Programme Director, The Sobukwe Family, Honourable people of Graaff-Reinet, PAC leaders and members and all friends gathered here today.
It is an honour for me to speak to you on this 35th Sobukwe Day. Enemies of truth may kill the messenger, but they cannot kill the message. They can bury a visionary, but they cannot bury his vision. They can delay the genuine liberation of the African people, but they cannot destroy it.
It is thirty five years now since Prof. Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe departed from this planet. But his vision for genuine liberation of our country has refused to go away. Its triumph may be delayed, but it cannot be decimated. This is the Pan African vision which he shared with Pan Africanist giants such as Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Marcus Garvey, WEB Du Bois, Sekou Toure and many reliable leaders of Africa.
Prof. Ivan Sertima, a Pan Africanist scholar in the Diaspora was correct when he said, “When a star dies, it does not vanish from the firmament. Its light keeps streaming across the fields of time and space so that centuries later we may be touched by a vision of the fire and brilliance of its former life. The lives of truly great men are just like that.” Mangaliso Sobukwe is that kind of star.
Land is the core and primary contradiction over which the liberation struggle was waged in this country – AZANIA – colonially called South Africa. No leader has arisen in this country as the unquestionable embodiment of the genuine struggle of the African people for repossession of our land and usurped national sovereignty as Sobukwe. In spite of the suppression of his political philosophy and his role in the liberation struggle of Azania; both foe and friend, acknowledge his unique and principled leadership.
Sobukwe was a man with great intellectual revolutionary vigour and great organising ability. He had exceptionally disarming humility towards everybody, friend and foe alike. Unashamed of the humble beginnings from which he came, he declared, “I am the son of Sobukwe born in Graaf-Reinet that land of goats….” In touch with his roots he proclaimed a message to the masses that spoke of cultural dignity and identity of the African people. He preached a loyalty higher than that of the tribe through African Nationalism. In 1959 he declared, “We honour Ghana as the first independent state in modern Africa which under the courageous Pan Africanist leadership of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention Peoples’ Party, has actively interested itself in the liberation of the whole continent from colonial domination….”
He added, “We, who are Pan African in outlook, do not subscribe to the South African exceptionalism and are committed to Pan Africanism and a Union of African States which we would like to see as a unitary state, centrally controlled organic whole….”
Johannes B. Vorster who was the leader of the apartheid colonialist regime put in place a law called the “Sobukwe Clause.” He said he was going to imprison Sobukwe eternally “this side of the grave.” He warned that colonial South Africa would pay a big price if Sobukwe were released. Sobukwe was banished to Kimberly where he was under house arrest until he died there. His colleagues, Zephania Mothopeng and Kholekile Nyobo said Sobukwe told them that the regime had poisoned him while on Robben Island Prison.
Members of the apartheid colonial parliament justified the imprisonment and the house arrest of Sobukwe for his political ideas saying, “Sobukwe is a leader, a man who had the entire country in turmoil within a short space of time.”
A member of the South African Parliament said, “The powers that are seeking our downfall are gathering their forces to destroy us, and at this time they are assiduously looking for a star to give lustre to their nefarious schemes…Sobukwe would if given the opportunity, not hesitate to make and regain what he has lost during his time of detention.”
Another regime’s MP after visiting Sobukwe in Robben Island Prison said, “I asked Sobukwe, have you considered changing your ideology? He replied, ‘Not until the day of the resurrection.”
After the Sharpeville Uprising which was led by Sobukwe; Lewis Nkosi, a highly respected journalist described Sobukwe as, “…a tall, distinguished African prisoner, a university lecturer and political leader who at the age of 36 has a rare distinction of having scared the South African government out of its wits….Sobukwe helped to orchestrate a crisis that panicked the South African regime and nearly brought about the kind of political situation which too often makes the transfer of power overnight.”
A.P. Mda who was the President of the 1912 ANC Youth League after the death of Antony Muziwakhe Lembede and was now a prominent lawyer said, “I found that Sobukwe believed that a leader must have total commitment to the struggle of the African people for national emancipation, no matter what hardships maybe or what the obstacles maybe.”
When the University of Ahmadu Bello in Nigeria conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws on Sobukwe, the Dean of this University chanted, “Honourable Chancellor, I present to you this courageous African revolutionary, this strong believer in the principles of Pan Africanism, this great fighter for the liberation and unity of all African peoples, this symbol of the struggle against apartheid and colonialism; for the posthumous conferment of the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws….”
He knew how land dispossession of the African people happened in this country. He recognised all African kings who fought this struggle long before 1912. These are heroes such as “Uphaqa njelanga, Inyathi yasenhlakanhlakeni, Unokuzila ukudla kwamagwala. Amagwala adlu bubende.” That is King Cetshwayo – the architect of the Battle of Isandlwana – where African spears triumphed over the guns of a well-armed British army.
In this today’s Eastern Cape, King Hintsa fell in the Sixth War of national resistance against British colonialism in 1834. The colonial soldiers were commanded by Harry Smith. He still has a town named after him and another called Ladysmith, named after his wife. It is after this battle that reports have persisted that King Hintsa’s head was cut off and taken to England. King Hintsa is praised as “Unjongantshiyini Bathi uqumbile. Inkunzi abayikhuzu kuhlaba ingekahlabi. Uzigodlwana zemaze ndala zingalale ndleleni yazini kunyembelekile….”
