Lessons Sobukwe and the Africanists Bequeathed to African People

Published on 27th August 2019

“It is better to starve in freedom than to have plenty in bondage” - Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, founding President of the Pan Africanist Congress.

I would like to quote Sobukwe verbatim, if we accept that the 1970 interview with him conducted by Gail Gerhart, was a true reflection of what he said. By ‘the Programme,’ Sobukwe refers to the 1949 Program of Action. [Party member] refers to a member of the Communist Party.

GG: Did you feel that the 1952 defiance campaign followed correctly from the program of action?

RMS: No. By this time the Program was already being compromised. The struggle was always to bring the ANC back to the Program. During the 1950s it strayed far away. If the Program had been followed we would all be living different lives today. Deviation began with the strikes in 1950. These were concocted by the left wing. We felt that they had nothing to do with us but were merely protests at the banning of the Communist Party. A split was already beginning in our ranks; the Youth League was on the decline. Some were going over to the Communists.

The main thing we didn't like about the Defiance Campaign was the leadership role taken by Indians and whites. It was a lesson we had learned, that whenever these groups were involved in any action, you had the Africans just "taking a back seat," sitting back and letting these people run things. We felt this had to be overcome and that Africans had to learn to take the initiative, to do things for themselves. I recognized there were some non-Africans who fully identified with us and were prepared to sacrifice, but as a matter of principle we couldn't let these people take any part because of the bad psychological effect this had on our people.

One reason some Africans welcomed Indian and white support was that as of the time of the Defiance Campaign it became clear that campaigns would always end in everyone needing a lawyer and money for defense. This increased dependence on non-Africans.

When the split began, we knew that Sisulu had gone over and Mandela had gone over. Tambo, we knew "was resisting." We saw this happening in the Youth League. I myself was national president - no, national secretary. Pitje was president. We were elected in December 1949 at the ANC conference. We saw this split happening, but we were just too weak to prevent it.

When J B Marks ran for President of the Transvaal, we were opposed to him. We backed Selope Thema. We knew that if Thema became president, we - the nationalists in the Youth League - would be able to use him to promote our line. But Marks was very popular, partly because he was well known from the 1946 mine strike, and he won. It didn't make sense to most people to oppose him simply because he was a Communist [Party member].

That is Sobukwe speaking in 1970 about what happened in the early 1950’s. He also said the Progamme of Action was drafted by him and Godfrey Pitje and also said they consulted Professor Z K Matthews. If you read other books by ANC inclined authors such as that of Eleanor Sisulu, for example, you will get a different story.

The rot in the ANC began during the time of the Defiance Campaign when Africans were being corrupted and captured through the use of money. Sobukwe witnessed his ANC comrades who are today being canonised being bought off by Indians and whites. He witnessed our struggle for national liberation being hijacked by Indians and whites. It is these groups of people who subverted the Programme of Action and supplanted it with the Freedom Charter.

Speaking on the race question during his 1959 inaugural address - and addressing himself to the Indian merchant class - Sobukwe said: 

“Then there is the Indian foreign minority group. This group came to this country not as imperialists or colonialists, but as indentured labourers. In the South African set up of today, this group is an oppressed minority. But there are some members of this group, the merchant class in particular, who have become tainted with the virus of cultural supremacy and national arrogance. This class identifies itself, by and large, with the oppressor but, significantly, this is the group which provides the political leadership of the Indian people in South Africa. And all that the politics of this class have meant up to now is preservation and defence of the sectional interests of the Indian merchant class. The down-trodden, poor “stinking coolies” of Natal who, alone, as a result of the pressure of material conditions, can identify themselves with the indigenous African majority in the struggle to overthrow white supremacy, have not yet produced their leadership. We hope they will do so soon.”

We who have drank from Sobukwe’s fount of knowledge are watching, not so much with amazement but with anger, when some people in the Charterist camp knock their heads together and at some point run around like headless chickens feigning ignorance of the teachings of Sobukwe about the Indian merchant class when they say Gupta this Gordhan that. Sobukwe said it sixty years ago. He was even more scathing about white supremacy. People are now saying the Ruperts this the Oppenheimers that. H F Verwoerd locked up Sobukwe because he feared his ideas only to be assassinated by the Ruperts, Oppenheimers, Wieses and the Anglo American Empire. Verwoerd has perhaps come to his senses in his grave and conceded, “I should have listened to Sobukwe instead of having jailed him through kangaroo courts and a whites-only parliament.”

Sobukwe was foresighted about money polluting African people’s politics thereby undermining our national struggle for liberation and diverting our attention away from the objectives of the revolution. This CR17 debacle is typical of the ANC’s modus operandi. It is not CR17 alone that netted huge sums of money but all those who campaigned, NDZ 17, DA and EFF must also disclose their funders. This corruption didn’t even begin with CR17. The way the ANC under Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994 was corrupt, money changing hands and the spilling of blood. ANC leaders were bought off, leaders such as PAC’s Jafta Masemola and APLA’s Sabelo Phama were assassinated. Zeph Mothopeng was poisoned. As author of Inside the South African Reserve Bank: Its Origins and Secrets Exposed, Stephen Mitford Goodson said, the Rothschilds got South Africa for small change. Some crooked politicians were paid but the African people are not free.

Sobukwe was not crazy when he said he would rather starve in freedom than to have plenty in bondage. Dr John Hendrik Clarke said we should not allow Europeans (whites) to give us education because if they gave us education they can take it back. What a person is given can be taken back. Dr Clarke said we should earn that education because if we earned it nobody will take it away from us. Money given to those greedy politicians can be taken back from them. But if we earned or won our freedom nobody will take it away from us. 

What Sobukwe and the Africanists bequeathed to us nobody will take away from us.

By Sam Ditshego  

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