A tribute Prof, by Mangosutho Buthelezi

 

 

        

COMMEMORATION OF
ROBERT MANGALISO SOBUKWE
PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER OF THE PAN AFRICANIST CONGRESS
ADDRESS BY MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI, MP
MINISTER OF HOME AFFAIRS AND
PRESIDENT OF THE INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY 


Graaff-Reinet Civic Centre: February 28, 1998


Twenty years ago I came to Graaff-Reinet to mourn the passing of our
brother, an African leader and fellow patriot, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.
That was a time of political uncertainty and confusion. At that time
some misguided youth who did not understand the respect and camaraderie
between all those fighting in the liberation struggle did not think that
I should have attended the funeral. They did not understand the
multi-faceted strategic nature of our struggle for liberation in which
we were all united, regardless of different approaches and tactics.

These youth felt that my participation in the KwaZulu Government, as its
Chief Minister, was hindering our struggle against apartheid. History
has revealed how that was not the case because it was my refusal to take
nominal independence and using the available structures to foster black
political mobilisation which in the end collapsed the great scheme of
apartheid. 

On that day, their blindly fervent and violent attacks threatened my
life forcing me to leave our brother Mangaliso's funeral. I have always
regretted that and have carried a very heavy burden in my heart. By
being made to leave, I never had the opportunity to deliver my
condolences and offer my tribute to a man whose life rang true to the
meaning of his name: "man of wonders".

For twenty years I have carried the burden of not having been able to
bury a friend and one of Africa's greatest sons. For this reason, when
Mrs. Sobukwe invited me to this commemoration, I felt a great burden
lifting from my conscience, almost as if I can now rejoin in grief and
mourning with the soul of our departed brother and the great collective
pathos which over and above our tactical differences has always united
all those who have dedicated their entire lives and efforts to the cause
of liberation and justice for all. On this occasion, I can finally put
behind me the memory of the violence of those youth. I can also feel the
healing of the wound opened when Archbishop Desmond Tutu styled the
youth who attacked me as "a new breed of young people with iron in their
souls" in retort to my characterisation of them as "thugs". History has
demonstrated how some portion of that generation who learned thuggery
rather than respect at an early age is now responsible for many of the
criminal phenomena affecting our communities. 

What I will never forget is the intense pain I felt when I learnt of the
death of Robert Sobukwe. That pain has been with me for these twenty
years. I recall the late Potlako Leballo phoning me from London to tell
me of Mangaliso's death. He and other PAC founders requested that I
attend the funeral. At that time, I also recalled that I was asked by
the family of Inkosi Albert Lutuli, the then President General of the
ANC, and by the ANC leadership in London, to deliver a funeral oration
for Inkosi Albert Lutuli. When Mangaliso's beloved brother, Bishop
Ernest Sobukwe, heard that I would be attending the funeral, he also
asked me to speak. Many of us today remember how the funeral was
attended by many who gathered in grievance and sorrow. However, many of
them did not understand that I had been asked to be there, and did not
comprehend the depth of my loss in Mangaliso and affection for him. 

After youngsters disrupted the service with their loud admonishing and
threatening actions against me because they did not understand why I was
there, my close friend Abe Ngcobo had the moral courage and integrity to
issue a statement explaining that I was at the funeral at the behest of
the fellow founders of the PAC. Unfortunately the damage was already
done and for many years I have believed that I would never have an
opportunity to pay my last respects to Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. 

Under these circumstances it touches me beyond measure to be once again,
twenty years later, in Graaff-Reinet, sharing in the gathering of those
who come together to remember our brother, Mangaliso Sobukwe. I feel
that I have been given another chance so to speak and I thank God that
He has shown the mercy to afford me this blessing. Therefore, I wish to
deliver today the oration which I would have given at the funeral on
March 11, 1978, had circumstances been different. 

