The 27th February will mark the 32nd anniversary of the death of PAC founding President, Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe. Sobukwe was a brilliant student. Godfrey Pitje who graduated at Fort Hare in 1945 said “Sobukwe was towering over us, even those of us on the staff, intellectually, from whatever angle. We readily recognized that he was an exceptional chap”.
The second President of the ANCYL AP Mda said Sobukwe went on to develop his and Anton Lembede’s African Nationalist philosophy “to a higher level than that which we were”.
Sobukwe was also humble, a good listener who didn’t try to impose his ideas on other people. He had a profound love for the oppressed African people. Sobukwe was exemplary, a family man who upheld high moral standards. He was a committed and an uncompromising leader.
Saths Cooper of the Black Consciousness Movement who also became President of Azapo said Sobukwe was viewed as a very significant national leader who had a symbolic role as well as an immediate practical role in leadership, in creating a very necessary national unity. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, Sobukwe was one of the most popular leaders. Cooper also said Sobukwe was seen as one of the progenitors, one of the key thinkers, in the run-up to the development of Black Consciousness.
Writing in Drum magazine of December 1962, Nat Nakasa pointed out that one of the most talked about South African leaders, Robert Sobukwe, was about to be released from prison and wondered how he was going to be received. But because of a special law passed in the whites-only South African parliament, the Sobukwe Clause, Sobukwe was detained indefinitely.
The way the apartheid government feared Sobukwe he was described as a person with a magnetic personality who was committed to overthrowing the apartheid state. He was the first and only political prisoner who had a special law enacted specifically for him known as “The Sobukwe Clause” which was renewed periodically from 1964 to 1969 when he was finally released as a sick man.
One of South Africa’s Prime Ministers, Verwoerd or Vorster was asked about political prisoners in South Africa. He replied that there was only one political prisoner in South Africa and that was Robert Sobukwe. The rest, he said, were his followers. He included ANC members and their leaders like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki.
Despite the harsh treatment meted on him, Sobukwe was without any bitterness as described by Alex Boraine and former US Ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young. As Young said in a March 3, 1978 statement to the UN commemorating the death of Sobukwe, he will continue to live and inspire the peoples of South Africa, and of the entire world. For men who live by faith, as he lived, can never die, for that faith lives on in all of us.
By Sam Ditshego