Sobukwe the Man and Leader

It was in these contexts that Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe emerged as leader of the newly formed Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in April 1959 almost ten years after the African National Congress had abandoned the 1949 Programme of Action for the Kliptown Charter (Freedom Charter) which claimed South Africa belonged to all who live in it Black and White. This was in contradistinction to the 1949 Programme of Action that stated among others that: “Like all other people, the African people claim the right of self-determination”. This was a challenge to the legal status of South Africa because this position raised the level of the struggle to international level and thus ceased to be an internal matter as suggested by the Kliptown Charter. From the onset the PAC clearly stated that its aim was to overthrow white domination for the implementation and maintenance of the right of self-determination of the African people. This was the difference between the Charterist approach and the Africanist approach, hence anti-colonialism (revolutionary) and the return of the land to the indigenous dispossessed as opposed to anti-apartheid (reformist) and the recognition of apartheid South Africa as an independent and sovereign state.

The Africanist approach was in line with the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle on the continent described as the wind of change which was blowing across the continent and was moving with a force of a hurricane after Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah had returned to the continent to implement the resolutions of the Fifth Pan African Congress and intensify ongoing struggles. In South Africa to overthrow white domination needed courageous leadership; leadership that could confront the white minority regime without fear or compromise. It is this leadership that Sobukwe provided when he became the leader of the Pan Africanist Congress in April 1959 after the collapse of the Defiance Campaign of 1952 when the leadership of the African National Congress abandoned the masses of volunteers in jails.

When he took over as leader of the PAC in 1959, he ensured that the party had a clearly defined programme of action. This was the nation-building programme which was implemented in the form of campaigns. This programme needed preparation prior to implemenation. It was for this reason that the Status Campaign was launched to prepare the PAC members and the masses of the people mentally and psychologically to face the apartheid regime which for a very long time had ruled by fear, intimidation and violence. Sobukwe observed that “for over three hundred years, the white foreign ruling minority has used its power to inculcate in the African the feeling of inferiority. This group has educated the African to accept the status quo of white supremacy and Black inferiority as normal”. The Status Campaign “will free the mind of the African — and once the mind is free, the body will soon be free. Once white supremacy has become mentally untenable to our people, it will become physically untenable too — and will go”.

Sobukwe’s analysis of the situation in South Africa at the time tells us that he put first things first that took into consideration the condition of the masses of the people for them to be drawn and involved in the struggle. He displayed authority of competence because he was a man of great intellect; an academic of outstanding abilities; a great thinker and philosopher; a revolutionary intellectual; a gifted orator who could move the people to action and feared by the regime that saw as a man with a mission.

The Minister of Justice Johannes Balthazar Vorster in the debate in parliament on the Sobukwe Clause said that: “here we are dealing with a person who has a strong, magnetic personality, a person who can organize, a person who feels that he has a vocation to perform this task”. It was not only Sobukwe’s charisma and commitment the apartheid authorities feared and detested, but they also hated his guts and uncompromising attitude or stance.

He initiated ideas and action because he was able to combine theory and practice. He was forceful, forthright and expressed himself with clarity that left no one in doubt of what he really wanted to say. He left the party an amoury of ideas and concepts that continue to serve as theoretical guidelines for the party because theory is a guide to action. Some of the ideas or concepts have withstood the test of time and continue to be policy guidelines for the party in its daily activities.

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