Affirming Sobukwe's legacy is imperative

2018-07-15 12:02
Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. PHOTO: Drum Photographer Baileys Archives

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. PHOTO: Drum Photographer Baileys Archives

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The apartheid government feared Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe so much that they extended his imprisonment despite his having completed his three-year jail term for the pass laws defiance campaign in 1960.

In fact, the National Party created a special imprisonment dispensation for him, enacting a general law named the Sobukwe Clause. This is the only legal clause in South Africa named after an individual, further proving just how afraid the country’s white rulers were of him and what he stood for.

While he was imprisoned on Robben Island, he was kept in isolation for fear that he would rally the other prisoners to the cause with his powerful intellect and charisma.

To enact the Sobukwe Clause, a special sitting of the apartheid parliament continually rescinded his release dates to keep him unlawfully incarcerated. Sobukwe was also kept in solitary confinement. A confinement that lasted nine gruelling years.

Bereft of human contact for so long, Sobukwe’s psyche was severely damaged, resulting in extreme hallucinations, loss of memory, loss of language and delusions. He was practically driven mad, which was the outcome the white rulers hoped for from his perpetual solitary confinement.

Realising that he was tirelessly courageous in his mission and that what he believed in was indestructible, the authorities allegedly continually mixed his food with the glass of a finely crushed bottle to covertly kill him through a slow and painful death, medically diagnosed as cancer.

When they realised he was dying, they decided to release him from prison. Yet, still they feared him and so the Sobukwe Clause was not terminated but extended to be effective through a banning order that included not allowing him to be in the presence of more than five people.

To date, we are still looking for any recorded material of Sobukwe’s voice. We have heard radio speeches and seen television footage of the majority of our freedom fighters, but nothing of Sobukwe. Could it be true that he was not recorded audiovisually ever? Or is it more likely that he was feared so much that every recording of him was destroyed as a form of political censure?

Who among those of the apartheid regime still living can shed light on what really happened to Sobukwe? I take this opportunity as a seeker of truth and believer in Sobukwe’s vision to ask former apartheid minister of foreign affairs Pik Botha to tell us the truth about Sobukwe.

Why he was not released upon the completion of his three-year jail term? What led to the enacting of the Sobukwe Clause? What did Sobukwe say to them during his interrogations? Why, even when he was granted political asylum in the US, was he not allowed to go into exile?

I also ask these questions of the white intelligentsia who might have been privy to information about Sobukwe.

Why is there no book on Sobukwe written by white liberal intellectuals?

It cannot be possible that Benjamin Pogrund, a journalist and friend of Sobukwe at the time, is the only white man in South Africa who was sympathetic to Sobukwe and understood his vision. Pogrund was indeed ahead of his time and his book on Sobukwe – How Can a Man Die Better – made me cry many times and it took me a long time to finish the book because the chapter dealing with Sobukwe’s death tortured me to the inner parts of my soul as a human being.

Despite the absence of any recordings of this great son of Africa, he has still inspired people across the globe through his rare intellect and charisma, his fearless character and his ideology. The banning of our liberation movements after the Sharpeville massacre robbed us of future leadership in general and of Sobukwe in particular. It is my considered view that the apartheid ideologues knew very well that in Sobukwe, the African people had a political Jesus Christ.

Another pertinent question is: Why have the black intelligentsia not written books on Sobukwe as one of the great leaders of the liberation movement in South Africa? Is it because, like the white rulers before them, they are afraid of invoking his vision? Why in liberated South Africa do we find so few places named for Sobukwe?

To allow this obliteration of Sobukwe’s role in the liberation of this country would mean the enacting of the Sobukwe Clause again in democratic South Africa. We should be wary of rewriting the history of this country; we should not repeat the evils committed by the apartheid rulers who deliberately distorted the facts of our history.

We need to acknowledge that the Azanian People’s Organisation, ANC and Pan Africanist Congress collectively defeated apartheid using different strategies. Each of the three organisations used different methods but all had an identical aim – creating a society based on nonracism, nonsexism, democracy and all our other freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.

We all need to acknowledge that Sobukwe changed the political landscape of this country when he fearlessly walked out of his house in Soweto on March 21 1960 to confront the might and wrath of apartheid.

- Ka-Soko is an independent political analyst

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