ON THE RENAMING OF A UNISA WING TO “THE ROBERT MANGALISO SOBUKWE” WING
PROFESSOR HERBERT VILAKAZI
(UNISA, PRETORIA, 24 APRIL 2014)
Chairperson of Council of the University of South Africa, Honourable Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mandla Makhanya, the Deputy-Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa, Justice Moseneke, the Mahlangu Family, the Sobukwe Family and relatives…
I stand here to utter some words on behalf of the Family of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, above all on behalf of Mrs. Veronica Sobukwe and on behalf of the children and grand-children of Mr. and Mrs Sobukwe.
It is proper to expect that all of you understand that this event, today, the decision of the University Council, of the Senate, of the Administration of UNISA, to rename the Vista Building the “Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Building”, touches a wound in the body, spirit, and mind of this Nation, a wound which has never been properly attended to, a wound which is still open and festering.
It is with all the more reason, therefore, for the Sobukwe Family, beginning with Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe himself, to his wife, children and grand-children, to show appreciation of the decision of the UNISA Community to rename one of its prominent buildings after the personal embodiment of the Pan Africanist Spirit in the history of this country. Your decision, as the leadership of UNISA, is appreciated, is courageous, is significant, as the beginning of making amends to a moral, historical and psychological wrong in the life of our nation.
Herodotus in his Histories tells us of a very peculiar element in the culture of Persians. He says that Persians consider that the worst thing that can happen to anyone is to tell a lie.
The principle extends from the life of an individual to the life of a society, and to the life of a civilization. Any individual’s life, any society, any civilization, whose foundation is built out of lies, is unhealthy, has no nobility, and cannot stand long. Any nation that does not honour its genuine heroes and heroines in all walks of life is not morally satisfying.
In February 1960 the then British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan appeared before the White Parliament in Cape Town, and delivered his famous “wind of change” address. It was an epoch-making address, which set a new agenda in Western Big Power politics with respect to African politics.
Macmillan warned White rulers everywhere, particularly in Africa, that the “wind of change” which was blowing across the Continent was African Nationalism. He stated forthrightly that the time for African Nationalism had come, whether or not we liked it.
The essence of African Nationalism was, course, the irrepressible desire of masses of Africans to chart their own course in history; to control their own economies and societies; to lead themselves; to use their cultures, languages, and traditions, as assets in the construction of the new Africa and satisfaction of their needs.
African Nationalism arose against the background of racism and degradation of the African human being, of African history, and of African culture. The presumption of African Nationalism was, and continues to be, the rejection of racism in all forms, and acceptance and implementation of the ideal of UBUNTU.
African Nationalism taught, as Sobukwe stated many times, that “there is only one race, the human race.”
African Nationalists simply insisted that Africa must be ruled by Africans, as the overwhelming majority of Africa; that the material economic resources of Africa must be controlled in the majority by Africans, and must be used for the development and benefit of masses of African people; all this is a means for the empowerment and realization of UBUNTU, for the benefit of “the only one race, the human race.”
Harold Macmillan’s “wind of change” speech rang throughout the Western World as a warning. Remember that this speech was delivered during the height of the Cold War between Western capitalism and Soviet Marxism.
Many of the foremost leaders of African Nationalism were neutral, with respect to joining either NATO, led by the United States, or the WARSAW Pact, led by the Soviet Union. Like India under Nehru, they were non-aligned, even though they were, like Nehru himself, “Socialists”. Quite a number of prominent leaders of African Nationalism professed “African socialism”, on the belief and assumption that traditional African societies were “communal” or “socialist”.
In South Africa, the most significant and inspiring leader of African Nationalism, during the 1940s, whose inspiration and ideas lived beyond his death, was Mzwakhe Anton Lembede. Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, in truth, can be said to have picked up the leadership baton of Pan Africanism from Lembede.
Lembede openly announced that the ultimate aim of Pan Africanism was the creation of a United Socialist Africa. Sobukwe also announced that the ultimate aim of the Pan Africanist Movement was the creation of socialist society.
African Nationalism in South Africa became battered left and right by World Power politics, at the heart of which was the struggle between capitalism and socialism; it was also battered left and right by forces opposed to the uncompromising African leadership of Africa; and, most important, it was battered left and right by the reaction to its militant stance on the issue of White property, particularly the land question.
As has been said over and over again, over centuries upon centuries, the first casualty of every war or conflict is the TRUTH.
The history of Southern Africa was distorted to no end: the history of socialism was distorted; the history of capitalism was distorted; the history of Africa was distorted to no end; the history of our politics was distorted; and the history of African Nationalism was distorted.
African Nationalism is an important part of the stream and soul of the African Continent.
The ANC was originally formed as a Pan-Africanist Movement to fight against the European conquest of Africa. At the initial gatherings which paved the ground for the formation of the ANC were representatives of African Kingdoms from entire Southern Africa, prominent of which was the participation of representatives from what is now called Swaziland.
A Gigantic, heroic figure in the landscape of the Liberation Struggle of this country is the figure of Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe. Inspired by Mzwakhe Anton Lembede, he led the formation of the Pan Africanist Movement. He was a prominent part of the front of the “wind of change” about which Harold Macmillan warned the Western World. He was kept in isolation from other political prisoners on Robben Island, and brutalized in isolation, which is many times more brutal than the brutality received collectively by prisoners.
After British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan warned the White Colonial Rulers of Africa about the “wind of change –African Nationalism”, from the podium of the White Parliament in Cape Town, in 1960, the White, Western Establishment initiated plans to tame and transform African Nationalism: if African Nationalism could not be destroyed physically, everything had to be done to destroy it ideologically, through misinformation, disinformation, lies, and silence.
Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe was more than a member of an individual family; he was more than a father and husband and grandparent. He was a personal embodiment of an irrepressible large stream of our national life. We are living a life of lies, which horrified the Ancient Persians, is we pretend he never existed, or if we try to diminish his historical significance. A society or civilization which fails to honour its heroes and heroines is a degenerate civilization.
It is in this light that we begin to honour the UNISA Community for the pioneering courage you have displayed in beginning to cleanse the soul of this nation of the dirt of lies, misinformation, disinformation, and silence.
My last word is addressed to my Aunt, Mrs Veronica Sobukwe, who has for decades born untold suffering and pain without shedding unusual tears.
Yintombi yakwa Mathe lena!
Yintombi yase Hlobane lena!
Yintombi yase Baqulusini lena!