THE LEGACY OF ROBERT MANGALISO SOBUKWE

Robert Sobukwe and fellow PAC NEC leaders in Orlando, leading the Anti Pass Positive Action Campaign on 21st March 1960. (Source: Peter Magubane)

Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe died on 27 February 1978. As we celebrate this anniversary every year on this date, many questions come to mind. For those of us who are his disciples, we are looking back, with nostalgic pain, the leadership he provided to the Pan Africanist Congess of Azania (PAC) and the African masses during the most difficult and dangerous moments of the history of the struggle for national liberation, self-determination and social emancipation of the African people.

This was at the height of the development of the apartheid system which had entered its final stage of separate development and the creation of the Bantustans or the so-called homelands of the various African ethnic groups and tribes.

During his remarkable and outstanding short period of leadership, Sobukwe taught us that leadership is initiative and courage. To lead one must initiate ideas and action. He also taught us that leadership is courage. Sobukwe initiated ideas that gave PAC direction and inspiration. There was no confusion and doubt as to where he was taking the PAC. His clarity of thought, systematic thinking and forthrightness left no doubt in the minds of PAC members and the general public as to where the PAC was going and leading the masses of the oppressed and exploited. Not only did he initiate ideas but he also initiated action. He led the PAC and the African people against the apartheid regime and white minority domination in the Anti-Pass Positive Action Campaign that resulted in the Sharpeville and Langa Massacres that shook the apartheid status quo. It is this action that earned Sobukwe the name “Defier of the Undefiable”. Drastic measures had to be taken to deal with the crisis that followed the Sharpeville-Langa Massacres. A state of emergency was declared on 30 March 1960 and on 8 April 1960 the PAC and the ANC were banned under the Unlawful Organisations Act of 1960.

Up to the time of his emergence on the political scene, no leader or leadership dared to challenge the apartheid regime with such courage, determination and defiance. This taught us that leadership is courage. We need courage to make decisions so that we break with the past and existing status quo and move forward. Management teaches us that decisions are taken under three conditions. Firstly, under conditions of certainty in which we are sure of the outcome; secondly under conditions of uncertainty in which we are not sure of the outcome and finally under risky conditions but decisions must be taken; if not, there will be no forward march. This leads to immobilism, stagnation and paralysis. The party has experienced such moments in its history where leaders were afraid to make decisions because it was risky to do so. That is why the party could not make progress or move forward. This situation allows for opportunist elements and factionalists to thrive and to cause disarray and divisions in the ranks because there is no direction and programme.

In initiating ideas and action, Sobukwe left the PAC and the African masses a rich legacy of how to combine theory and practice. This also teaches us to be aware of rhetoric. His seminal contributions have not been used or exploited nor followed and further developed or enriched by successive leaders and cadres of the PAC in exile and those that led the PAC after the unbanning in February 1990 except for the Lion of Azania, Zephania Mothopeng, whose refreshing ideas once again fired the imagination of PAC members and the youth in particular for the short time he lived after his release from prison.

As a result of the failure to build and consolidate on the tradition left by Sobukwe, the PAC has not been able to put together an armoury of ideas from which to draw and develop a consistent and dynamic perspective to guide the party in the new era of multi-party democracy and within the framework of the new international political and economic order characterized by globalization or the domination by transnational corporations of developed and industrialized countries of the North and Japan; a system supported and buttressed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank which are imposing political and economic conditionalities on underdeveloped and developing countries of the South. This explains why PAC has lost identity, direction, political and ideological space or terrain.

One management writer says leaders of today and tomorrow must have the following three skills: ‘strategic thinking, innovative thinking and rational decision-making’. Sobukwe possessed these skills. He was capable of strategic thinking, innovative thinking and rational decision-making. This also made him a visionary. According to this writer, a leader is capable of strategic thinking because he ‘is able to formulate, articulate and communicate a coherent strategy and vision’. Strategic vision according to another writer ‘is a clear image of what you want to achieve, which then organises and instructs every step toward that goal’. Sobukwe strongly and steadfastly believed in the total liberation and unification of Africa from Cape to Cairo, Madagascar to Morocco. He clearly understood the development and the historical process and this made him highly principled and uncompromising to the end. This is what inspired PAC cadres and the youth at the time because there was direction and they were seeing where they were going – a new Africa, liberated, independent and united.

