Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe was the founding President of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) and he needs very little introduction. He is recognized today as having been one of the seminal thinkers of his time. Sobukwe was born on the 5th December, 1924 and died February 27th, 1978. After serving a term on Robben Island, he was subjected to an internal exile, a banishment that ultimately resulted in his death.
At an early age, I learnt about the following words that Sobukwe uttered in 1949:
“But I make no apologies. It is meet that we speak the truth before we die.”
These words have stayed with me right through to my adulthood. I now have a full appreciation of their significance. I also have a modicum of comprehension of the sacrifices, often ultimate, that many like Sobukwe, Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko made so that we could attain our freedom.
Recent events such as the #FeesMustFall protest action as well as latest series of confrontations at universities serve to bring into sharp relief just how incomplete the South African project is.
There has been heated discussions about the CODESA settlement recently. I share the view postulated by many in the #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall movements : that the agreements reached at that time of negotiation grossly favored white South Africans. In fact, F.W. De Klerk should be celebrated by white people as a hero. He negotiated a hugely favorable deal for his white constituency; a deal that ensured maximum protection of property rights, business interests and white privilege with minimum recrimination for the crime against humanity that was Apartheid.
My partner always reminds me during some of our numerous discussions on the issue, that this is as far as Mandela’s generation could take us; and that our anger against our erstwhile heroes is misplaced and serves no purpose. She says, quite soberly, that we should direct our energy at finishing the work at hand; and that our focus should be now be on action: how to dismantle, piece by piece the colonial structure that props up our unequal society. Mistakes have been made, but now we all need to work much harder to realize the wish of a prosperous Africa where all people are free to participate in their own agency and human development and that of their society, where no people are subjugated by another.
Sobukwe stated further in ’49 that:
“We must fight for freedom – for the right to call our souls our own. And we must pay the price.”
Sobukwe spoke extensively about education and it's important role towards achieving the goal of freedom for Africans. He addressed many of his speeches to tertiary level students in colleges and universities. It was with this in mind, that I conducted research on Sobukwe’s views on education, transformation and freedom in general.
Our tertiary institutions are grappling with a number of issues: their colonial heritage, the marginalization of black students, the exorbitant fees and a lack meaningful transformation. These were but some of the subjects that Sobukwe covered in many of his speeches.
What follows is part 1 of a conversation with Mangaliso Sobukwe. I ask the questions and Sobukwe answers them in his own words. Naturally, Sobukwe's legacy cannot be reflected in 5 questions. This is just the tip of the wealth of knowledge that Sobukwe left for all South Africans. This is the second in a series of conversations with prominent black leaders of yesteryear.
Our objective is to obtain and share a thorough understanding of the black condition (both nationally and internationally) in the 21st Century. Some questions we seek to answer: What the future holds for Black people? Are concepts such as non-racialism and/or multi-racialism the solution to the race problem? What is post-racialism? The first conversation was with Malcolm X. More to follow in the coming months….
What is the value of education in our struggle for freedom?
Education to us means service to Africa. In whatever branch of learning you are, you are there for Africa. You have a mission; we all have a mission. A nation to build… a contribution clear to make towards the blessing of mankind. We must be the embodiment of our people’s aspirations. And all we are required to do is to show the light and the masses will and the way. Watch our movements keenly and if you see any signs of “broad mindedness” or “reasonableness” in us, or if you hear us talk of practical experience as a modifier of man’s views, denounce us as traitors to Africa.
Transformation has been in the news lately; it seems that 21 years into our democracy, we still have a long way to go. What are your thoughts on transformation especially in education which has been in the forefront? In light of the centenary celebrations at the University of Fort Hare in 2015?
I said last year (1948) that (University of) Fort Hare must be to the African what Stellenbosch (University)is to the Afrikaner. It must be the barometer of African thought. It is interesting to note that the theory of Apartheid… was worked out at Stellenbosch by Eiselen¹ and his colleagues. That same Eiselen is Secretary for Native Affairs. But the important thing is that Stellenbosch is not only the expression of Afrikaner thought and feeling but is also the embodiment of their aspirations. So also must Fort Hare express and lead African thought.
Why did you choose African Nationalism as your contribution towards the struggle for freedom?
We have chosen African Nationalism because of its deep human significance; because of its inevitability and necessity to world progress. World civilization will not be complete until the African has made his full contribution. And even as the dying so-called Roman civilization received new life from the barbarians, so also will the decaying so-called western civilization find a new and purer life from Africa.
Are you racist? Are you anti-white?
I wish to make it clear again that we are anti-nobody. We are pro-Africa. We breathe, we dream, we live Africa; because Africa and humanity are inseperable. It is only by doing the same that the minorities in this land, the European, Coloured, and Indian, can secure mental and spiritual freedom. On the liberation of the African depends the liberation of the whole world. The future of the world lies with the oppressed and the Africans are the most oppressed people on earth.
You spoke extensively about Mental Slavery, could you please elaborate?
Now for over three hundred years, the white foreign ruling minority has used its power to inculcate in the African a 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…. We are reminding our people that acceptance of any indignity, any insult, any humiliation, is acceptance of inferiority. They must first think of themselves as men and women before they can demand to be treated as such. The campaign will free the mind of the African – and once the mind is free, the body will soon be free. Once white supremacy has become mentally untenable to our people, it will become physically untenable too –and will go.
Further Reading and Acknowledgments
The material used comes from public interviews, speeches made by Sobukwe. Gratitude to:
- The Pan African Congress of Azania (PAC) for their generosity in allowing us to use Hi-Res pictures of Sobukwe.
- The Speeches of Mangailso Robert Sobukwe, available from the PAC.
- Sobukwe papers from WITS: http://www.historicalpapers.wits.ac.za/?inventory/U/collections&c=A2618/R/
- How Can Man Die Better: The Life Of Robert Sobukwe, by Benjamin Pogrund
¹ Eiselen was an associate of PM Hendrik Verwoed, and is widely acknowledged as having played a significant role in the formation of Apartheid as a policy.)