The speeches of Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe are persuasive, incisive and evocative from the time he was at Fort Hare University until he was arrested in 1960. The imagery he painted in some of his speeches depicted natural phenomena or nature, and the descriptive terms he used left indelible impressions on his audiences. I once described him as a wordsmith in one of my writings more than ten years ago. The constant theme in Sobukwe’s speeches is the liberation of Africa, African unity and the destruction of white supremacy and its attendant vices of colonialism, imperialism and capitalism.
In his 1949 speech at Fort Hare he said “We are seeing today the germination of the seeds of decay inherent in Capitalism; we discern the first shoots of the tree of Socialism. He also said “We are the first glimmers of a new dawn. And if we are persecuted for our views, we should remember, as the African saying goes, that it is darkest before dawn…”
Let me now focus on his 1959 speeches beginning with his inaugural address to the founding congress of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania. There is no doubt, he said, that with the liquidation of Western imperialism and colonialism in Asia, the Capitalist market has shrunk considerably. As a result, Africa has become the happy hunting ground of adventuristic capital. He continued, “There is again a scramble for Africa and both the Soviet Union and the United States of America are trying to win the loyalty of the African states.”
One wonders what goes through the minds of some African leaders who were cautioned by Sobukwe about the second scramble for Africa almost six decades ago, yet there are US military bases known as ‘Africom’ established on the continent of Africa. The US plans to occupy every strategic part of the continent, according to an article from the World Socialist Web Site of 11 December 2015 published under the headline “Pentagon announces worldwide expansion of US military bases.”
What goes through the minds of the heads of state of South Africa, Nigeria and Gabon who voted in favour of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which resulted in the destruction of Libya?
Sobukwe identified white supremacy/white domination/herrenvolkism as one of the untenable, cardinal sins of whites or Europeans on the continent so much that in his inaugural address he mentioned it eight times and later that year, mentioned it sixteen times in the State of the Nation address. Herrenvolkism is the theory of a master race which emanated from Germany.
On the race question, Sobukwe said, “The Africanists take the view that there is only one race to which all belong, and that is the human race. In our vocabulary, therefore, the word ‘race’ as applied to man, has no plural form. We do, however, admit the existence of observable physical differences between various groups of people, but these are the result of a number of factors, chief among which has been geographical isolation.” He further stated that “In Africa, the myth of race has been propounded and propagated by the imperialists and colonialists from Europe, in order to facilitate and justify their inhuman exploitation of the indigenous people of the land. It is from this myth of race with its attendant claims of cultural superiority that the doctrine of white supremacy stems.”
Sobukwe debunked the myth that whites or Europeans were superior to Africans and put to rest the idea of white supremacy almost sixty years ago and he said it is our (the PAC) contention that true democracy can be established in South Africa and on the continent as a whole, only when white supremacy has been destroyed. According to Sobukwe, to achieve lasting peace in Africa and find solution to the economic, social, and political problems of the continent, a government must be based on a democratic principle. This means that white supremacy, under whatever guise it manifests itself, must be destroyed. He said Europeans were responsible for the pernicious doctrine of white supremacy which has resulted in the humiliation and degradation of the indigenous African people.
Sobukwe also spoke about the Indian foreign minority group who came to this country not as imperialists or colonialists, but as indentured labourers. In the South African set-up of today, he said, this group is an oppressed minority. But there are some members of this group, the merchant class in particular, who have become tainted with the virus of cultural supremacy and national arrogance.
Sobukwe said the Africanists do not at all subscribe to the fashionable doctrine of South African exceptionalism.
Of multiracialism, he said the following: “Against multiracialism, we have the objection, that the history of South Africa has fostered group prejudices and antagonisms, and if we have to maintain the same group exclusiveness, parading under the term of multi-racialism, we shall be transporting to the new Africa these very antagonisms and conflicts. Further, multi-racialism is in fact a pandering to European bigotry and arrogance. It is a method of safeguarding white interests irrespective of population figures. In that sense it is a complete negation of democracy. To us the term ‘multi-racialism’ implies that there are such basic inseparable differences between the various national groups here that the best course is to keep them permanently distinctive in a kind of democratic apartheid. That to us is racialism multiplied, which is what the term truly connotes.”
