Revered, feared, oppressed: PAC founder Robert Sobukwe

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Revered, feared, oppressed: PAC founder Robert Sobukwe

Prof Malegapuru Makgoba delivered the third Robben Island Museum Memorial Lecture on Thursday. This is an edited version

Professor Malegapuru William Makgoba

“Every nation, every people, from time to time, yields from amongst its very own, a truly courageous, selfless and visionary patriot who stands tall and apart from the rest,” said retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe in 2017.

It was Martin Delany in the USA, George Padmore in Trinidad, William EB du Bois in the USA, Marcus Garvey in Jamaica, Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, Steven Bantu Biko in South Africa, Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, Yasser Arafat in Palestine, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Nelson Mandela in South Africa and Barack Obama in the USA. Sobukwe is a member of this unique leadership club, leaders who profoundly shaped or changed or provided “turning points” in the course of human history.

Sobukwe, who would have celebrated his 96th birthday on Saturday, was declared the first political prisoner on Robben Island. He was intelligent, eloquent, charismatic, fearless and passionate, an unquestionably Pan Africanist leader, the likes of whom have not been seen since his departure on February 27 1978. What a rare combination of talents embodied in one person. No wonder he was revered, equally feared, but, most importantly, suppressed. Dare I say by our own people. While the apartheid government had a rationale to fear and suppress him, the rationale in today’s African-majority-led democratic government remains elusive and difficult to explain or comprehend...

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