Considered to be the most feared man who voiced out his stern discontent against the Apartheid system, Robert Sobukwe is a prominent but often forgotten fighter in the struggle for liberation in South Africa. Sobukwe’s might to stand up for his people and his leadership attributes prompted many Pro African and Black movements across the world notably the Black Consciousness Movement.
Sobukwe was born into a humble family in Graaf-Reinet in Cape Province, South Africa. The youngest of six children, Sobukwe had to strive for education as there was limited access to such in his neighborhood. Consequently, he attained education and was considered intelligent amongst his peers. Sobukwe had great oratory skills which he focused in intellectually and soberly venting out his frustrations against the Apartheid inequal system.
He later joined the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) in 1948. He then proceeded to be the President of the Fort Hare University, Students’ Representative Council, ANCYL wing. However, Sobukwe had to relinquish his position and opted for greater ambitions aligned with his ideologies.
Part of Sobukwe’s decision to back off from the ANC was the organization’s continual integration with white people. Sobukwe thought that friendships and ties established with the minority should be done when efforts of peace are entrenched in the society. The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) eloped as a strong opposition to apartheid with Sobukwe being its first president in 1959. PAC excluded white people and its ideology relied on the need for equality and a general call for South Africans to liberate themselves without the help of non-Africans. The Organization’s goal was to rid off the “slave mindset” mentality and deliberate for a society where the majority should not be subservient to the white minority.
An indelible cause of the Sobukwe’s PAC was the march to Sharpeville in defiance of the Pass Law. The Pass Law was a law which limited black people from free movement and limited them within the confines of selected locations. The PAC initiated a form of protest in which they would individually handover themselves to the police. On 21st March 1960, Sobukwe with thousands marched in Orlando, Soweto to a local police station. In similar defiance, thousands more marched in Sharpeville – an unforgettable and deadly eventuality. Police opened fire blindly and killed 69 people in the massacre. This sparked outcry among several anti apartheid movements. Furthermore, the ANC and PAC were banned with Sobukwe and associates arrested. Conversely, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment.
Mind you, Sobukwe was influential. He had garnered admiration and support across the whole country and beyond. His activism and Africanism ideology was a threat to the apartheid government. Sobukwe was the most feared man against the Apartheid system. To justify this claim, the judicial system introduced the “Sobukwe Clause”. The Sobukwe Clause allowed his imprisonment to be renewed annually at the discretion and mercy of the Minister of Justice. He served another three years at Robben Island. Sobukwe remained untested during these dark times. Despite going through inhumane situation, he still read books and listened to music.
Sobukwe was released in 1969. He was handed an internal exile and moved to Kimberley with his family. Under house arrest and surveillance, the government ensured he faced ban from Political discussions. He also had to reject jobs notably as a lecturer in the United States because he was not allowed to travel out of South Africa. He completed his law degree and he then started his practice in 1975.
He lived a quite more peaceful and conservative life after. Due to lung cancer, he was hospitalized in 1977. He sadly passed away on 27 February 1978 and he was buried in his hometown.
Empathetic and sensitive to the sufferings of his people, Sobukwe lived a life worth emulating and glorifying. His non violence campaign proved he was unduly compassionate and genuine to the course of Unity within South Africa and Africa to some extent.