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He was 20 when he left South Africa to train in Mozambique and Angola with Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), which celebrated its 50th anniversary Friday.

One of Solomon Mahlangu’s trio got away. Another, the only one accused of firing a gun, was so badly beaten in custody he was judged unfit to stand trial.

Prosecutors did not dispute that Solomon Mahlangu never fired a gun, but he was convicted of sharing his comrade’s deadly purpose. He was hanged on April 6, 1979.

The next day, his mother was brought to Pretoria Central and shown her son’s plain wooden coffin. She remembers thinking it looked very small.

The gallows was destroyed in a smelter after the death penalty was abolished. Visitors to the site will see a replica: Seven nooses dangling from iron loops over a trap door.

A prison employee who said he had been a death row guard helped ensure the new museum’s details are correct, down to the thickness of the ropes.

He refused to give his name, saying he feared reprisals from South Africans who might consider him a murderer.

But he said he was just doing a job.

The guard said the political prisoners were disciplined, never struggling, sometimes singing anti-apartheid songs as they climbed the stairs.

David Kutumela, a 56-year-old anti-apartheid activist who, like Solomon Mahlangu, began his fight after the 1976 uprisings, helped campaign to create the gallows memorial.

He and other activists visited the gallows often as it was transformed into a museum.

“Walking up those 52 steps, we all think, ‘It might have been us instead of Solomon,’ ” Mr. Kutumela said.

Mr. Kutumela said the museum is for South Africans as young as or younger than he and Solomon Mahlangu were when they became militants. He said he worries today’s children “don’t even understand how this freedom came about.”

In another sign of how far South Africa has come, the top spokeswoman for the prison department is an ANC veteran who trained as a teenager in the same Angolan camp where Solomon Mahlangu became a guerrilla.

Sibongile Promise Khumalo has a hug for everyone she meets, including the white guards at Pretoria Central who once escorted ANC fighters to their deaths.

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