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Vale Johnson Mlambo: A Lion of the African Liberation struggle has fallen.

Written by: Max O. on 16 January 2021


61 years in struggle against South African Settler colonialism, prisoner 277/63 survived 20 years in Robben Island Gaol to be at the heart of the liberation struggle for another 37 years.   

Johnson Mlambo, “The Chairman”, served as Chairman of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania (South Africa) and Commander in Chief of the Azania People’s Liberation Army (APLA) from 1985 till his assumption of the position of Deputy President of the PAC in 1990. From 1994 he served  as a member of the PAC National Executive Committee. On 9 January 2021 Johnson Mlambo died of Covid-19 after a life of struggle.

Mlambo was a foundation member of the PAC in 1959 as a 19-year-old. After being ‘banned’ he became active in Poqo insurrection activities and took a leading role in the Year of Destiny intensification of armed struggle in 1963. He joined the PAC military wing underground late in 1962 and was preparing for further armed struggle when arrested on 31 March 1963 and charged as the leader of seven other PAC members accused of sabotage and plotting the overthrow of the racist South African Apartheid regime. 

He served 20 years on the notorious Robben Island Prison, prisoner 277/63. While he was on Robben Island, he was subjected to abject inhumane treatment by the warders. For instance, he was buried alive up to his neck and urinated on by White warders. In 1964 these violations and other forms of prisoner ill-treatment were exposed to the international community as they came before the General Assembly of the United Nations.

In brochures advertising tours of the former prison by Cape Island Tours Johnson Mlambo is one of 6 political prisoners noted as having been among the throng held there over the years, alongside Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe. 

After his release in 1983 he quickly joined the PAC leadership in exile as Secretary for Foreign Affairs and set about consolidating and building the international relations of the PAC. He visited Australia in 1985, meeting many anti-apartheid activists and establishing contact with a wide variety of organisations and people. Soon after that, on the death of PAC leader John Pokela, Johnson was elected as PAC Chairman and Commander of the armed forces. 

In this period his statement “We are now facing Pretoria and nothing short of the return of our land will stop our forces” summed up his approach. 

He led PAC delegations to UN conferences, met with the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Group of Eminent Persons looking to facilitate a negotiated settlement in South Africa. After the unbanning of the liberation movements, Johnson attended the Summit of the Heads of Frontline States and Representatives of the Liberation Movements as the PAC’s delegate in Harare in December 1992, and undertook numerous visits to meet government leaders in various countries particularly China and Yugoslavia. 

Johnson Mlambo used his period in the leadership of the PAC to guide the party through negotiation of the  unconditional release of political prisoners, unbanning of political parties and an end to the state of emergency, to restructure the party, instigated and followed through an internal inquiry into mismanagement of party funds, leading a number of members to step down, eliminated sectarian tendencies internally, ensured civilian PAC involvement in leadership of the military, established a department of women’s affairs with its Secretary a full member of the leading body of the PAC, and upheld the PAC’s African nationalist ideology.  

Johnson Mlambo served his people valiantly in the struggle against South African settler colonialism under its apartheid regime. After the unbanning of liberation organisations, he continued the struggle of the oppressed and dispossessed Africans against corrupt opportunists fattening themselves on the back of the initial advances of the people’s liberation struggles. In particular the land question was still the central remaining issue for Johnson and the PAC after the dismantling of the apartheid regime.  This critical matter is still unresolved for the land has not been turned over to the ordinary African people. South Africa has not become Azania (meaning: land of the African people) as the PAC leaders Johnson, Sobukwe and Pokela had envisioned. Consequently, African sovereignty over their country is still unfinished business for upcoming generations.

At the time of his death, he continued to serve as Secretary of the Daveyton Branch of the PAC. 

The Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) conveys its fraternal condolences to Johnson's family and to the Pan Africanist Congress. He will live in the memory of all struggling and oppressed peoples.

Vale Johnson Mlambo


Furhter reading: PAC must be rebuilt, say mourners at Johnson Mlambo’s memorial ( 



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