Racist regime feared the PAC founder

Last week in venues across the world there were commemorations of the assassination of revolutionary black American leader, Malcolm X.

Last week in venues across the world there were commemorations of the assassination of revolutionary black American leader, Malcolm X.

Academics and activists analysed his impact on struggles by oppressed people across the globe to liberate themselves while others looked at his philosophy and its relevance to struggles today.

Do those who did all these things agree with Malcolm X's radical nationalist and Islamic philosophies? Do they agree with his theories on race?

No. However, everyone who took part in these activities acknowledged that Malcolm X had had a huge impact on black struggles across the world.

In the 1970s it was the influence of the likes of Malcolm X which saw the black consciousness movement in South Africa rise in popularity and strength.

Tomorrow, a small group of men and women will remember someone who many in this country now choose to ignore. That man is Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, the founder of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania.

Over the past month these men and women have been visiting schools and communities across our country teaching and debating the legacy of Sobukwe.

These men and women are members of the PAC and believe in what Sobukwe stood for. But what about the rest of us? How many people today remember Sobukwe?

How many people know that Sobukwe was so feared by the apartheid regime that it kept him separate from the likes of Nelson Mandela and Govan Mbeki on Robben Island? Who shall remember Sobukwe if not us?

There is a struggle song from the 1950s which, for me, embodies Sobukwe. It goes: "Nantsi indoda emnyama Verwoerd!" (Here comes the black man, Verwoerd!).

Today, I remember Sobukwe, a man who, despite my not agreeing to a large extent with the party he founded, is a hero of our struggle, a colossus of the intellectual landscape and an example of the triumph of the human spirit over the worst that apartheid could conjure up.

The apartheid regime tortured him, jailed him, banned him, kept him away from the world and his family and, finally, killed him.

But, you see, they cannot wipe him from our collective memory, from the books that he read so voraciously.

Sobukwe was an ANC member who left the party in 1958.

In 1959, with a few other leaders, they formed the PAC, placing an emphasis on the need for blacks to rely on themselves and not be "helped" to liberation by whites. Following the anti-pass marches of March 21 1960, he was sentenced to three years in jail.

When the time came for him to be released, the apartheid regime considered him so dangerous they created a new law to keep him inside.

Says PAC leader Themba Godi: "The regime passed the General Laws Amendment Act, which gave the state apparatus the right to detain anybody whose prison sentence had expired.

"The evil addendum came to be known as the 'Sobukwe Clause' for it was aimed at him and was only applied to him."

On Robben Island he was kept in a house alone, separated from other prisoners.

Remember, this man had served his three years, but the government incarcerated him for an extra six years without judge, jury or due process!

On his release in 1969 he was banished to Galeshewe, Kimberley, and placed under house arrest and served with a banning order. Cocking a snook at his oppressors, he completed a law degree - over and above the economics and other degrees he had completed on Robben Island - and started a legal practice!

Sobukwe, died of lung cancer on February 27 1978.

In 1997, Sobukwe's wife, Zondeni, told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that he had complained that his food was regularly poisoned on Robben Island.

She said: "Because they had operated on him, his genitals would swell up all the time. If you would take his Kimberley file, you would realise how thick it is because of the illnesses. He started coughing chronically. I do not know what the cause was.

"He would have X-rays taken in Kimberley time and time again. All the doctors had different opinions. Nobody diagnosed the cancer in his lungs .

"Specialists from Johannesburg requested the reports from Kimberley. They then sent reports to Johannesburg when they realised he was dying."

Even as he was dying, the apartheid monster feared him so much that it would not allow him movement.

It does not matter whether you agree with the PAC or not, this week take some time out to attend one of their commemorations for this great man.

If you cannot, take a minute and remember that the freedom we enjoy today was given to us by the sacrifices of men and women like Sobukwe.

If we do not remember Sobukwe and what he did for us, who will?