THE date of February 27 (today) will mark exactly 40 years after the death of Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, fondly known as “Prof”. Prof was the founding leader of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) and a former secretary-general of the ANC’s youth league.
The PAC had been banned until 1990 while Sobukwe was silenced and journalists barred from quoting him. It was difficult to even talk about Sobukwe because you could face persecution or a jail term.
After 1990 the PAC were able to popularise his political beliefs and it is still important to outline Sobukwe’s ideals. In 2010 government officials promised to rename Graff-Reinet after Sobukwe but we are still waiting for that to take place.
We have made a huge mistake of not honouring those gallant journalists who kept reporting on Sobukwe even when they were ordered not to do so. We must recognise the work done by anti-apartheid media houses such as the Rand Daily Mail and Imvo Zabantsundu – as well as all journalists who devoted their lives to the struggle to overcome apartheid.
They include renowned journalists like Benjamin “Benji” Pogrund, Gail Gerhart, Stan Motjuwadi, Joe Thloloe, Percy Qoboza, Thami Mazwai, Sam Mabe and many others who ensured that the history of Sobukwe can be found in archives. Pogrund has written more extensively on Sobukwe that anyone else, providing a complete picture of what kind of leader Sobukwe was, from his youth to his grave – and he continues to do so today.
The PAC is still searching for all Sobukwe’s interviews with the media (especially the SABC) – as well as court cases like those of other leaders such as Steve Biko and Rivonia trialists.
We are now talking to the government of The Netherlands to provide us with material concerning Sobukwe and although it will take time we will remain patient because we are doing this for future generations. I and others recently met with Pogrund and he recounted his contacts with Sobukwe. It was good to hear his account but there were tears in our eyes.
It drove us to ask him why he didn’t record Sobukwe during the many times he met him – from Robben Island to his banishment in Kimberley’s Galeshewe township. He regretted it profusely and acknowledged that he committed a serious mistake because he could have done it easily enough.
It is also encouraging to see organisations in European countries hosting events in honour of Sobukwe. A member of the ANC Fort Hare branch and university staff member, Godfrey Pitje, said: “Sobukwe towered over us, even those of us on the staff, intellectually, from whatever angle.” Sobukwe played a central role in drafting 1949’s programme of action, which culminated in what is now known as the Defiance Campaign, led largely by the charismatic Josias Madzunya and the people of Alexandra. There have been positive gestures from many organisations, including the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which remembered and recognised Prof during Sobukwe month (February) in 2011. We will never forget that tribute.
The Steve Biko Foundation invited Dr. Julius Garvey in 2016 to deliver a lecture on Sobukwe and that made international headlines. The University of Ahmadu Bello in Nigeria was among the very first to set the standard high when it conferred an honorary degree on Sobukwe, acknowledging his immense contribution to the liberation of the African continent.
The University of the Witwatersrand followed suit by honouring Sobukwe in many ways, including naming buildings after him. We have seen the University of South Africa following suit, including furnishing him with an honorary doctorate in law.
We are witnessing many organisations honouring Sobukwe and we are happy that the PAC has been so generous in sharing this great man with the world. The media have been quite impressive in balancing the narrative of our history, we now hear the names of Tiro, Mashinini, Sobukwe, Lembede, and Mda more often than before. We have witnessed significant tributes to Sobukwe by Radio 2000, SABC TV and in the print media.
While paying tribute to Prof, we must always remember his widow, Mama Veronica Sobukwe – a silent warrior queen who is largely missing from the pages of history who include other heroines such as Helen Suzman, Sophia-Williams de Bruyne, Albertina Sisulu, Nomvo Booi, Esther Chipape, Nomasonto Madi, Urbania Mothopeng, Belinda Mogojane and Ella Kwinana (Mda’s elder sister). This is testimony that African women played a principal role in the liberation of this country.
It was only after much pressure that the government awarded Mama Sobukwe with an electronic wheelchair. Had we not complained through the media and written a few letters, nothing would have happened. We have now elevated our campaign to call for an official Sobukwe Day on February 27 and that the title Robert Sobukwe University replaces that of Fort Hare.
By Kenneth Mokgatlhe – PAC National Spokesperson