I first met our brother, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, in 1948 at the
University of Fort Hare where we were students together. These were days
of overwhelming darkness when the proponents of apartheid, represented
by the present regime, were swept into power. For Blacks this seemed to
be the darkest hour in the long history of white oppression. At the
University of Fort Hare, a branch of the African National Congress Youth
League was founded through the inspiration of Mr Godfrey Pitje. Some of
the leading proponents of African Nationalism at the time came to Fort
Hare to address us. Mr A.P. Mda, one of the best theoreticians of
African Nationalism requested Mr Pitje to: (in his words) 

"1. Get together a small nucleus and soak them in our Nationalistic
outlook and indicate to them the need for youth to train for greater
leadership. These will form the core of the Movement at Fort Hare. Once
there is such a core there will be no dying out. 

2. Then call, or let somebody call, a meeting of those interested and
launch a Youth League Branch at Fort Hare. But such a branch should work
hand in hand with the National Executive stationed in Johannesburg of
which the General Secretary is NRD Mandela Esq. B.A. a law student. At
that meeting an Executive should be formed. 

Subscription fees for students amount to only 6d..." 

It was in these circumstances that the African National Congress Youth
League at Fort Hare was formed. Amongst the founding members were men
like Ntsu Mokhehle of Lesotho, Joe Matthews, Denis Siwisa, Duma Nokwe
and Robert Sobukwe, to mention just a few. It was clear from the
inauguration of our branch that amongst giants who towered above other
members was Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. The Fort Hare branch had a
country-wide influence on the policies of the African National Congress.


They were responsible for the adoption of the African National Congress'
Programme of Action 1949. In December 1949, our late brother Robert
Mangaliso Sobukwe was amongst the prominent leaders who participated in
the amendment, and the clause by clause scrutiny, of the Programme of
Action. After they had done so the Programme of Action was adopted by
the African National Congress. 

No one who had the privilege to know Mangaliso Sobukwe could miss that
he was a gifted leader with a great potential, and with a great role to
play in the liberation struggle of his people. It was natural that he
was later elected as a member of the National Executive Committee of the
Youth League of the ANC. At Fort Hare, he was elected President of the
Students Representative Council. It was during his tenure of office as
President of the SRC and also as Executive member of the local branch of
the Youth League at Fort Hare, that he delivered one of his most
remarkable addresses. This was during October, 1949. He spoke on behalf
of the graduating students of that year at a Completers Farewell
function. 

I think you will forgive me for looking with you at the address he made
then, because he abided by the convictions he expressed at that function
to the end of his days. It so happened that at the time that the Nurses
at Lovedale Hospital were on strike. We students of Fort Hare gave them
our support. Some of them were ultimately expelled. Speaking about this
he said: 

"The trouble at the hospital then, I say, should be viewed as part of a
broad struggle and not as an isolated incident. I said last year that we
should not fear victimisation. I still say so today. We must fight for
freedom - for the right to call our souls our own. And we must pay the
price. The Nurses have paid the price. I am truly grieved that the
careers of so many of our women should have been ruined in this fashion.
But the price of freedom is blood, toil and tears. This consolation I
have however, that Africa never forgets. And these martyrs of freedom,
these young budding women, will be remembered and honoured when Africa
comes into her own." 

He was in the forefront of the black people's struggle for liberation
through the leadership role which he played in the African National
Congress, both at Fort Hare, and for the nine years after leaving Fort
Hare. He was a man of his word to the end of his days, and for this we
honour him, and coming generations will yet honour him. It was because
he was a man of great sincerity that he broke away from the African
National Congress in 1959 to found the Pan-Africanist Congress. He could
not feel true to the tenets of African nationalism on the basis of which
the African National Congress was founded, if the ANC at the same time
tolerated what he considered as intrusions of people committed to other
ideologies, into the African National Congress. 