What Sobukwe said is clear and demonstrates his vision and foresight as we have recently witnessed at this country’s universities where white students and their parents wanted to maintain group exclusiveness, prejudices and antagonism. This also shows how Nelson Mandela was wrong when he said in the early 1990’s that white people’s fears are genuine and that African people have unrealistic expectations. I didn’t see any fear in the white people who were punching African students at the rugby field of the University of the Free State and those who fought against African students at the University of Pretoria. It is clear from Sobukwe’s speeches that African people can’t have unrealistic expectations after more than three hundred years of oppression.
The idea of a “rainbow nation” transported to the new Africa the antagonisms and conflicts Sobukwe spoke about in 1959. However, the ANC just does not get it. They are faltering to this day as to how to combat white supremacy (racism). It is worth imparting to the youth the knowledge that Sobukwe is condemning multi-racialism because the Freedom Charter ANC at some stage in their history espoused multi-racialism – which they no longer want to be associated with – and abandoned it surreptitiously and embraced non-racialism which was advocated by Sobukwe and the PAC. The ANC has never thanked Sobukwe and the PAC for the concept of non-racialism.
Sobukwe was a Pan Africanist as can be attested in many statements he made in his 1959 inaugural address. For an example, Sobukwe stated that “Besides the sense of common historical fate that we share with the countries of Africa, it is imperative for purely practical reasons that the whole of Africa be united into a single unit, centrally controlled. Only in that way can we solve the immense problems that face the continent.” Sobukwe continued stating that “It is for the reasons stated above that we admire, bless and identify ourselves with the entire nationalist movement in Africa. They are the core, the basic units, the individual cells of that large organism envisaged, namely, the United States of Africa”.
Sobukwe’s undying commitment to Africa as alluded to above made him a target not only of the white minority government in South Africa but the whole western world which is even to this day working hard to expunge Sobukwe’s name from the annals of African history, the international media and from the collective consciousness of the African people. I wish to substantiate the abovementioned conclusion. In his book MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations published in 2000, university lecturer Steven Dorril writes, “Most MI6 efforts in Africa were stymied by inter-agency demarcation disputes and internal Whitehall political battles. MI6 was unable to open stations where the service felt they were needed. It did, however, occasionally conduct robust – or what the service called ‘disruptive’ – operations. Including Africa as part of his remit, Bruce-Lockhart concentrated his efforts on Northern Rhodesia and the former Belgian Congo, which has valuable uranium deposits…” The author continued stating that “This conspiracy view of Soviet penetration of Africa was shared by (George) Young’s right-wing ‘friends’, who took an extreme and racist view of Africa and Africans. The official line, however, was that ‘Communism (amongst African political movements) has made no great impact’ and that the idea of pan-Africanism could be discounted.”
The first point to note is that this British spy agency is discussing the mineral wealth of Zambia which was called Northern Rhodesia and Congo which is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo. If Africa was united as Sobukwe and other leaders such as Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah suggested and worked towards that goal, the West would not have a chance to exploit Africa’s mineral wealth. The second point is that this British spy agency says Pan Africanism could be discounted which clearly shows the West is against Pan Africanism and have frustrated efforts by well-meaning African leaders to unite the African continent under the banner of the United States of Africa. The evidence is there for all to see that all the leaders I mentioned were overthrown and/or assassinated.
Sobukwe was arrested in March 1960 after the anti-pass campaign that culminated in the shooting of unarmed civilians in Sharpeville and Langa. Sobukwe never enjoyed freedom since that day in March 1960 until his death on February 27, 1978. When he died he was under South African government restriction. He could not travel abroad even on humanitarian grounds to seek medical treatment or employment abroad.
