Sobukwe: Whites Are African Too

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!

Mugabe Ratshikuni

introverted, shy, nothing to write home about

9 thoughts on “Sobukwe: Whites Are African Too

  • September 6, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    I had the honor and privilege to hear the story of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe being told by a young South African man at the Robben Island Museum this past weekend. I must say that I was moved beyond words and came to the realisation of how poorly schooled we are on the history of South Africa. I am a Swazi, born and bred, but have been exposed to South Africa since a very young age. However, never had I heard anyone mention Sobukwe and his legacy the way that you and that young man on Robben Island have.
    My hope, in line with yours, is that the youth school themselves on the issues of their history and heritage and that they embrace the whole of it, and not just a portion of it.

  • September 7, 2010 at 2:26 am


    Thank you for an excellent article – I wish more authors had such an aptitude for writing. Pray, continue with this series… It is much needed.

  • September 7, 2010 at 6:48 am

    @Tenele. I also remember being on Robben Island, being shown the place where Sobukwe was held in isolation and being completely moved by this man’s story. Ur right we definitely need to get more acquainted with our history. I hope you will encourage other young people to take a greater interest in our history and to read more in order to know more.

    @Julian, thank you for the positive feedback. Sobukwe’s message and his ideals are definitely relevant for contemporary South Africa.

  • February 26, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    Henry Cele a staunch Zulu Nationalist????? How so because he played King Shaka in the series and film???? He was a liberal and had a fear of white people(a trait of nationalists anyway)…I worked with him and unless you mean another Henry Cele I totaly disagree, unless coaching AmaZulu FC makes you a Zulu Nationalist..

  • April 24, 2011 at 2:04 am

    It’s important to think with your head and not your heart. Don’t be naive and over idealistic. Multiracial societies are very, very, very, complex and almost impossible to make fair. One race will always dominate – usually the most educated, most shrewd, technically advanced and most experienced will control and dominate even if they are fewer in number. They wont wait for everybody else to catch up! If their culture is more intelligent, more complex and stronger they will dominate. This is not racist – it’s obvious. Things are still not equal. Africans are the most disadvantaged, the most deprived and the most wounded South Africans. South Africa needs to do more to nurture and stabilise its African population if you want a better society. You can’t treat everybody equally. They are the most deprived but are arguably the most important people in your society and you need to spend more money on them if you want a promising future for all.

  • April 26, 2011 at 11:16 am

    @ Verity, not sure you thought with your head in writing this comment. Yet again it betrays a certain lack of understanding of the key point of my article. Maybe you should review the article?

  • August 2, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Hi .

     I am writing a book on the life of Robert Sobukwe. The book is due for publication next year March. The operational title is : In a Class of His Own. The life o Robert Sobukwe.

    Thami Ka Plaatjie
    South Africa

  • September 12, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Azania, africa and thw world have lost a son! Azania would deftly be diffrnt had tata sobukwe lived longe! His views and his ideology will still live on! Continental unity, African nationalism and socialism are core ideology 4 Pan Africanism!

  • December 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Sobukwe made those utterances driven by diplomacy
    , just trying to embrace other races for the sake of harmony, what he meant is that any white upholding Afrikan values ,principles will indeed be an Afrikan in spirit and mind, that was not reference to changing and trading in, of their race per se. Sobukwe’s utterances, aren’t supposed to be used as mitigating element, in order to keep status quo, that of colonial order. The likes of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and lot more whites, are indeed Afrikans, for having stood side by side with the Natives in the trenches, bushes fighting against colonial, apartheid forces, isn’t so? It is against such background, that Professor, would claim whites are African too.


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