Momentous event in history of struggle

"TRUE leadership demands complete subjugation of self, absolute honesty, integrity and uprightness of character, courage and fearlessness and above all a consuming love for one's people." - Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe

There has developed in our country a culture that denies the historical. The day known in the wilderness of oppression, prison and exile as Sharpeville Day is now called Human Rights Day. A day that must be accorded the utmost respect and commemorated with the dignity it deserves.

Of equal relevance is the galvanisation of the oppressed throughout South Africa, and the march of 30000 strong into the heart of the Cape Town on March 30 1960.

These resulted in a South Africa that forever changed.

My recollections of March 21 1960 are clouded, grainy, influenced by media reports and other people's recollections.

A few days before March 21, my sister and I were taken to my grandmother's house in White City Jabavu in Soweto. I was five years old at the time.

From my vantage point on the small hill next to my grandmother's home, I recall the army trucks and Saracens driving up and down the main road on that day.

What is vivid are the days after March 21 - the recognition of a small boy that things would never be the same - and they never were; intimations of painful days to come. My father would never again appear along the street from Dube station after work.

I would never run to meet him. My father would, till his death, never be a free man.

Though the security of a father was no longer there, his presence was felt always in the house, especially through his letters from prison that were always comforting. I saw my father two years later at Stofberg prison.

I remember him walking towards my mother and I. I recall his skinny legs and the broadest and most incongruous of smiles.

In all those years since March 21, after Sobukwe was arrested, sent to Pretoria Central, Robben Island and banished to Kimberley, he never showed any signs of regret.

To the contrary, he believed always that their cause was right and just and would triumph. In his nightly prayers he would pray for all political prisoners and those in exile, that their spirits not flag and resolve for freedom to remain absolute.

In the aftermath of the tragedy of Sharpeville and Langa, fear and suspicion pervaded the country, the forces of apartheid were unleashed, people disappeared, hundreds were sent to prison and many more to exile. The men and women who had passed through our house in Mofolo, meeting long into the night, I would not see for some time.

I met many of them again in the different circumstances of exile. Many died before the advent of change in our country. Many of my dad's friends and confidants remain unacknowledged.

In their founding documents Sobukwe and the PAC of Azania called for a non-racial state and the elimination of the tendency to uphold one's own interests at the expense of one's fellow man.

They saw as their historic task "to establish an Africanist, socialist, democratic social order recognising the primacy of the vital material, intellectual and spiritual interests of the individual". For these rights, human rights, enshrined in our constitution, we as a nation must strive.

The Robert Mangaliso Trust seeks to interpret Sobukwe's legacy on issues he held with passion, and fought and sacrificed for. The Trust seeks to identify ways in which his voice can contribute to the daily discourse in a South Africa that is defining itself.

l The writer is Sobukwe's son and trustee of the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Trust