Sobukwe - A role model then, now
APRIL holds significant historical memories for South Africans. On April 27 1994, indigenous Africans voted for the first time for their freedom.
We remember the hanging of one of the bravest children that our revolution produced - Solomon Mahlangu, the Umkhonto we Siwze (MK) cadre who was executed by the apartheid regime on April 6 1979.
The son of amaTshonyane clan, the ANC's Chris Hani, was also ambushed and butchered on April 10 1993.
While these occasions have been given the attention they deserve by the media, another event of historical magnitude is given scant attention - the birth of the PAC on April 6 1959.
This is very important, especially in the light of fierce debates following the airing by the SABC of a documentary on the life of first PAC president, Robert Sobukwe.
Following that documentary, complaints have been raised in the media about the ANC's failure to give due recognition to Sobukwe, who sacrificed his life for our freedom. The protests on behalf of Sobukwe are missing an important point.
Sobukwe was not the type of leader who cried or begged for recognition.
In his book, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela notes that while in prison, Sobukwe held the view that it was wrong to fight for better conditions in prison because he believed that doing so would be to acknowledge the apartheid state's right to have him in prison in the first place.
In 1960, when he declared that the PAC was going to embark on the Positive Action Campaign on March 21, and extended an invitation to the ANC, which the organisation turned down, his resolve was not shaken. He did not seek the ANC's blessings, recognition and approval. His admirers today are doing the opposite - asking for the ANC's recognition on his behalf.
That is disservice to the memory of a great man. The PAC should simply create a monument on its own instead of complaining to the ANC. Complaining to the ANC is nothing more than inviting scorn and contempt from it.
When the PAC was formed, its motto was: Serve, Suffer, Sacrifice.
This stance reveals that the PAC leaders recognised that the path of the revolution can be very long and painful.
Many who followed Sobukwe did not realise that the experience would be so painful. Admirably, they braved apartheid officers' brutal treatment by answering back in detention when they were beaten.
When the Special Branch (SB) sought to coerce them into being their informants, they stubbornly refused. When they sought to bribe young revolutionaries with their stinking and nauseating money, the African children mocked and ridiculed their tormentors.
When apartheid agents offered freedom fighters leadership positions in the liberation movement, the young lions thought the SBs were bluffing, underestimating the extent of their infiltration.
But when the SBs' threat to deny them study opportunities became a reality in exile, the realisation of the reach of apartheid's long arm shocked the young fighters.
While young revolutionaries were denied study opportunities in exile by enemy agents occupying strategic places in the liberation movement, those who sold out prospered and acquired degrees, which prepared them to hold strategic positions in the post-apartheid order. Many who had remained sincere to the ideals of the revolution, soon found themselves useless to the revolution because they had no skills. This realisation hit hard and hurt them badly.
Many did not anticipate that the price to pay would be this high!
They did not know that Sobukwe's suffering, sacrifice and service would be this costly.
The result was that some fled in horror from the liberation movement that used to be their home - to the delight of the enemy, which wanted revolutionaries to regret their noble stance.
Many who served, suffered and sacrificed, became wounded, limping and whimpering lions with nothing to show but their wretchedness and shame. Many who pretended to be revolutionaries and those who ridiculed revolutionary struggles are now ostentatious, rich, and swaggering with pride.
What now? As we reflect on these historical occasions, it is worth noting that the PAC's first campaign was the Status Campaign. Through this campaign the PAC taught African men and women to refer to one another as "Madams" or "Ladies" and "Sirs".
Contrary to what Sobukwe's critics referred to as preoccupation with honorifics, Sobukwe realised that before the oppressed could demand respect from their oppressors, they had to regain self-respect.
His focus was about re-educating Africans about the lost meaning of being "human" (ubuntu). But, historical records show that the PAC prematurely abandoned that campaign because the members of the organisation wanted something better than preoccupation about gaining self-respect.
They wanted to be seen to be confronting the apartheid regime.
Without blaming Sobukwe or his organisation we need to ask: had the Status Campaign been sustained, might the course of history not have turned out differently? We do not know.
What we know is that some comrades are now rich, arrogant and swaggering - seemingly oblivious to the fact that their accumulation was made possible by the nameless poor masses they now disregard and hold in contempt.
Deafened by their wealth, there is little hope that the rich can listen to our appeals. But there is a chance we can still capture the imagination of the young and poor.
In the tradition of the great Sobukwe, we can educate them that greed is an act of self-disrespect.
It is not going to be easy because almost everything around them is celebrating the act of childish materialism.
This daunting task was no less daunting in Sobukwe's time either.
The best monument we can build for Sobukwe is following in his footsteps: re-Africanising Africans by reminding them of the African heritage that emphasises feeding and being fed from the milk of human kindness.
A caring Africa is not going to come about on its own. It will come about as a result of the education of the young.
- Sesanti is a lecturer at Stellenbosch University's Department of Journalism. He writes in a personal capacity