Nourishing Human Ethos Through Sobukwe’s Testimony

Published on 27th February 2018

The 27th day of February 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of the death of South Africa’s remarkably outstanding leader we should often hear about in the post-apartheid South African parliament, Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe. However, we don’t often hear about him except from the PAC and APC MP’s who cut lonely figures in parliament. Sobukwe was probably mentioned many times in the apartheid parliament than he is mentioned in the post-apartheid ANC dominated parliament because the white apartheid government feared him. I wonder what is going through the mind of his 90 year old widow who is never mentioned even though she gave her husband to the struggle. The ANC government fails to acknowledge the contribution Mrs Veronica Sobukwe made in our struggle for liberation. A mere acknowledgement is not forthcoming. History is indeed written in the corridors of power.

If the ANC claims, as it does, that it liberated South Africa, is it concealing the role that the foremost liberator, Sobukwe, played in the history of South Africa’s struggle for liberation? Failing to acknowledge the role Sobukwe and the PAC played in this country’s struggle for liberation will not alter the facts. ANC leaders have probably not studied history. They didn’t learn that the West tried to distort and falsify history for over five centuries but failed. The West denied Africans their history. Denying a people their history is denying them their personality. By the same token, the ANC government is denying the people of South Africa their history which is tantamount to denying them their personality.

An interesting analogy happened between the Greeks and ancient Egyptians more than five thousand years ago. The Greeks claimed authorship of ancient Egyptian philosophy which they called Greek philosophy. However, as George G.M. James points out in Stolen Legacy, it’s the attitude of the Athenian government towards this so-called Greek philosophy which they regarded as foreign in origin and treated it accordingly. James continues, “Only a brief study of history is necessary to show that Greek philosophers were undesirable citizens, who throughout the period of their investigations were victims of relentless persecution, at the hands of the Athenian government. Anaxagoras was imprisoned and exiled; Socrates was executed; Plato was sold into slavery and Aristotle was indicted and exiled; while the earliest of them all, Pythagoras, was expelled from Croton to Italy.”

A brief study of history can teach the ANC government that it can’t distort and falsify history and get away with it. Sobukwe made his remarkable speech at Fort Hare about seven decades ago and the PAC was founded almost six decades ago for the ANC to succeed in distorting and falsifying the history that spans seven decades when the West failed to distort and falsify a history that spanned over five millennia.

One of the subjects the Greeks learned in ancient Egypt was ethics. The ancient Egyptians taught religious ethics called Maat whose meaning is truth, justice and righteousness and included divine leadership. What legacy has Sobukwe bequeathed to us?  Sobukwe believed in ethical leadership. This is borne by his famous quote, “True leadership demands complete subjugation of self, absolute honesty, integrity and uprightness of character – courage and fearlessness – and above all, a consuming love for one’s people.” He also believed in telling the truth and being forthright. In his 1949 Fort Hare speech Sobukwe said, “The battle is on. To me the struggle at the Hospital is more than a question of discipline in inverted commas. It is a struggle between Africa and Europe, between a twentieth century desire for self-realisation and a feudal conception of authority. And said, “It is meet that we speak the truth before we die.” He believed that a person should be genuine and be who they really are. He exhorted us to fight for freedom – for the right to call our souls our own and be prepared to pay the price.

Education to us means service to Africa, he said. In whatever branch of learning you are, you are there for 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.

Sobukwe believed in self-determination. At the beginning of that Fort Hare speech he had called for Fort Hare to be made an African College or University and become the centre of African Studies to which students in African Studies should come from all over Africa. He also called for the leadership and management of Fort Hare by Africans and questioned European epistemology. He said Fort Hare must express and lead African thought.

How sad that after seven decades and twenty four years after the ANC government came to power the philosophy of education, not only at Fort Hare but also throughout the country, has not changed. The schooling system controls our culture and when a people controls another people’s culture it means they are controlling their thinking processes.

Sobukwe spoke against the doctrine of hate because he said it can never take people anywhere. It is exacting, it warps the mind. That is why we preach the doctrine of love, love for Africa. Love for Africa was uppermost in Sobukwe’s mind. However, he was completely against all forms of oppression – white supremacy, colonialism, imperialism and capitalism. He was unequivocal that they must be destroyed. He was prepared to work with any man who was fighting for the liberation of Africa

He envisaged the rebirth of a new Africa and the heralding of a new dawn. In his 1959 inaugural speech, he continued the theme of a new Africa when he condemned the history of South Africa which he said fostered group prejudices and antagonisms which should not be transported to the new Africa. Unfortunately the impervious apartheid government and the ANC did not heed Sobukwe’s wise counsel. The much vaunted constitution of South Africa has transported to the “new” South Africa the prejudices and antagonisms of the old order. It has emerged that there is a group of white people who control ANC elected leaders and set the agenda. It is reported that they consist of about 38 white South Africans who came out of the apartheid era. They are former Politicians/Government officials, Economists, Generals (Police and Defence Force) and Intelligence operatives. It should be noted that some of them are now dead.

Politicians/Government officials that are involved are Pik Botha, Neil van Heerden, Roelf Meyer, F W De Klerk and Rusty Evans. Economists that are involved are Barend Du Plessis, Chris Stals, Chris Ball, Anton Rupert, Meyer Khan and Danie Cronje. Generals that are involved are Magnus Malan, Tienie Groenewald, Basie Smit and Mike Geldenhuis and Intelligence operatives involved are Dr. Neil Barnard and Sean Cleary. The names mentioned here are those of members of that group and don't include the people that co-operate with them.

If ANC leaders who receive copious commendation from the media and parliament were fighting for the liberation of South Africa the way Sobukwe did, why is there still an elite group of white people calling the shots who also forced their model of constitution down our throats? Besides having the property clause, this constitution centralises state power in the person and office of the executive president. He is the head of state, head of government, leader of the ruling party and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

The president is not elected by the people. When there is a change of guard in the ruling party before the term of office of the President ends, there is a recall and the one who has been elected president of the ruling party is elected by parliament but not by popular vote. This is not what Sobukwe fought for. He fought so that every person’s vote should count.

By Sam Ditshego.

The author is a fellow at the Panafricanist Research Institute. The view expressed are his own.


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