Benjamin Johnson Langa

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Biographical information

Synopsis:

Secretary General and Cultural Officer of SASO, political activist, poet, member of MK and the ANC

First name: 
Benjamin
Middle name: 
Johnson
Last name: 
Langa
Location of death: 
Pietermaritzburg, Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal)

Benjamin (Ben) Johnson, Langa’s father, was a Minister of Religion and his mother was a housewife who was also intensely involved in the church. There were seven children, five brothers and two sisters, in the family.

From very early, the parents placed great emphasis on their children being educated even when it was very difficult. Though the family was poor, the parents made great sacrifices to ensure that money was put aside so that the children could continue with their schooling.

In 1973 Ben, then a student at the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape (now Eastern Province) was elected as the South African Students Organisation (SASO) General Secretary and after that served as its Publication Officer, being responsible for its cultural and publications policies and for disseminating the policies of the Black Consciousness Movement as much as possible. All this exposed him to the Security Police at the time.

Following a student walkout at Fort Hare in April 1972, which was part of a countrywide walkout at black campuses, Ben returned home to kwaMashu, Durban. Together with other Fort Hare students he began to mobilise the support of parents and was instrumental in eventually forming a students-parents association here to enlist the support of parents. He also began to look around for people in the kwaMashu region with the aim of establishing some political formation in Kwa-Mashu. As a result, after a series of meetings, a youth organisation named the KwaMashu Youth Organisation KWAYO) was formed around 1973.

Assassination

In 2000 an uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) operative, Joel (some sources spell his name as Jule) George Martins, testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) in Pinetown, Durban, regarding his role in the assassination of Ben Langa on 20 May 1984, Pietermaritzburg, Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal).

Ben, a member of a politically active family, was a local activist known to Martins. His brother, Mandla Langa, was a writer of note in exile in Botswana and another brother, Pius Langa, was a prominent human rights lawyer involved in defending political activists on trial. Pius Langa would later go on to become South Africa’s Chief Justice.

Martins and two other MK members, Clarence Lucky Payi and Sipho “Ma-China” Bridget Xulu (some sources also spell his surname as Qulu), were involved in the assassination of Ben. In his application Martins testified that Payi and Xulu told him that a certain Ralph who was their commander in Swaziland, had given them the instruction to kill Ben because Ben had sold out his ‘comrades’. Payi and Xulu had gone out of the country and had received military training at MK bases in Angola before returning to South Africa.

According to Martins, the three of them walked up to Ben’s apartmentand when they got there, Martins knocked at the door. Ben asked who it was and Martins identified himself. Because Ben knew who he was, he invited them in. The two, Payi and Xulu, walked in and they shot and killed him. They testified that they ran to a waiting car immediately after the shooting and drove off.

The African National Congress (ANC) commander responsible for giving the order, Cyril Raymond (a.k.a. 'Edward Lawrence', a.k.a.'Ralph' a.k.a. 'Fear'), later came under suspicion by the ANC and was detained and interrogated. Under questioning, he confessed to being a police spy and subsequently died in ANC custody. According to the ANC, the killing of Ben Langa had taken place on the orders of an independent government agent, as opposed to a genuine ANC order.

But in another twist to this tragic incident, the two killers testified in their Pietermaritzburg trial that the man who gave them orders to carry out the murder was not Raymond, but one "Leonard".

According to the ANC Submission to the TRC:

 

In a few cases, deliberate disinformation resulted in attacks and assassinations in which dedicated cadres lost their lives. In one of the most painful examples of this nature, a state agent with the name of ‘Fear’ ordered two cadres to execute Ben Langa on the grounds that Langa was an agent of the regime ... Once the facts were known to the leadership of the ANC, President Tambo personally met with the family to explain and apologise for this action.

 

However, security police amnesty applicants denied that Lawrence was an informer.

Payi and Xulu were hanged on 9 September 1986 by the South African authorities for Langa’s murder.

In 2013 President Jacob Zuma again apologised to the family of Ben Langa at the funeral of his brother, former Chief Justice Pius Langa, for his assassination at the hands of fellow ANC members during the 1980s. Zuma used the televised official funeral of Justice Langa, held at Durban’s City Hall, in August 2013, to address the highly sensitive issue of Ben Langa’s shooting by Lucky Phayi and Sipho Xulu in Pietermartizburg in 1984.

Former President Thabo Mbeki also apologised for Ben Langa’s death at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when he made his submission on behalf of the ANC to the TRC.

 

Apartheid security police used their agents within the ANC to plant a story fingering him as an enemy agent. “They manipulated his friends and comrades into killing him, thinking that they were saving the movement. “The wrong person happened to occupy a high structure so that when he told them to undertake this operation; they had no reason not to believe their commander. He was a wrong man and worked for the apartheid system. The two assassins ... were later arrested and sentenced to death,’’ he said.

 

He said Judge Langa had “carried the pain of the family’’ to Lusaka and met with him and Mbeki to discuss the assassination. “We promised to investigate. We did investigate and that’s why we were able to get the truth,” Zuma said.

 

"During the 1980's I was a member of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress in exile. I'm now the President of the organisation. I delivered the ANC's submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I confirm the correctness of paragraph 6.2.7 which reads:

 

'Deliberate disinformation leading to mistaken attacks. In few cases deliberate disinformation resulted in attacks and assassination in which dedicated cadres lost their lives. In one of the most painful examples of this nature, a State agent with the MK name of "Fear" ordered two cadres to execute Ben Langa on the grounds that Langa was an agent of the regime. These cadres, Clement Payi, Lucky Qulu, carried out their orders. This action resulted in serious disruption of underground and mass democratic structures in the area and intense distress to the Langa family which was the obvious intention of Fear's handlers. Once the facts were known to the leadership of the ANC, President Tambo personally met with the family to explain and apologise for this action. Qulu and Payi were arrested and executed. A triple murder had been achieved by the apartheid regime without firing a single shot themselves.'

"I was party to the decision that our then President, Oliver Tambo met members of the Langa family to explain the unfortunate circumstances that led to Ben Langa's death and apologised for the tragic loss of a young life."


References:
• Zuma's time to apologise, 2013-08-04 City Press http://www.news24.com/Archives/City-Press/Zumas-time-to-apologise-20150429.
• SABC Truth Commission Special Report. (n.d.). TRC Final Report, Vol 6 online. Available at www.sabctrc.saha.org.za . Accessed on 23 June 2015.
• BeresfordD. (2009). Glimmers of Horror as Zuma's Missing Years Come to Light from the Sunday Times, 22 February online. Available at www.armsdeal-vpo.co.za . Accessed on 23 June 2015.
• http://www.saflii.org/za/cases/ZASCA/1986/15.html . Accessed on 23 June 2015.
• South African Democracy Education Trust. (2004). The Road to Democracy in South Africa: 1970-1980 online. Available at www.books.google.co.za. Accessed on 24 June 2015

Last updated : 08-Sep-2015

This article was produced for South African History Online on 26-Mar-2012