Alfred Mangena was born in Escort in present day Kwazulu Natal circa 1879. He managed to acquire little formal public education, and eventually began to study privately in Cape Town. Later he went to complete his schooling in England and after matriculating he studied Law at Lincoln's Inn. He was called to the Bar in 1909. In 1910 he returned home as the first Black African in South Africa to qualify as an attorney.
After some difficulty he succeeded in becoming a solicitor of the Supreme Court of South Africa, and opened an office in Pretoria with a branch in Johannesburg. His practice became very successful.
Mangena fought against courts that did not allow black people access, save for if they were brought to the court as prisoners or witnesses. Mangena became very popular African activist and received invitation from chiefs all over South Africa.
He was a fearless man, putting his life in danger more than once to defend Black South Africans against Europeans in court. He preÂsented a petition to the British governÂment on behalf of those facing trial after the 1906 Bambatha rebellion, and laid a charge against the Natal governor for illegally declaring a state of emergency. He was also prominent in the protests against the proposed Act of Union, passed by Britain's parliament in 1909.
In 1911 Pixley Seme, came home to South Africa from Europe, qualified as South Africa’s second Black African attorney. Together the pair defended their people in the Law Courts.
In 1912 Mangena was appointed Senior Treasurer of the African National Congress. In the same year he published the first issue of the Advocate, Bantu-English weekly, in Pretoria. The newspaper faced difficulties and ceased to exist the following year.
In 1916 Mangena married A.V. Ncobela, a nurse from Natal. In the same year he went into partnership with Pixley Seme, and they started the firm named Mangena and Seme solicitors.
He died at his home in Umtata, Cape Province, in 1924.
• E.J. Verwey (ed), New dictionary of South African biography. Pretoria, 1995, pp 154.