So over the past weekend I went on a road trip with three mates of mine. We drove down to Mpumalanga for a “boys weekend” away and over the course of the trip we talked a lot about pertinent issues such as race relations in South Africa, the lack of economic progress of the majority of black South Africans in a new, democratic South Africa and other such issues. As is typical in South Africa the issue of race cropped up in almost every discussion we had (of course this was amplified by the openly racist treatment we received from Blue Bull rugby fans, who are mostly Afrikaners, at Mbombela Stadium on Friday evening whilst we were watching the Bulls play the Mpumalanga Pumas.)What intrigued me was that we were a group of four young South Africans who all went to integrated schools, have had access to quality education and opportunities and yet in the midst of all of that we still found race and the unequal distribution of wealth along racial lines in South Africa, as a big generational challenge. This reminded me again of the importance of embracing the ideals, values and principles that Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe stood for and provides the perfect platform for this week’s column on the meaning and the message of the life of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe to contemporary South Africa.
- “Politically we stand for government of the Africans for the Africans by the Africans with everybody who owes his only loyalty to Africa and accepts the democratic rule of an African majority, being regarded as an African. We guarantee no minority rights because we are fighting precisely that group-exclusiveness which those who plead for minority rights would like to perpetuate. It is our view that if we have guaranteed individual liberties we have given the highest guarantee necessary and possible. I have said before, and I will still say so now, that I see no reason why, in a free, democratic Africa, a predominantly black electorate should not return a white man to parliament, for colour will count for nothing in a free Africa.”
- “I know I have been accused of being anti-white, not only by the government but also by others. But there is not one who can quote any statement of mine that bears that out. When I say ‘Africa for Africans’ I have always made clear that by African I mean those, of any colour, who accept Africa as their home. Colour does not mean anything to me.”
The sentiments expressed by Sobukwe in the above quotes pose a challenge to all South Africans. To black South Africans the challenge is to have a more inclusive definition and understanding of Africanness. Piet “Skiet” Rudolf, a staunch Afrikaner Nationalist and AWB hero is just as African as Henry Cele, a staunch Zulu Nationalist. Black South Africans need to embrace those of European descent who have been on this continent for generations, who consider this continent their home and who have a rich history on this continent, as fellow Africans.
White South Africans need to ensure that their primary loyalty is to Africa and African peoples, with a clear commitment to doing everything that is within their power to make Africa successful and prosperous instead of just retreating to their “Laager” and being critical without being willing to contribute anything constructive to the growth and development of the continent. Both black and white South Africans need to find their primary identity in their South Africanness and not in their race and ethnicity. This is what it means to be a nation.
Both black and white South Africans need to learn to vote for political candidates based on their ideological outlook, their competency and their ability to produce results, instead of the colour of their skin. With this kind of attitude it would be easy for a black majority to vote in a white leader into power because skin colour wouldn’t be the determining factor, only ability and efficiency. These are the kinds of challenges that Sobukwe poses to us as contemporary South Africans.
- “My instructions, therefore, are that our people must be taught now and continuously that in this campaign we are going to observe absolute non-violence.” (From a letter distributed by the PAC, written by Sobukwe advocating a non-violent resistance to the Pass laws, prior to the Sharpeville massacre.)
With the culture of violent protest that is prevalent in contemporary South Africa as evidenced by the recent lawless, violent strikes by trade union members, it is necessary that we heed these words from Sobukwe. Our people need to be constantly and continuously taught the principle of standing up for their rights in a non-violent, non-aggressive, non-threatening manner. It is important that we inculcate amongst our people a culture of non-violence lest we destroy ourselves under the guise of defending and promoting our individual and group rights as laid out in our constitution.
- “The old order is changing, ushering in a new order. The great revolution has started and Africa is the field of operation… We have made our choice and 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. Even as the dying so-called Roman civilization received new life from the barbarians, so also will the decaying so-called western civilization found a new and purer life from Africa.”
These words from Sobukwe, uttered over half a century ago are still relevant, not just to us as contemporary South Africans, but to all Africans. The world is changing right before our eyes, with massive realignment in the global geo-political sphere, as countries from the developing world are stepping to the fore and banding together to have a greater say on world issues, and it is imperative that we as Africans seize the opportunity afforded in this. With Africa being a key player in terms of its abundance of natural resources and China, India, the United States, Brazil and other countries increasingly looking to the continent to meet their growing demand, it is imperative that Africa take the lead and begin to set the terms with regards to trade and economic relations instead of just being dictated to. With a growing and increasingly affluent African middle class providing a huge market for global goods, the onus is on us as Africans to leverage this to our advantage. As stated by Sobukwe, “world civilization will not be complete until the African has made his full contribution.” Never has this been more pertinent than in the current times. It is time for Africa to make its contribution to the cause of world progress and to lead the way.
My hope is that the Sobukwe “series” will inspire you to be a better African citizen, to take steps to make your contribution to the development of Africa and to read up more on the life of one of Africa’s finest leaders ever: Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. If you are inspired to read up more on the life of Sobukwe, I encourage you to get yourself a copy of his brilliant biography, How Can Man Die Better written by his personal friend Benjamin Pogrund.
I end off with words from a speech given by Benjamin Pogrund at Sobukwe’s very emotional funeral, “And we have from Bob Sobukwe that belief in South Africa of which I spoke earlier. One united South Africa, free of colour or tribal divisions. A South Africa devoted to justice and democracy for all its people, without totalitarianism, communism or any other crushing of the human spirit. It was a dream in his lifetime; yet it is more than a dream for in it lies the future and the salvation of all of us. In all the years of his life, Bob Sobukwe did not deviate a fraction from his belief and always he wanted it to come about in peace. Going closely with this, what we have from him is a love of people.” Aluta continua!