On this 41st anniversary of the death of the founding President of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe it is worth noting that the people of South Africa relate to Sobukwe according to their backgrounds and their level of knowledge of the man.
The majority of white people, the so-called Coloureds and Indians, especially white people, pretend he never existed because he constantly reminded them that they were not superior to Africans. His contemporaries in the ANC were motivated by jealousy because he was more intelligent and politically astute than all of them put together. He was unmatched in his oratory skills and appealed to the intellect of the oppressed African people through his Africanist approach. His contemporaries in the ANC did not have complimentary words about him. Consequently, when they were catapulted to power in 1994 through an imperialist brokered negotiated settlement, they tried to write Sobukwe out of history and to erase his memory from the collective consciousness of the African people.
The writing of Sobukwe out of South Africa’s history is extended to the media because the media is still owned and controlled by white people. Ms Sakina Kamwendo who works for the public broadcaster does not have a political axe to grind. She does speak about Sobukwe and other PAC leaders such as Jafta Masemola, the longest serving political prisoner on Robben Island in modern history and Zeph Mothopeng. Venerable seats of learning such as universities and colleges are also part of writing Sobukwe out of history as if Sobukwe was not a university lecturer and an intellectual par excellence. South African universities may have African Vice Chancellors but they are still citadels of white supremacy.
There are those who relate to Sobukwe, because of the enormous contribution he made to our struggle for liberation. The yardstick should be the contribution Sobukwe made to our struggle for liberation and not our background, political party affiliation or idiosyncrasies.
Sobukwe gave his life to the struggle. He and his late wife and children suffered for the liberation of South Africa and he did not do it so that people should feel pity for him. He did it as his bounden duty to the oppressed African people. Sobukwe also believed white people too needed to be liberated from their false superiority complex. As he said, we are fighting for the noblest cause on earth, the liberation of mankind.
Sobukwe told white people inconvenient truths which they are too happy to ignore. White people are so happy with the political settlement they got from secret deals they clinched with the ANC that they ignored the wise words of Sobukwe that South Africa will have peace and be free only when everybody, including white people themselves, are free. The freedom they delude themselves that they have is ephemeral as long as they throw the crumbs to the African people from their tables when they are full and bloated.
Sobukwe diagnosed racist South Africa’s political and socio-economic problems accurately and meticulously and he was prepared to die for what he believed in. Indeed he died for his beliefs. Because he came up with an accurate and meticulous diagnosis of South Africa’s problems, he was never allowed to be a free man until he died on the 27th February 1978.
To show that Sobukwe unnerved the apartheid government and the West with his correct diagnosis of the South African situation, the PAC which he helped found, was banned eleven months after its existence. The ANC had been in existence for forty eight years without shaking the racist South African government to its very foundation. Its fight for liberation was watered down by the influence of white people in the 1950s, the abandonment of the 1949 Programme of Action and subsequent adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1958. The Freedom Charter emerged in 1955 but was adopted at the ANC’s 1958 elective conference after Sobukwe and the Africanists were prevented from participating at that conference. Sobukwe was one of the Congress Youth League (CYL) leaders who drafted the Programme of Action.
The CYL is also known as the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). It was the majority of members of this CYL or ANCYL who went to form the PAC in 1959. Ashby Peter Mda, who became CYL leader after the death in 1947 of its founding President Anton Lembede, wrote that Sobukwe led the PAC brilliantly. Mda heard about Sobukwe when Sobukwe was about to complete High School but met him at Fort Hare University in the late 1940s.
The PAC is no doubt a revolutionary organisation which pursues its Pan Africanist ideals relentlessly although it is now plagued by division. That division, some people believe, is as a result of one leader being in the payroll of the ruling ANC government. Having a leader like this one is not a new thing in politics. The PAC should do its best to make sure this never happens again and to completely outlaw factionalism although there is provision for dealing with factionalism in the PAC constitution.
Sobukwe’s fight for liberation is an unfinished business which must be relentlessly pursued by a united PAC until its goals are achieved to demonstrate that Sobukwe did not die in vain. This is not in reference to electoral politics which motivate some people to fight for leadership positions within the PAC. Electoral politics is the same as seeking accommodation within the white power structure because the outcomes are manipulated. Political parties are allocated seats according to how they are perceived in Britain and Washington. According to Sobukwe’s diagnosis of the South African situation, then and extant – there was/is no seeking of accommodation within the white power structure. He demonstrated his disdain and rejection of the racist institutions in 1960 after the anti-pass campaign when he and other PAC leaders refused to plead before a white magistrate on the basis that they did not recognise the jurisdiction of a racist court whose laws were enacted without input from the African people.
The apartheid government failed to remove Sobukwe’s name from the collective memory of the African people by expunging it from the media and history books and by hiding all his video and audio recordings. The ANC government continued where the apartheid government left off. But to the ANC’s chagrin, the youth and university students are now talking about Sobukwe.
There is no way Britain and Washington can have a favourable impression about the PAC because the PAC is an anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist and anti-white supremacist organisation. The West’s perception of Sobukwe and the PAC is informed by the West’s anti-Pan Africanism. As a result, the PAC will never win elections.
The spirit and memory of Sobukwe should forever remain in our hearts and minds.
By Sam Ditshego