Today is the death anniversary of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, one of the most famous South African unsung heroes.
Robert Sobukwe was a charismatic revolutionary with the gift of inspiring the masses through his speeches. He was a very educated men who belonged to the Africanist wing of the African National Congress (ANC). After leaving the ANC in 1957, he become an editor of a well read newspaper, The Africanist, in JoBurg. In 1959, he became the founder and first president of Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), which can be attributed as the organization that gave birth to the Black Consciousness Movement that was made famous by Steve Biko.
On 21 March 1960, the PAC led a nationwide protest against the hated Pass Law which require black people to carry a pass book at all times. Sobukwe led a march to the local police station at Orlando, Soweto in order to openly defy the laws. He was joined on route by a few followers and, after presenting his pass to a police officer, he purposely made himself guilty under the terms of the Pass Law for being present in a region/area other than that allowed in his papers. In a similar protest the same day in Sharpeville, police opened fire on a crowd of PAC supporters, killing 69 in the Sharpeville Massacre. (Info taken from Robert Sobukwe Wikipedia)
It was the Sharpeville Massacre that gave the international community a glimpse of the cruelty and inhumane treatment Black South Africans were living in under the Apartheid regime.
Robert Sobukwe was a threat to the Apartheid system that they arrested him and sent him to Robben Island where he spent his years in solitary confinement. It was during his time in prison that he took advantage of his time and become more wiser by earning several degrees including a degree in Economics from the University of London.
When Sobukwe was released from prison he spent his remaining years under house arrest at Kimberley, South Africa, the capital of Northern Cape Province. He was very limited to to the things he could do but Sobukwe kept furthering his education. With the help of a friend, he was able to obtained a law degree and in 1975 started his own firm and began practicing in Kimberley. Two years later in 1977, Sobukwe was diagnosed with Lung cancer and after the Apartheid government refused his doctors orders to move freely under humanitarian and medical grounds, he passed away on February 27, 1978.
Let it be clear that the Apartheid regime killed Robert Sobukwe. It was in the interest of the regime to have Sobukwe dead than alive. What the regime didn’t realized was that with his death, 1,000 other Sobukwes’ were born. His spirit and struggle was kept alive through his comrades and those who were inspired by his vision. I would go as far as to say that in the work of Steve Biko, the spirit of Sobukwe was alive and ever present.
In honor of his life, here is a song by Miriam Makeba that always strikes a chord in my heart. It makes a reference to Sobukwe and may we hear this song today and remember his beautiful spirit and the love that he gave to his country and his fellow Brothers and Sisters.