“His life epitomised the cold, calculating, vindictive brutality of Apartheid; his mind and heart proclaimed the abiding humanity of liberation” – Tribute to Sobukwe by Nelson Mandela
Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe was born in Gratt – Reinet in December 1924. He did his secondary schooling at Healdtown in the Eastern Cape and on completion in 1946 he enrolled for degree studies at the Fort Hare University.
At Fort Hare he became very active in student politics and he started, with others, the Fort Hare ANC League Branch in 1948. In 1949 he was elected President of the Fort Hare Students Representative Council.
Sobukwe wrote the first version of the 1949 Programme of Action which was adopted by ANC in December 1949. This Programme positioned the goal of the political struggle of Africans to be “freedom from white domination and the attainment of political independence”
In December 1949 Sobukwe was elected to be the National Secretary of the ANC Youth League under Godfrey Pitjie’s Presidency. Those who knew Sobukwe during these days or those who were with him in the political struggle during those days had this to say:
“Godfrey Pitjie member of staff at the Fort Hare College and a Member of the ANC Fort Hare Youth League Branch: “But Sobukwe was towering over us, even those of us on the staff, intellectually, from whatever angle. We readily recognised that he was an exceptional chap” [p. 30. Pogrund, The Life of Robert Sobukwe]
A,P. Mda the second President of the ANC Youth League after the death of Anton Lembede had this to say about Sobukwe:
“….he went on to develop our position…… mine and Anton Lembede’s ……to a higher level than in which we were, Secondly, he impressed me as a man with a deep love for his downtrodden black people, and he appeared to feel that he was one in every way. This was a very striking feature because he was so powerful intellectually, yet he felt that one with the peasants, with the workers.
Thirdly, he impressed me as a man who was very clear on the issue of national struggle toward final victory. Forth, I found that he believed that a leader must have total commitment to the struggle of the African people for national emancipation, no matter what the hardships may be, or what the obstacles may be. Fifth, he believed that the leaders themselves must be in the forefronts of the struggle” [ibid.p30 – 31]
He was, in 1950, after completing his studies at Fort Hare appointed as a teacher at Standerton in the Transvaal. He married Ms Veronica Zodwa Mathe in June 6, 1954 and in the same year got appointed as a lecturer by the University of Witwatersrand.
Accordingly, Managliso Sobukwe belonged to the group of African Nationalists, Africanists and Pan- Africanists like Anton Lembede, A.P. Mda, Herbert Chitepo and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Ntsu Mokhehle of Lesotho and others.
Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe with a group of Africanists like Potlako Leballo, Zeph Mothopeng broke away from the ANC in 1958 and in April 1959 formed the Pan Africanist Congress. He became the Founding President of the PAC.
For his role in launching the 1960 anti – pass campaign he was sentenced to three (3) years of hard labour. He was due to be released on May 3 1963 but this did not happen: a special law “Sobukwe Clause” in the General Laws Amendment Act was passed to enable the Settler colonial apartheid government to incarcerate him indefinitely. He was placed in solitary confinement for six years on Robben Island and thereafter he was banished to Kimberley where he was house – arrested until his death in February 27, 1978. John Vorster the then Minister of Justice (settler colonial justice) claimed that Sobukwe deserved this treatment because he felt he had a mission to deliver his African people from slavery and oppression and could not be changed from this conviction “this side of eternity”. Vorster further made it clear that he could not treat Sobukwe in the same way as Chief Albert Luthuli the President of the ANC, who was merely restricted within his own area, because, in his words, “Comparing Luthuli to Sobukwe, Luthuli is a lightweight”.
In advancing the case for passing the law for indefinite detention of Sobukwe John Vorster had this to say in Parliament: “This clause will be used to keep him there longer …. For here we are dealing with a person, let me say this, who has a strong magnetic personality, a person who can organise, a person who feels he has a vocation to perform this task, well knowing what methods will be applied”.
During his extended incarceration Sobukwe studied and got an honours degree in Economics, under London University and after finishing his articles he started practicing as a lawyer in Kimberley in 1975.