On 14th October 1960, Patrice Lumumba was deposed in a CIA, MI6 and the Belgian government backed coup and installed Joseph Mobutu who changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko. On the 17th January 1961, Lumumba was assassinated and the manner in which he was murdered and placed in a vat of acid is captured in Karl Evanzz’s book The Judas Factor:
The Plot to Kill Malcolm X published in 1992. In 1966, Nkrumah was overthrown by the CIA as revealed in The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X. In 2011 Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown by the UN and NATO, publicly lynched and assassinated.
On February 3, 1960 British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told the all-white South African parliament in Cape Town that, “the most striking of all the impressions I have formed since I left London is of this African national consciousness. In different places it takes different forms, but it is happening everywhere. The wind of change is blowing through this continent…The great issue in this second part of the twentieth century is whether the uncommitted people of Asia and Africa will swing to the East of the West”. This speech by Macmillan is known as “the wind of change” speech even by Africans. But as we can see for ourselves, Macmillan was worried about this African national consciousness and wondered whether the uncommitted people of Asia and Africa will swing to the East or the West. Macmillan could not have been oblivious to Sobukwe’s inaugural address delivered eleven months earlier in which he said, “It is at this time, when fascist tyranny has reached its zenith in South Africa, that Africa’s loyalty is being competed for. And the question is, what is our answer? Sobukwe provided the answer and stated that “Our answer, Mr. Speaker and children of the soil, has been given by African leaders of the continent. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah has repeatedly stated that in international affairs, Africa wishes to pursue a policy of positive neutrality, allying herself to neither of the existing blocs but, in the words of Dr. Nnandi Azikiwe of Nigeria, remaining ‘independent in all things but neutral in none that affect the destiny of Africa.”
In his two 1959 speeches, Sobukwe mentioned the phrase African personality about four times. What is this African personality? According to another great African thinker and Pan Africanist Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop, African personality is a cultural identity which relates an individual to his people. Diop says there are three factors that go to make up the collective personality of a people. They are the historical factor, linguistic factor and psychological factor. These factors, particularly the psychological aspects, go through constant change, while the linguistic and historic aspects provide coordination of relationships. He pointed out that the Blacks in the Diaspora have had the linguistic ties cut but the historic factor remains as strong as ever, perpetuated by memory. The historic factor is the cultural cement which unites the disparate elements of a people to make a whole. Historical consciousness is the most solid rampart of the cultural security of a people. Historical continuity is the effective arm of a people against outside cultural aggression. A people without an historical consciousness is just a population. The loss of historical continuity can lead to stagnation and retrogression.
In the third paragraph of his inaugural address, Sobukwe states that “In the course of the past two years we have seen man breaking asunder, with dramatic suddenness, the chains that have bound his mind, solving problems which for ages it had been regarded as sacrilege even to attempt to solve.”
Speaking about mental liberation in August 1959, Sobukwe said, “Now 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…….It is our task to exorcise this slave mentality and to impart to the African masses that sense of self-reliance which will make them choose to starve in freedom rather than have plenty in bondage, the self-reliance that will make them prefer self-government to the good government preferred by the ANC’s leader.”
Sobukwe continued to say that once the Status Campaign has been launched, the masses will themselves come forward with suggestions for the extension of the area of assault – and once that happens, the twilight of white supremacy and the dawn of African independence in this part of the continent will have set in.
On the eve of the 21 March 1960 anti-pass campaign, Sobukwe cautioned all regions and branches of the PAC to be aware that white rulers are going to be extremely ruthless but that “we must meet their hysterical brutality with calm, iron determination. We are fighting for the noblest cause on earth, the liberation of mankind. They are fighting to entrench an outworn, anachronistic vile system of oppression. We represent progress. They represent decadence. We represent the fresh fragrance of flowers in bloom; they represent the rancid smell of decaying vegetation. We have the whole continent on our side. We have history on our side. We will win!”
The ANC government has declared March 21 a national holiday, a day which came about as a result of the brilliant organising ideas of Sobukwe and his persuasive language. But they don’t want to recognize Sobukwe, the person who, with the PAC, made it possible for us to be free today. There must be a national holiday on either the 27th February or 5th December in memory of this great leader.
By Sam Ditshego