Media statement: the Nelson Mandela Foundation marks the 40th anniversary of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe’s passing away
Date: 27 February 2018
From: Nelson Mandela Foundation
Today we remember Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe on the 40 th anniversary of his passing away.
In 1999 Nelson Mandela described him as one of the giants of the struggle in South Africa. His legacy remains neglected in both the histories and the narratives of post-apartheid South Africa. It was realisation of this fact that led the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 2011 to develop a travelling exhibition on his life and work in collaboration with the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Trust.
Sobukwe’s was a seminal voice in South Africa’s long journey from oppression to liberation and democratisation. He belonged to a generation of leaders who set the highest standards of character, conduct and commitment, who shepherded resistance to the apartheid system into its final phase, and who inspired the founding narratives of the post-apartheid South Africa.
Born the youngest child of a poor working-class family in the small town of Graaff-Reinet, he rose to become the first President of the Pan Africanist Congress in 1959 and one of the apartheid system’s most feared adversaries in the 1960s. Through most of that decade he was kept incarcerated in extraordinary conditions of solitary confinement. Nonetheless, he had a profound influence on the generation of the 1976 uprisings.
Sobukwe developed a sophisticated philosophy of struggle through years of study, reflection and activism. The Methodist Christianity of his family and pre-tertiary education was an enduring influence, as was African nationalism, socialism, pan-Africanism, and his political nurturing within structures of the African National Congress. His watchword was “Africa for the Africans”, with “Africans” being understood as everyone who embraced Africa as home. He believed passionately in democracy, an equitable distribution of wealth, and the full development of individual human potential.
His voice will be important in the work of regeneration and transformation that lies ahead for South Africa. As will many other disavowed voices, inter alia, Steve Bantu Biko, the Black Consciousness Movement, former PAC freedom fighters, the Unity Movement and SACOS (the South African Council on Sport).
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