Sobukwe was resourceful and creative because he was capable of innovative thinking as seen in the statements he made at every phase and facet of the revolutionary process in the country. In 1960 when they went to prison following the Anti-Pass Positive Action Campaign that led to the Sharpeville and Langa massacres he observed that: “in Sharpeville we overcame the fear of the consequences of disobeying colonial laws. It became respectable to go to jail and emerge as what Kwame Nkrumah called ‘prison graduates. We stripped the white man that weapon against us. The white man now in SOWETO had to fall on his ultimate weapon, the gun. SOWETO has been a lesson in overcoming the fear of the gun. Now that he relies on the gun and we too can get the gun, confrontation is inevitable”. These statements are a reflection of the psychological and mental state of the masses and the level of resistance on the ground. Sobukwe had his finger on the pulse of the masses of the people on the ground. This is what leaders should be alert to, to be responsive to the concerns and needs of the masses of the people.

Sobukwe was level headed; he was sober and not erratic or irrational in his decisions as reflected in his statements and actions. He did not confuse recklessness with radicalism. He was radical because he fought for the total overhauling of the existing socio-economic and political system of white minority domination, white supremacy and apartheid or segregation. He wanted to see the lives of the poorest of the poor, the have-nots and dispossessed of this country totally changed and be like other human beings irrespective of colour, creed or social standing. This section of the population, mainly illiterate and semi-literate he regarded as the ‘key and cornerstone of democracy in our country’. There can be no democracy if it is not based on this section of the population.

In addition to the skills mentioned above, Sobukwe also had authority and power. He did not only derive his authority from the mandate received from the party congress/conference. He had personal authority emanating from his charisma. Sobukwe was a charismatic leader. He had magical powers. He was a powerful speaker who could move people to action. This was one of the reasons why the apartheid authorities feared and detested him and had to get rid of him by any means necessary. If authority is the right to give instructions or orders which must be obeyed or disobeyed, Sobukwe’s orders were obeyed without question because he had authority. He was also powerful because he had the ability to affect behavior, attitude and thinking of individuals.

Added to these qualities, Sobukwe had authority of competence. He was a man of letters and a man of great intellect; an academic of outstanding abilities and that is why he was revered and to many of us he was called the “Prof”. All these qualities and skills made him one of the most powerful and revered leaders the African people of South Africa ever produced but feared and hated by the apartheid authorities. In the scheme of things he had to die to make way for those the powers that be nationally and internationally could do business with because they were prepared to compromise some of the fundamental goals of the liberation movement including allaying the fears of those who were guilty of perpetrating physical, mental and psychological atrocities on the indigenous African people for over three hundred years.

Sobukwe’s position on the African continent is clear and uncompromising. South Africa is an integral part of the African continent. Like Lembede, he remains the champion and touch bearer of Africanism and Pan Africanism.

He continues to inspire and guide the PAC members and cadres beyond the grave. On the continent, he shares the ideas and vision of Pan Africanism with Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Like Nkrumah he stands for the immediate unification of Africa with a centrally controlled government. He also believed in the surrendering of sovereignty to the authority of the African Union or the United States of Africa from Cape to Cairo, Madagascar to Morocco. This union would eventually lead to the obliteration of existing colonial created boundaries and the so-called nation-states or state nations. Anything short of this proposition is not genuine but is simply paying lip service to the concept and goal of African Unity or Pan Africanism. The survival and salvation of Africa lies in the creation of the United States of Africa. If Africa remains as divided and as fragmented as it is presently, we will not survive the onslaught of the encroaching globalization as represented by the economic power of the developed and industrialized countries of the North and Japan. The existing nation states or state nations are not politically and economically viable. Unity of Africa will mean the pooling of Africa’s resources and this will give Africa a strong diplomatic and bargaining power at all levels of negotiations in her interaction with other states and international organizations and institutions. Africa will be speaking with one voice.

