As I was reading the daily papers over the past week I came I across a story that reminded me of one of South Africa’s finest sons, a true patriot, a genuine revolutionary, a visionary leader and an exemplary intellectual: the founder-president of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. The story in question was about a call by the ruling party in South Africa for more people to volunteer in order to ensure better delivery of services. Whilst reading that story I came across a comment from a member of the public who said, “I wish that the politicians themselves would lead the way by volunteering first, setting the example for the public to follow.” This immediately reminded me of the words of Benjamin Pogrund, Robert Sobukwe’s close friend and personal biographer, commenting on Sobukwe in his brilliant biography, How Can Man Die Better, “He asked people to do only what he himself was prepared to do.” As I reflected on these words and the calibre of leader that Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe was, it struck me that the legacy of Sobukwe is almost completely forgotten in contemporary South Africa and that his life and his message still holds many valuable lessons for us today. I have always held that South Africa’s three greatest political leaders of the last century are: Anton Muziwakhe Lembede, Steven Bantu Biko and Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. Sadly these three leaders are almost completely forgotten in a country that has no regard for its history and its rich legacy of leadership. Of these three Sobukwe undoubtedly stood head and shoulders above, and it saddened me that he is so little remembered in a country that he loved so deeply and sacrificed so much for. I remembered Sobukwe’s own words, uttered as a young student in the 1940s, with deep sadness, “this consolation I have, however, that Africa never forgets, and these martyrs of freedom, these young and budding men and women, will be remembered and honoured when Africa comes into her own.” Sadly we have forgotten. We have forgotten to honour the immense contribution made by Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe to our liberation and the great vision that inspired so many in the darkest days of our liberation struggle. I began to think of what Sobukwe has to say to us as contemporary South Africans committed to building a prosperous, successful nation. I decided to write a series of columns consisting of a few quotes from Sobukwe and the message that they carry for us in the here and now.
- “Take away all bitterness from us and help us to work for a country where we will all love each other, and not hate each other because hate will destroy us all.” (Prayer by Sobukwe when being visited by Alex Borraine while at Groote Schuur hospital)
- “A doctrine of hate can never take people anywhere. It is too exacting. It warps the mind. That is why we preach the doctrine of love, love for Africa. We can never do enough for Africa, nor can we love her enough. The more we do for her, the more we wish to do. I am sure that I am speaking for the whole of young Africa when I say that we are prepared to work with any man who is fighting for the liberation of Africa within our lifetime.”
- “Let me plead with you, lovers of my Africa, to carry with you into the world the vision of a new Africa, an Africa reborn, an Africa rejuvenated, an Africa re-created, young Africa. We are the first glimmers of a new dawn.” (speech at the Fort Hare Completer’s Social in 1949)
- “I believe it was God’s will that I should come here to realise how much love there is in the world and to get my sense of values right. Above all else I have had a chance to know myself-neither saint nor devil: just a bundle of capabilities in the hands of God.” (Sobukwe on 20 November 1963 talking about life in prison)
- “You have seen by now what education means to us: the identification of ourselves with the masses. Education to us means service to Africa. You have a mission; we all have a mission. A nation to build we have, a God to glorify, 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 follow.”