Sobukwe's doctor pays tribute to him on his birthday

2017-12-05 19:45
South African struggle hero Robert Sobukwe, who founded the Pan Africanist Congress in opposition to the apartheid regime. (Photo bay Gallo Images/Sowetan).

South African struggle hero Robert Sobukwe, who founded the Pan Africanist Congress in opposition to the apartheid regime. (Photo bay Gallo Images/Sowetan).

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WATCH: ‘The President South Africa never had’ - PAC commemorates founder, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe's 93rd birthday

2017-12-05 17:16

South Africa and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) commemorated what would’ve been the late Robert Sobukwe’s 93rd birthday. The PAC leader was born on this day in 1924. Watch. WATCH

Johannesburg - While recovering from an extensive in surgery Cape Town, struggle hero and PAC leader Robert Sobukwe's only wish was to see Robben Island prison, where he was held in solitary confinement for seven years.

Retired cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Jose De Nobrega, recalled his time with Sobukwe when he was admitted and treated at the historic unit at Groote Schuur Hospital - run by world renowned cardiac surgeon, Professor Christiaan Barnard.

In an interview with Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, De Nobrega spoke of his fondest memories with Sobukwe.

Sobukwe was considered the most dangerous political terrorist by the apartheid government, with the Sobukwe clause enacted to ensure his lifetime imprisonment in Robben Island.

During his time in prison, Sobukwe attained a degree in Economics from the University of London.

He was later released to Kimberly, where he remained under house arrest and studied towards his law degree and began his practice.

"He got sick. The doctor in Kimberly said: 'You have got to go to a specialist.' He said he wanted to come to Cape Town," Nobrega recalled.

When he was admitted to the Groote Schuur Hospital and was under the care of Barnard's right-hand man who had been part of Barnard's team during the first heart transplant in 1967.

Sobukwe had to undergo an operation to remove one lung, however, his cancer had advanced.

"The pneumonectomy did not cure the cancer and, under those circumstances, the patient had to undergo a recovery process of a couple of weeks with a view to further radiotherapy."

De Nobrega recalled how, during Sobukwe's recovery in hospital, Barnard, with great interest, came for a visit.

"When Chris Barnard came back from overseas and he heard of Sobukwe being in the ward, he walked into his room and chatted to him.

"He said: 'Maybe you would like to do an interview with me because I have got this team arriving from Paris and they are coming to do an interview and perhaps we can have a little chat.'"

Barnard's offer was politely declined by Sobukwe.

'He just sat there looking at Robben Island'

De Nobrega told of how Barnard chased away two security police who were permanently stationed outside Sobukwe's room.

"Barnard went up to them and he chased them out of the ward as if they were 12-year-old school boys and they had to go and sit in the parking area..."

While in recovery, Sobukwe expressed his wish of recovering at a family home in Newlands, Cape Town.

"By the time they arrived in Newlands, security police arrived with a force of police. It was unbelievable because it was overwhelming. Here is poor Sobukwe, suffering from lung cancer with a huge surgery, his wife with him and they were arrested at the house in Newlands. Veronica said: 'You are taking my husband back to Professor Barnard.'"

De Nobrega said he then took charge offering to house them for the duration of his recovery. "For three weeks he stayed with me...He was hugely intelligent. At night we use to sit there and talk about anything and everything."

After three weeks, De Nobrega recalls asking Sobukwe to go for a drive.

"We went to the car and I said: 'Where do you want to go,' and he said he wanted to go to Signal Hill. I took him to Signal Hill. When we got there I said: 'What do you want to do now,' and he said: 'I want to see Robben Island.' He didn't say a word. He just sat there looking at Robben Island. That was his outing for the day."

All video and audio records of Sobukwe were destroyed. December 5 marks Sobukwe's 93rd birthday.

Political leaders have taken to social media to wish the late icon a happy birthday.

December 3 marked the 50th anniversary of the pioneering operation in which Barnard transferred the heart of a person, who had died of a head injury, to Louis Washkansky, 54.

He lived for 18 days until he died of pneumonia.

Read more on:    groote schuur hospital  |  robert sobukwe  |  politics

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