Burning Spear News
Raising up Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe
By Sbusiso Xaba, President of the Pan Africanist Youth Congress (PAYCO) of Azania
AZANIA — Letlapa Mphahlele, President of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania, announced upon taking the reigns of the party in September 2006, that February 2007 was to be dedicated to PAC Founding President Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.
It was part of a general thrust of Africa History Month to raise the profile of African personalities who have contributed into shaping history. The month was to be called Sobukwe Month to give expression to the vision, mandate, values and immense contribution he made to the struggle of African people.
An Africa History Month should be unexpected in a free, self-determining Africa. This is an expression of the level of African people’s crisis as African history is still a sideshow depending on events, rather than being the informer of all social consciousness.
It is understandable to hold an Africa History Month in America or Europe as the indigenous people of those continents should learn about their history. It may be logical to expect to have a European history week or American history week on the African continent.
However, in the current situation, African children are bombarded in schools with European history and curtailed African history from a European perspective. These are things that should raise African national consciousness about our lack of liberation, freedom and self-determination.
Sobukwe Month met with excitement
Mphahlele set out on the second national tour of Azania on Sobukwe Month. The first tour was to share his vision for the party to its members in their own provinces, and the Sobukwe month tour was to share with African people in general the vision of the party from its inception through the life Sobukwe.
Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe’s life did not contradict his words. He was a man who loved Africa and dedicated himself to Africa completely. Sobukwe consciously chose to abandon the privilege of being in the sanctuary of academia in the University of Witwatersrand to serve Africa and her children.
The Sobukwe Month Programme targeted various social sectors namely students, youth, workers and African communities in general.
The month-long campaign was publicly launched in style at the Kgalishiwe Township in Kimberly. It was launched in the house where Sobukwe was banished to and was restricted from meeting more than one person at a time.
The tour went to 28 schools where African students met it with excitement. The students were thrilled to be exposed to this information that the exploitative system hides from them.
University campuses were at centre of the campaign with massive student rallies in two University of Free State campuses, the University of Pretoria, the University of Limpopo, Tshwane University of Technology, the University of Western Cape and Walter Sisulu University.
Workshops and community meetings were held in areas like the Khutsong, Qwaqwa, East London and George raising the question of what would be Sobukwe’s response to the conditions of African communities.
The month was closed out on a high note with a rally of at least 20,000 people in Graaf-Reinet on February 24.
The media response was phenomenal as many editors took various positive angles on the life of Sobukwe including examining his thought, ideology and his contribution to humanity. There were no less that 50 articles written in relation to Sobukwe month, excluding coverage of the various Sobukwe month events.
The message that was carried out in the month was the call to build an African sovereign nation led by the African working class for the benefit of Africa and her children scattered all over the world. The sound of the drum loudly proclaimed a vision of Africa, free of all forms of domination including neocolonialism.
Sobukwe Month was about creating the hungry for total liberation from global white supremacy, raising awareness of the neocolonial modus operands of the imperialists and firmly inspiring in Africans the responsibility to free ourselves.
The rise of PAC in midst of ANC’s betrayal
It is important to understand Robert Sobukwe in order to understand his politics and to understand what has made him such an excellent vehicle for African Liberation.
Sobukwe was born to poor farm worker parents in Graaff-Reinet in the Cape in 1924. The signs of brilliance he displayed as student earned him a scholarship to the Methodist School in Healdtown, in the Eastern Cape.
His active involvement in national politics began in 1948 when he joined the Congress Youth League, ANC’s youth organization, as a student in Fort Hare University. He was elected president of the Students’ Representative Council in 1949.
It was then that he first displayed his talent as an orator and the ideological clarity in his analysis of the connected elements that manifest themselves as a degrading and exploitive circumstance around African people.
He became a teacher at Standerton. However, revolutionary consciousness demanded the he defy the artificial professional ethics of being a teacher in the apartheid education system by speaking out in favour of the Defiance Campaign in 1952.
This resulted in him temporarily loosing the teaching post in Standerton. Sobukwe’s career was going well as in 1954 he started lecturing in African studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.
It was through The Africanist, a journal that he edited, that he expressed contempt of the African National Congress (ANC) for allowing itself to be dominated by what he termed “liberal left, multi-racialists” and rejected the idea of African struggle being controlled and directed by the European Diaspora. “The Prof”, as his friends called him, was instrumental in initiating a breakaway of the Africanists from the ANC that has become a tool for everyone except African people.
The dangerous document that the ANC called the “Freedom Charter” had replaced the revolutionary vision as documented in the Nation Building Programme of Action developed by Congress Youth League in 1949. The Freedom Charter gave the land to all who live in it thus systematically making it no longer the property of African people.
The fact that the land was the people’s source of conflict with the regime and the settler communities in general meant that Africanists could not be associated with such documents and an organization that embraces such a level of naivety or betrayal of fundamental principles.
Sobukwe: the most dangerous man to the apartheid regime
Sobukwe was elected the first president of the PAC at its inaugural congress in 1959. The PAC then launched the Anti-Pass Campaign on March 21, 1960. The system had used the control of movement for Africans to assure itself cheap labour and massive poverty stricken labour reservoirs. Its tool was the pass, which Africans were forced to carry with them or face terror.
In protest, Sobukwe led a march to the Orlando police station in Soweto to present himself for arrest for not having a pass, and he was joined by small groups of men from Phefeni, Dube and Orlando West on the way to the police station. Most of the marchers, including Sobukwe, were arrested.
There were marches in various parts of Azania with massacres reported in Langa, Cape Town and Sharpeville that brought the eyes of the world to the wicked system of apartheid, making it difficult for its allies across the world to justify its existence.
After Sobukwe’s arrest, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. At the end of his sentence, parliament enacted the General Law Amendment Act, also called the “Sobukwe clause.” This law empowered the minister of justice to prolong the detention of political prisoners indefinitely.
Sobukwe was moved to Robben Island, where he remained for six more years. The State’s justification was that Sobukwe was the most dangerous man to the apartheid system. It was for the same reason that he was isolated from other political prisoners in Robben Island and even for the creation of Robben Island. The State feared that he would contaminate “common criminals” in a normal prison with his teaching of a Free United Africa.
The regime believed that his presence will transform meek political figures from reformist political parties like the ANC into serious threats, inspired to seek fundament change of relation between the European Diaspora and Africans.
Sobukwe used his time in permanent solitary confinement preparing to govern by pursuing his studies. He obtained an honors degree in economics from the University of London.
In 1969, the already poisoned Sobukwe was put under house arrest in Kimberley. He started a law degree, which he completed in 1975, when he started his own law practice. He had built his firm to continue the mission of serving his people through free legal service for many before he met his death in February 1978.
Robert Sobukwe stood for the establishment of an African Socialist Democracy that would serve his people from Cape in the South to Cairo in the North and from Morocco in the West to Madagascar in the East. It was to be run by African people for the African people.
This African Socialist Democracy was to be based on the African values of sharing and cooperative working ensuring that the wealth was to be distributed equitably among Africa’s children. Decisions were to be informed by desire and aspirations of African people scattered all over the world. Sobukwe condemned the neocolonial governance in these little microstates on the continent.
Though Sobukwe is no longer here, his spirit lives on in the struggle for Africa’s freedom, and his vision of a united and liberated Africa will be forged with our own hands. Long live Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe!