.
Two days later Mahlangu and his companions, Mondy Johannes Motloung and George "Lucky" Mahlangu, were confronted by police in Goch Street, Johannesburg. "Lucky" Mahlangu managed to escape. In the ensuing gun battle two civilians were killed and two wounded. Solomon Mahlangu and Motloung were arrested.
Motloung was found to be unfit to stand trial after his brutal police interrogation. Mahlangu was sentenced to death by hanging under the Terrorism Act.
"He was the youngest to be hanged. The apartheid system was waiting for the 'right age' for him to die. They said 22 years is old enough.
"We have forgiven them because if we don’t we won’t get to live our lives. You can’t mourn for the rest of your life.
"All we can do is celebrate his life as one the protectors of this family," said Lucas.
He said he saw the influence of his young brother’s martyrdom in the renaming of Wits Senate House as Solomon Mahlangu House and the #FeesMustFall movement.
Before we leave, we go to the fire to acknowledge our presence at the house.
Lucas recites the clan praise "mgwezani indleni yaka so tshoro" to let us go.