When Andrew Mokete Mlangeni passed away on 21 July 2020, we were reminded of a threshold
moment in the liberation struggle. After years of attempted negotiation,peaceful protests, strikes, boycotts, and civil disobedience, without any sign of the white apartheid government’s willingness to talk, the leaders of the liberation movement had to grapple with the difficult decision to embrace an armed struggle.
Andrew Mlangeni was one of the first to join uMkhonto weSizwe and was sent to China for military training. He belongs to an era of leaders who were willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for the freedom of their people,as expressed in the vision of the Freedom Charter of 1955. Mlangeni was sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage in the infamous Rivonia Trial together with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada,Denis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba and Elias Motsoaledi.Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein and James Kantor were acquitted.
The events that surrounded this threshold moment are remembered in exhibitions at Liliesleaf, where six of the ten Rivonia Trial accused were arrested in a police raid on 11 July 1963. With funding from the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS),the Liliesleaf Trust has begun to extend these exhibitions online. Among many of its outcomes,it provides teachers with an innovative resource for e-learning. In the time of Covid-19 it is more important than ever to offer alternative ways of accessing heritage sites, exhibitions and educational content.
Agents for Change is a non-linear, self-driven, interactive experience of the many stories found in the Liliesleaf exhibits.The visitor begins with an aerial crime photograph of Liliesleaf, taken by the police at the time of the raid. As you scroll over the image,you activate nodes of information.Each node is an entry point into a hidden web of complex interconnected fragments.The experience models many of the skills of the humanities.The visitor is not told what to think. Instead the visitor is challenged to make their own connections.It is a bit like being a historian, or a journalist, or a documentary filmmaker rummaging through an archive, sorting and interpreting evidence, and creating a meaningful narrative.
In the process the visitor will experience artefacts, photographs, audio, and audio-visual interviews and video footage from the Liliesleaf archive.The visitor is then asked probing and provocative questions about the future they imagine for themselves and others, what they are willing to do to ensure a better future, and how they can become an agent of change. In this way inspiration is taken from the leaders of the liberation movement – like Andrew Mlangeni.
Mlangeni will be remembered as a man of great integrity,who while in the new democratic parliament continued to criticise injustice, even within his own party.We are faced with many
challenges some of which have become extremely stark and apparent as a consequence and impact
of the COVID-19 pandemic, on-going economic inequality, corruption, climate change,the migrant crisis, to name but a few.
As we confront and face up to a new “norm”, we all will be forced to hold uncomfortable
conversations, make difficult choices, and choose whether to be agents of change.