There were many of us who felt as he did about this development, but
felt that it was best to fight the new intrusions from within rather
than complicate the problems of African Unity, which has remained a
phantom which black people have been chasing after for the last 66
years. It was because of his great stature and undoubted sincerity, that
many of us, whose sympathies remained with the ANC at the time of the
schism, still loved and adored him even after he founded the PAC. Our
respect for him was undiminished by the breakaway. I am here today to
express that respect and to make it evident that it remains as deep as
ever, even now that he has left us. 

He was a broad minded leader, who when the time demanded, allowed South
Africans of other race groups to join the Pan-Africanist Congress. To
those of us who knew him, this was no surprise. I wish again to recall
some words of the great message he delivered at the farewell function to
which I have referred earlier. During the course of that address he
said: "Moreover a doctrine of hate can never take people anywhere. It is
too exacting. It warps the mind. That is why we preach the doctrine of
love, love for Africa. We can never do enough for Africa, nor can we
love her enough. The more we do for her, the more we wish to do. And I
am sure that I am speaking for the whole of young Africa when I say that
we are prepared to work with any man, who is fighting for the liberation
of Africa, within our lifetime". 

So whereas quite a number of critics at the time attempted to twist
facts by trying to present him as a racist, he abided by his words and
proved that he was no racist. It is something Africans will have to
tolerate until the day of liberation; to be maligned and misinterpreted
for their political self-reliance. There are many people in South Africa
whose hackles are raised by seeing the emergence of any political
initiative in our black community which is self-reliant. He was a man of
great courage. The Sharpeville demonstration in 1960 which he staged
when his Movement, the Pan-Africanist Congress, was barely on its feet,
was itself evidence of his courage. No one who knew him could doubt this
fact. Not even those who disagreed with him can deny this fact: He was
absolutely fearless. 

His was a wide vision. Like other patriots before him, he saw our
problems in the context of the whole Continent of Africa. I am reminded
of the composer of our National Anthem, Mr Sontonga - who did not write
Nkosi sikeleli' South Africa, but Nkosi sikeleli'Afrika - those were the
wide parameters of his vision. The following quote illustrates his
commitment to Africa and his determination to work for the elimination
of the oppression of blacks, regardless of the consequences. At the
farewell function at Fort Hare in 1949 he said: 

"We are seeing within our day the second rape of Africa; a determined
effort by imperialist powers to dig their claws deeper into the flesh of
the squirming victim. But this time the imperialism is under the guise
of a tempting slogan, "the development of backward areas and peoples".
At the same time we see the rise of uncompromising "Nationalism" in
India, Malaya, Indonesia, Burma and Africa: The old order changing,
ushering in a new order. The great revolution has started and Africa is
the field of oppression. Allow me at this juncture to quote a few lines
from the Methodist Hymn book: 

"Once to every man and Nation 
comes the moment to decide, 
In the strife of truth with falsehood, 
For the good or evil side - 
Then to side with truth is noble. 
When we share her wretched crust 
Ere her cause to bring fame and profit, 
And ''tis prosperous to be just. 
Then it is the brave man chooses 
while the coward stands aside 
Till the multitude make virtue 
of the faith they had denied." 

In my view that address which he made at Fort Hare was prophetic,
because what he said then became true of his own convictions throughout
his entire life. He stated addressing us, the students, on that
occasion: 

"Let me plead with you lovers of my Africa, to carry with you into the
World the vision of a new Africa, an Africa re-born, an Africa
rejuvenated, an Africa recreated, Young Africa. We are the first glimmer
of a new dawn. And if we are persecuted for our views, we should
remember, as the African saying goes, that it is the darkest before
dawn, and that the dying beast kicks most violently when it is giving up
the ghost so to speak. The fellows who clamped Nehru into jail are today
his servants. 

And we have it from the Bible that those who crucified Christ will
appear before Him on judgement day. We are what we are because the God
of Africa made us so. We dare not compromise nor dare we use moderate
language in the cause of freedom. As Zik puts it: 'Tell a man whose
house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell a man moderately to
rescue his wife from the arms of a ravisher; tell a mother to extricate
gradually her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but do not
ask me to use moderate language in a cause like the present.' 