Even after his death Sobukwe could not be quoted nor his voice be heard. Of Greatest interest to us today is that even the “democratic” government he fearlessly fought, to his death to bring it about prefers silence about him. No spoken voice of Sobukwe is available in this country and it is alleged that the PAC has been secretly informed that this is a device by the ANC government. The ANC continues to fear the PAC and Managliso Sobukwe and prefers to say very little about the PAC/or Sobukwe.
“Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe is acknowledged as one of the sources of inspiration for the Black Consciousness Movement which grew to strength under Steve Biko in the 1970s. Sobukwe argued that Africans had to prove to themselves and to the world thatthey could stand on their own feet. To do this, they had to liberate themselves, without the help of “non – blacks” [Graff-Reinet: The Robert Sobukwe Collection, 2000].
This applies to the self development of Africans in this country and their self-reliance in restructuring and transformation of the existing social order.
TRIBUTE TO SOBUKWE BY VARIOUS PERSONALITIES
On meeting Sobukwe at Graff Reinet suffering from terminal cancer:
“I was struck by his quiet dignity, his lack of bitterness about waisted life, which he knew was nearing its end. Perhaps he also knew that although he could be banned, his ideas could not be banned and would live on in the minds of young Africans”, By Helen Suzman, Sunday Times, Sept, 2003.
“That’s exactly what he’d done on April 6, 1959. He took the raw anger of the oppressed in this country and gave it a voice and direction. He was able to translate our vague anti-white feelings, our seething anger, and harness it into a struggle for a different future.
He spoke of a free, non-racial South Africa where a person’s colour was as irrelevant as the shape of his nose. This at a time when many in our country were still talking about multi- racialism. He cast our eyes to a free United States of Africa. This was at a time when most of Africa was in the clutches of colonialism. He spoke about the economic liberation of our continent. Forty – four years later we are now shaping the African Union and we are talking of Nepad.
An Intellectual and a visionary was Sobukwe, but also a man of the people. In December 1959, after he had spoken about plans for the anti-pass campaign, a woman stood up and challenged the men to hand over their pants to the women if they didn’t have the guts to face the Boers.
As she was speaking, I saw Prof wipe tears from his eyes, he was moved by the challenge” By Joe Thloloe. 2004. Sunday Times Sept, 2003.
“…….I was impressed that Sobukwe fought to do his best to improve the lot of those Standerton location Children. Blacks had to exorcise the demons of self-hate and enter into their glorious liberty as equally Gods children as any other group. Blacks had to set their own agenda and not let others, however sympathetic, however liberal, do that on their behalf. They were conscious selves, autonomous subjects and not object to be decided for…..
“The wheel had come full circle. The teacher who had been a spend thrift of his pupils in Standerton had become utterly Selfless lawyer in Kimberly”
By Desmond Tutu, Archbishop, Sunday Times Sep. 2003.
“To Sobukwe, creating the psychological precondition of revolution seemed a far more urgent task for African leadership”. Sobukwe said:
“when your house is flooding, why try to throw water outside? We aim at closing the tap which all this vile legislation flows”
“Sobukwe own views on economic question were distinctly socialist – he called for a planned economy and a radical equalisation of wealth” By Gail Gerhart Sunday Times Sept. 2003.
“Sobukwe needed no one to fight his battles for him. He was consummately equal to any task. He could beat white lecturers in any faculty and most people knew that…….He led from the front …..he was never afraid of terror from the apartheid monsters. The fear that they had for him resulted in a law called the “Sobukwe Clause”, which caused him to spend a lengthy period on Robben Island after the expiration of his sentence.
His fiercest opponents respected him. We loved him.
Robert Sobukwe was the perfect portrait of the manner in which an African with ubuntu responses to oppression, discrimination and evil. Leadership fell easily on his intellectual shoulders. There was no hysteria, no fear, no bluster, no boasting.
Without putting too fine a point on it, Sobukwe was the definition of UBUNTU.”
By Aggrey Klaate Sunday Times Sep 2003.
Sobukwe on Political Leadership
“True Leadership demands complete subjugation of self, absolute honesty, integrity and uprightness of character, courage and fearlessness and, above all, a consuming love for ones people”