A Consistent Leader Who Was an Independent, Intellectual Giant

Cape Times (South Africa), February 27, 2008 | Go to article overview

A Consistent Leader Who Was an Independent, Intellectual Giant


BYLINE: RK SIZANI

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, the president of the Pan-Africanist Congress and one of the greatest leaders of the African people. If Sobukwe had lived, he would have been 84 on December 5, 2008.

The life story of Sobukwe is a history of service, suffering and sacrifice. He provided principled, consistent, committed, decisive and selfless leadership to the cause of African liberation.

He could have lived a comfortable middle-class life with his family. He was a university graduate, a teacher and a university lecturer; his wife was a qualified nurse. But he chose to "starve in freedom rather than to live in opulence in bondage".

He was a courageous and fearless leader. He did not mind being ostracised or victimised for "speaking truth to power" or for standing for what he truly believed in.

The fundamental features of his politics were African nationalism, socialist democracy, pan-Africanism and internationalism.

African nationalism was to unite the African people in the fight against white domination.

Africanists believed in only one race - the human race. But Sobukwe argued that Africans were the key and cornerstone of the struggle, as they were the most exploited and oppressed in South Africa. Africans, including the coloured people, were the indigenous groups in South Africa.

He saw Indians as an oppressed group and not the oppressor. However, he felt that their leadership was drawn from the merchant class, which, to protect its material interests, had sided with the oppressor against Africans. He called on the Indian working class to throw in its lot with the African majority.

He felt whites could not be part of the liberation movement at the time because they were oppressors and materially benefited from the oppression of Africans. He accepted there were whites who were intellectually committed to the struggle, but felt they must organise and fight within their communities.

He felt it was important psychologically that the struggle be led by Africans, and that every time minorities took leadership of the struggle, they tried to dilute it and seek concessions and compromises.

Sobukwe was very consistent on excluding whites - on the basis of material interests and not colour - from the national liberation movement. He was convinced that, in a free South Africa, the definition of an African would be: "The indigenous groups and everybody who owes his only loyalty to Africa and accepts the democratic rule of an African majority being regarded as an African."

The second plank of his pan-Africanism was economic policy. He preferred socialism to capitalism. He emphasised that the Africanists should support a system that had the following features:

l Equitable distribution of wealth, especially land.

l Equal opportunities, especially equality of incomes.

l The system must seek to address the needs of the African majority. It must also be relevant to the African concrete conditions.

l It must be democratic. He complained that China and Russia had introduced totalitarianism as part of socialism and this he rejected.

The Africanists, he said, were not anti-communist; they differed with them because communists rejected African nationalism and, by implication, the concept of African rule and government; they rejected the principle of non-collaboration and they were too attached to the Soviet Union and ignored its totalitarian and undemocratic nature.

l Otherwise, Sobukwe conceded that nobody could be against the philosophy of communism with its strong pro-poor and pro-equality features. He also felt white communists were not racist; they argued on an equal footing with Africans and openly disagreed with them where necessary. He preferred them to the white liberals who chose to keep quiet so as not to offend Africans, even if they strongly disagreed with them. …

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