READER LETTER | Sobukwe’s legacy must be remembered

Robert Sobukwe
DD041219 Robert Sobukwe Robert Sobukwe

Forty-two years after his death under banishment, the legacy of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe remains but a haunting shadow in SA historiography, “dis-membered” and left to the vultures to feast on its carcass.

It is now 26 years after SA attained democracy and the so-called rainbow nation, yet Sobukwe’s legacy continues to be omitted and ostracised from dominant public discourse.

Sobukwe's “dis-membering” takes on many forms. He is systematically erased from the discourse, no significant monuments are erected in his name, his outstanding landmark contributions are not included in the educational curriculum, his family is not afforded the same benefits as other families of liberation stalwarts, and heritage institutions related to him are undervalued and prone to vandalism.

The historic RM Sobukwe Attorneys offices located in Galeshewe Township,  Kimberley, were declared a national heritage site in 2005 but continue to be haunted by vandalism.

After several public outcries about the neglected state of the building,  Northern Cape sports, arts and culture MEC Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba undertook that the government would  refurbish the building.

The launch of  the revamping of  Sobukwe’s offices was set for March 21 2018 under the theme “The Year of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela: Promoting and Deepening a Human Rights Culture Across Society”

The choice of the theme raised many questions in that it reinforced the footnoting of Sobukwe to  Mandela’s legacy.

I raised  this  concern with the Northern Cape department. Sobukwe deserved to be honoured on his own, for all his worth to this nation, and not be made some junior to Mandela.

My queries and concerns fell on deaf ears. A budget was set aside by the department and work commenced on the project.

  Sadly only two years down the line  after  office was refurbished, it has once again fall prey to vandalism and once again Sobukwe’s legacy has been defaced.

Heritage institutions related to him are undervalued and prone to series of concerted vandalism.

Coincidentally when the state undertook to refurbish the building the Sobukwe Trust, a non-profit organisation formed by his family, was also planning not only to preserve the building that housed his office but also to set up programmes to honour his legal work by starting a pro bono community legal resource centre.

Furthermore, the government undertook to rename Kimberley Hospital after Sobukwe.

This was plausible as  it was in the same hospital where Sobukwe passed away  in February 1978.

The renaming event was planned to coincide with Heritage Day celebrations in September 2018.

Sadly when the department officially announced the renaming of the hospital after Sobukwe it issued a poster without any image of Sobukwe, but bore the faces of Albertina Sisulu and Nelson Mandela.

I wrote to the government officials yet again raising concerns about this issue.

And again, my concerns and suggestions fell on deaf ears.

The ward in which Sobukwe died at Kimberley Hospital remains unknown, unidentified.

Similarly Wits University, where Sobukwe worked as a lecturer, has also never cared to identify, locate or memorialise his former office.

It was only late last year that I managed to get the actual location of Sobukwe’s office at Wits.

As  the nation commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Sharpeville-Langa Massacre on Saturday, let us “re-member” Sobukwe and the contributions he made to the raising of the consciousness and spirit of Black people.

Nations that “dis-member” and neglect their heroes and heroines are not worthy of the legacies and heritage they represent. They perish.

Thando Sipuye works closely with the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Trust. He is currently the programme officer at the Steve Biko Foundation. He writes in his personal capacity.