Politically, Sobukwe did not accept one party state. As early as in 1959 he made it very clear that Africanists rejected totalitarianism in any form and accepted democracy as understood at the time, meaning multi-party democracy as practiced today in this country and many other countries in Africa and other parts of the world. He stood for a government of Africans, by Africans and for Africans and Africans being those who owe their only allegiance to Africa and accept the democratic rule of the majority and regarding themselves as Africans irrespective of the colour of their skin, shape of their nose, creed or social standing.

Economically, Sobukwe rejected the exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few. This position is still valid for the PAC because the material conditions and social status of the African majority has not changed radically post 1994. The African majority continue to live in abject poverty and squalor. They continue to be exploited by those who have been and are still privileged and own the resources of our country as shown recently by the massacre at Lonmin mines in Marikana and on the farms at De Doorns in the Boland in particular. All over this country farm workers and mine workers are still paid slave wages or wages far below the poverty datum line. In the face of this situation, Sobukwe stated that the PAC accepted as policy the most equitable distribution of wealth taking as starting-point equality of income. This position is still valid today taking into account the vast income inequalities and disparities still obtaining in this country, a reflection of the rate of exploitation of the masses of the African people and working class.

The struggle to close the gap between management, owners and the workers in the mines, on commercial farms and other sectors has been triggered by the Marikana massacre. The struggle for a minimum wage is yet to be won in the mines, on the farms and in white households for domestic workers. The national income distribution is still heavily skewed in favour of the privileged minority of yesteryear that has been joined by the new political, bureaucratic and business elites or “les nouveaux riches”. It is for this reason that Sobukwe believed in the robust role of the state because the market forces alone will not equitably allocate the resources of this country among its people as well as tackling the uneven development of the country.

The market forces of the free market economy, especially under its form of neo-liberalism, will not take the African majority out of poverty. Neoliberal capitalism is for the rich or trickling down economics, that is, enrich the rich so that they can give crumbs to the poor. Hence the need for strong state intervention not only for the equalization of the material conditions of the people but for the state participation in the social, economic, cultural and technological development of this country and people. The trickling down economics or neo-liberal capitalism will not do the miracle.

For Sobukwe the Africanists take the view that there is only one race to which we all belong and that is the human race. However we observe that a section of this human race is still downtrodden, underdeveloped and wallowing in abject poverty and living in squalor and until and unless this section is brought to the level of other sections of the human race we shall not have achieved this vision. This vision goes in tandem with the struggle for the control and ownership of the resources of this country which will facilitate the equitable distribution of wealth especially among the poorest of the poor, the have-nots and the dispossessed and the anti-force for change in this country.

This finally brings to the key and fundamental issue of our struggle: the land question. Here Sobukwe says: “The struggle in South Africa is part of the greater struggle throughout the Continent for the restoration to the African people of the effective control of their land”. PAC has repeated this so many times since its inception in April 1959 that “Africa for Africans; Africans for Humanity; Humanity for God”. We will continue to repeat these slogans until “Izwe Lethu, I-Afrika!” becomes a reality in this country and on the continent. The institutional form this must assume is the independent and sovereign controlled territories formerly colonised and under white minority rule that must constitute the basis and framework for the establishment of the United States of Africa from Cape to Cairo, Madagascar to Morocco. The formation of the United States of Africa can also be initiated within the framework of existing regional groupings such as ECOWAS, SADC, EAC or simply between two or more neighbouring states sharing borders.

Izwe Lethu! I-Africa!

By Molefe Ike Mafole
The writer is a veteran of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania and the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA). He can be contacted on 072 630 2206