In July 1959, Sobukwe whose nickname is “Defier of the Undefiable” paid tribute to African kings who were the first freedom fighters in this country against colonialism and imperialism. Among other things he said:
“Sons and Daughters of Afrika, we are going down the corridor of time renewing our acquaintance with the heroes of Africa’s past – those men and women who nourished the tree of African freedom and independence with their blood, those great Sons and Daughters of Afrika who died in order that we may be free in the land of our birth. We meet here today, to rededicate ourselves to the cause of Afrika, to establish contact beyond the grave, with the great African heroes and assure them that their struggle was not in vain. We are met here Sons and Daughters of the beloved land to drink from the fountain of African achievement, to remember the men and women who begot us, to remind ourselves of where we come from and restate our goals. We are here to draw inspiration from the heroes of Thababosiu, Isandlwana, Sandile’s Kop and numerous other battlefields where our forefathers fell before the bullets of the foreign invader….”
Ma-Afrika, a liberation struggle that is based on a colonial history and mysterious fraudulent documents, such as the Freedom Cheater; is like asking a jackal to look after your sheep or a hawk to look after your chickens.
A generation that is ignorant of its past has no past and no future. A generation that does not know its past does not know even its present. It therefore, cannot understand its present and plan its future intelligently and wisely. The past has determined how the present must be handled.
That is why a Chinese proverb advises, “If you want to know your past, look into your present conditions. If you want to know your future, look into your present actions.”
Have you ever heard about the “Union of South Africa Act 1909?” Sobukwe said, “that fossilised relic of the white man’s exclusive privileges and prejudices must be scrapped.” This is the colonial law that created South Africa. It is the law that brought together the four British colonies of Cape, Natal, Transvaal and Orange Free State to fight what the colonialists called “Native danger.” It is a law that was meant to make this country a “Whiteman’s country.” It was an Act of the British Parliament.
From the beginning, the foundation upon which South Africa was established was not only colonial and racist; it was meant to protect European interests and enslave Africans especially, economically. Section 1 of the Act reads: “This Act may be cited as the South Africa Act 1909.”
Section 44 (c) stated that “The qualifications of a Member of the House of Assembly must…be…a British subject of European descent.”
In 1909, there were five million Africans in Azania (South Africa) and 349,837 colonial settlers. In their exclusive Parliament they were already talking about “their determination to make this a white man’s country.” The Hansards of 1910 and 1911 are full of this evidence. In 1913 the British colonial government allocated its settlers 93% of this country and only 7% to the then five million Africans. That was through the Native Land Act 1913.
On 20th July 1914 African leaders such as John Dube, Sol Plaatje, W.B. Rubusana and two others went to Britain. They handed a petition to King George V, demanding that the land must be distributed according to population numbers.
During this time a London Daily News paper reported the meeting between African leaders and King George. It said:
“In carving out estates for themselves in Africa the white races have shown little regard for the claims of the black man. They have expropriated his LAND and have taken away his economic freedom and have left him in a worse case than they found him…the blacks as compared to the whites are in proportion of four to one, but are in legal occupation of only one-fiteenth of the LAND.”
Land dispossession of the African people through the Native Land Act 1913 is this year one hundred years old. Why? Because in 1955 some leaders in this country with whom Sobukwe and his colleagues worked with abandoned the liberation struggle of the African people as pursued by the African Kings and the leaders of the 1912 South African Native National Congress.
These Freedom Cheater leaders declared that this African country no longer belonged to the African people, but to the coloniser and the colonised. They ignored the partitioning of Africa by Europeans at their Berlin Conference on 26 February 1885. They ignored that this African country was taken from the African people at gun point. The Freedom Cheaters literally endorsed the allocation of 13% to Africans in this country and 87% to the colonisers.
This reduced the anti-colonial struggle to a mere apartheid civil rights movement of fighting about sharing toilets and buses, instead of equitably sharing land and its resources – mineral wealth and fertile land, according to population numbers. This betrayal of the land question in South Africa is today entrenched in Section 25(7) of the so-called “New South Africa.”
This has today, created a “two nations” syndrome where one is extremely rich and white minority and another is extremely poor and 8O% African indigenous majority. The Marikana Massacre of 16 August 2012 is a signal of deepening dissatisfaction of this glaring economic inequality.
Asazi ke ukuba iyozalankmoni ngoba iinkosi izininzi azisathethe ngomhhlaba wokhokho. Nazo sezigcwele kula Freedom Cheater.
Sobukwe, however vowed that “We must speak the truth before we die.” The Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ Himself has said, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall liberate you.”
Lies are clever but they will not liberate this nation from poverty and from the chains of land dispossession of Native Land Act 1913 which is now 100 years old despite CODESA “Negotiations” and the acclaimed “Truth And Reconciliation Commission” – TRC.
Shango Lashu! Izwe Lethu! Tiko ra hina! Lefatshe la rona!
By Dr. Motsoko Pheko
This article is an address by the writer on the occassion of the 35th Sobukwe Day held on 2 March 2013 at Graffreinet, Eastern Cape.