It has been just over 3 decades to date, that the death Mangaliso Sobukwe occurred after being systematically poisoned by the apartheid government during his time in detention at the infamous Robben Island. The spotlight has shone very brightly on the likes of Nelson Mandela and Bantu Biko to name a few, as great champions of the liberation struggle in Azania (South Africa). Yet it seems Azania and indeed the world has forgotten one of mama Afrika’s greatest sons: Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe the founding member of the PAC (Pan Africanist Congress of the people of Azania.)
In this book Mr. Pheko makes a noteworthy attempt to paint the Political Legacy of Mangaliso Sobukwe and I have to admit when I started reading this book I wasn’t sure what to expect. The ANC has been painted throughout Azania’s most recent history as the leader of the Liberation struggle in Azania, but what of the PAC’s contribution, is it not worth commending? First thing that comes to mind is the 1961 Sharpeville massacre, where over 60 unarmed peaceful protestors were gunned down mercilessly by the apartheid police, a pivotal point in the liberation struggle – that indeed forced the world to pay attention to the painful existence of Afrikans in the racist republic.
As a start Pheko takes us back to the 16th century when the Portuguese first attempted to invade the much contested land, but the San people fought them off and killed many of the European settlers. He then briefly flows through the most famous battles between the oppressor(Boer & British) and the oppressed (Afrikan people of the land) as he covers the geographic landscape of Azania and makes his final stop on the life of Mangaliso Sobukwe from birth, early experiences/interests, his voracious appetite for books, his growth as an intellectual, his arrival into politics, break away from the ANC youth league, founding of the PAC, his battle with the apartheid forces whilst in and out of detention, last years before his death and his legacy afterwards.
After reading the book I have to admit I get a burning need to make sure as many Afrikans as possible know about this great man. A principled man even to his death, a man who stayed true to the Africanist struggle for the liberation of Azania and Afrika as a whole. The thing I admire most though is his humanity and direct nature, it seems he was never one to ‘beat around the bush’ a man who saw the truth as it was and stood by it till the end.
I ask myself if Sobukwe hadn’t died then, in which state would the PAC and indeed Azania be today. One of the things that Sobukwe and subsequently the PAC detested (and still do, I hope) most about the ruling party is the “Freedom Charter” which the South African constitution is founded on today: That South Africa belongs to all who live in it both the oppressor and oppressed? Needless to say we are where we are today and the agreements made at the CODESA meetings by the ANC and the then ruling party are in full effect, and of course the painful reality that the children of the soil in their majority live in a fraction of the land that was forcefully taken from them.
At the center of the PAC’s philosophy is the slogan “IZWE LETHU” which means “The Land is Ours” as the book is justly titled, the land as main form of production is invaluable to a people’s existence; as the vast economic gap between the Afrikans and Europeans proves in South Africa today. Yet I have to admit I am not completely sold, as a number of gremlin-like questions pop in my mind from time to time and demand answers for i.e.:
- The PAC believed that the Azanian question could only be answered by Azanians and were reluctant to work with the white liberals, communist and international community to solve the problem (which we know is subsequently the path taken by the ANC – through the likes of Oliver Tambo). Was it the best notion considering that the people needed all help possible to escape the clutches of the Nationalist Party and its unashamedly racist policies?
- The Pan Africanist Congress of the People of Azania were willing to go on a full out arm-struggle to claim the land back, yes the ANC made attempts to sabotage and almost jeopardized their campaign for international backing. But in truth wasn’t the path that the PAC was on sure to lead to civil war? Considering the fact that the apartheid government was well armed at that time and actually prepared for such?
- With the inferior level of education imposed on the Afrikans (bantu education) would we have enough expertise and know how to run the modern Azania? Surely the west would have sanctioned us to a point of immense poverty and land destitute perhaps?
I am sure a stalwart Afrikanist like Mr Pheko would be able answer these burning questions with ease, because I am in no means claiming to be a ‘know–it-all’ as the saying goes “the more you know the more you realize you know nothing”.
Fact remains though that the “formerly” oppressed (masses of Afrikans in Azania) remain poor, landless and thus garden boys and maids in the land of their fathers. Yet still we should not get stuck in diagnosis, a people must be educated (about who they are and the status quo) in order to be freed mentally from complexes of inferiority and fear that clench their minds to this day. This books surely helped in answering a lot of questions I didn’t even realize existed. IZWE LETHU!