By Tebogo Brown
Round about this time 93 years ago, on 5 December 1924 to be precise, greatness was born out of the savage oppression of the Africans and out of that oppression it grew like a giant. Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe was one of the greatest leaders that the black race ever produced, especially considering the conditions and circumstances of his time.
Like any other great fellow before him, he is simply known, in history, as Sobukwe The Great. As a president of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), he left a record of great achievements that none of his successors, with the exception of Zeph Mothopeng, could match. Like his contemporaries, among them Malcolm X, Sobukwe had the greatest leadership potential of any person to emerge directly from the black proletariat in the previous century. In another time, under different circumstances, he might have been a king – and a great one. He might have had the power to build a nation and he might have destroyed one.
Sobukwe was politically active in the mid-1940s as a student in Fort Hare. One of his first public functions at the college was to deliver an address at the Fresher’s Social on behalf of the new students. He made a scathing attack on the senior students for their snobbery, womanising and lack of patriotism. He said that in the circumstances, when they graduated, their qualifying diplomas would be equivalent to the “Baboon’s Arses” instead of Bachelors of Arts.
A highly charged emotional meeting of senior under-graduates concluded that Sobukwe should withdraw and apologise by letter to be circulated to all the surrounding educational institutions or otherwise be subjected to solitary confinement in the bathroom outside of class hours until he repented and that in that period of punishment, no one should speak to him. The dean of the college approved the decision and put it to Sobukwe, who defiantly refused to apologise and took his punishment with his head held high. Just over a week later, the whole student body stood down and rescinded it’s embarrassing decision. Sobukwe had won the first of many famous refusals to give up what he strongly believed in.
Later on in his life, this time as a former lecturer, addressing his fellow Africans, Sobukwe said, “we have crossed our historical rubicon and have arrived at the cross-roads. At 7:00AM on Monday, March 21, 1960, we launch positive action against the pass laws… At this stage of our struggle, we have a choice before us. Are we still prepared to remain partial human beings in our fatherland, or do we want to become citizens – men and women- in a democratic non-racial South Africa? How long shall we be called Bantu, Natives or stinking Kaffirs in our country? How long shall we remain rightless, voiceless and voteless in our fatherland? How long shall we live in the squartors of this land? How long shall we remain content to rot physically, spiritually and morally? How long shall we starve in the midst of plenty? On what meat does this our oppressive white-man-boss feed that he is so fat?”
March, 21 1960, Sobukwe launched the Anti-Pass Campaign that nearly collapsed South Africa’s economy. He fought the white men to his grave, taking off from where great kings such as king Mogale, Moshoeshoe, Motota and others left off. At the tender age of 35, he was well prepared to become Azania’s first black president. Thirty-nine years after his death, the black people of Azania are still fighting the white men, sadly this time without any kind of leadership.
Today Sobukwe turns 93, but men of his caliber never die. He is the best president South Africa never had. (1924 – forever and ever).