CAPE TOWN -- Raymond Mhlaba, an African National Congress veteran who was sentenced with Nelson Mandela to life imprisonment in 1964 for trying to overthrow South Africa's apartheid regime, has died at age 85, the government said Monday.
''Oom Ray," as he was widely known, died of cancer Sunday at a hospital in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth.
''His death robs us of yet another hero -- a member of a splendid, unforgettable generation," said President Thabo Mbeki, who ordered all flags to fly at half-staff.
''His passing away removes from us one of the real stalwarts of our movement, a person who in his life and work embodied the highest values our struggle stood for and strove towards," Mandela said in a statement.
Mr. Mhlaba was born in an Eastern Cape village. In 1943, he joined the Communist Party, which was banned in 1950. He joined the ANC in 1944.
After the ANC was banned in 1960, Mr. Mhlaba fled to China for military training. He returned to South Africa in 1962. Mr. Mhlaba was arrested in a sweep by security forces on the ANC's underground headquarters at a farm in Rivonia in northern Johannesburg in 1963. Mandela, Mr. Mhlaba, and six others stood trial for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government. In June 1964 they were sentenced to life in prison. Together with other Rivonia defendants, Mr. Mhlaba was released in 1989.
When the ANC swept to power in the first democratic multiracial elections in 1994, Mr. Mhlaba became premier of the newly created province of the Eastern Cape. He resigned in 1997 for health reasons and subsequently acted as ambassador to Rwanda and Burundi.