These things shall be, says the Psalmist: Africa will be free. The wheel
of progress revolves relentlessly. And the Nations of the World take
their turn at the field-glass of human destiny. Africa will not retreat.
Africa will not compromise! Africa will not relent! Africa will not
equivocate! And She will be heard! Remember Africa." 

Thus he ended that address which none of us who were present at the
function at Fort Hare can ever forget as long as we live. Nor can anyone
who knew Mangaliso Sobukwe ever forget him. Nor can future generations
ever forget him. Nor will Africa ever forget him. 

Thus through the White racist Regime's brutality and its jack-boot, we
are rendered poorer through our stupidity and failure to recognise such
talent as he had, for the treasure that it was. He never flinched until
the end. It is difficult to know where South Africa would be today had
his talents been used, instead of being frozen away in Robben Island and
through the banning orders. These callous actions of the government
deprived us of the opportunity of being enriched by his talents. It is
quite extraordinary that Mr Vorster should have acknowledged as he did,
as Minister of Justice, that Mangaliso Sobukwe could not be allowed to
exit the country even on an exit permit, because he had "a magnetic
personality". Only in a sick society like ours can a man be persecuted
as Mangaliso Sobukwe was to the end of his days, merely because he had
"a magnetic personality" in the words of Mr Vorster, who is now Prime
Minister of this troubled land. Africa will find it difficult to forgive
the callousness and lack of Christian charity entailed in the Minister
of Justice's refusal to lift his banning order, after Professor Chris
Barnard had told the Minister that this great Son of Africa was
suffering from a terminal disease. He was feared, even at the point of
dying and will continue to be feared even now after his death. 

We thank God for Mangaliso Sobukwe's life. Although we and the country
were deprived of the opportunity to benefit from his great gifts, we and
future generations will always look at his life, and his memory will
make us see him forever as an unending well of inspiration from which we
will continue to drink until South Africa is liberated. 

We pay tribute to Mrs Sobukwe and her children, who have had to bear the
brunt of his sufferings, for the sake of all of us. Let us include his
beloved brother, Bishop Sobukwe, in our sympathies for he has had to
bear the anguish of watching all members of his family go before him. As
guardian to his youngest brother, Mangaliso, we realise just what an
agonising experience it has been for him to see his youngest brother
endure such persecution by the State for the sake of all the oppressed
people of South Africa. May God bless them for their sacrifices for our
sake. May God give them strength to bear their inestimable loss.

I thank God for having met him a few years ago, in Johannesburg through
a mutual friend,  Mr Benjamin Pogrund, when he came to see his ailing
child. I shall treasure his encouragement for the rest of my days:
"Uyabashaya mfo ka Buthelezi bashaye!" he said to me in Zulu during our
short meeting. That in itself is the measure of the bigness of the man. 

He appreciated that some differences in strategy are forced on us by the
oppressors, and recognised that contributions by all those who were
committed to the same cause, are what will cause the day of liberation
to dawn. He remained a humble man of God to the end, with a wide breadth
of vision which lesser men can never have. 

May he rest in peace. 

These were my feelings twenty years ago and these are still my
sentiments now. Time has proven how his life and his sacrifices have
contributed to bringing South Africa to its present stage and to making
us what we are today. Today more than twenty years later we see how the
multi-faceted nature of our struggle has reflected the great variety of
problems and challenges now confronting all of us. History had to
produce Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe so that Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe could
give such a great contribution to produce our country's history. He now
belongs to history as he belongs to South Africa and to the whole of
Africa. South Africa and rest of the continent shall continue to resort
to the legacy of his memory and wisdom in order to complete our
unfinished agenda of commitments to the cause of liberation and justice
for all.

        

 

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