Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe: Challenge to Pan-Afrikanists

edited February 2015 in Pan Africanism

“We must, therefore, appreciate our role. We must appreciate our responsibility. The African people have entrusted their future to us. And we have sworn that we are leading them, not to death, but to life abundant.”

Many a time when we think about the “heavyweights” and stalwarts of Pan-Afrikanism, the tendency is to think of personalities outside the continent of Afrika or, if we do consider Afrika we very rarely look at Southern Africa. Usually, Southern Afrika, as a result of the likes of Steve Biko is associated with Black Consciousness and not so much Pan-Afrikanism as an ideology.

Also read:
Marcus Garvey Philosophy (Up, up, you mighty race! You can accomplish what you will)
Pan Afrikanism : Brief Introduction

One of the undisputed “heavyweights” and stalwarts of Pan-Afrikanism that Southern Afrika has produced is Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe (born 1924 and died 1978). He was the Founding President of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and was one of the foremost voices in articulating Pan-Afrikanist ideology in a manner that resonated with and bore relevance to the masses and their aspirations for freedom and self-rule. Not only did he articulate the ideology, he helped to shape it and contextualised it to the colonial and apartheid realities that the people were going through.

For purposes of this commemorative write up, in remembrance of the great Sobukwe, we shall break down the quote above and what it means to us, as Pan-Afrikanists, today. One of the reasons that we have to break down the statement is that it is necessary for us to continually develop and shape Pan-Afrikanist thought and ideology. Some ideological positions that we have inherited from our leaders of old had a special bearing and significance to the realities at hand then and now we need to articulate ideological positions that are in keeping with our current realities.

In the 1800s, repatriation, as advocated by the “Back to Africa” gurus in the likes of Edward Blyden, was one of the core ideologies that informed what was later synthesised into some of the core tenets of Pan-Afrikanism. At the turn of the 20th century, the likes of Sylvester Williams, in further developing the Pan-Afrikanist ideology further focussed the spotlight on, amongst things, freedom from colonialism and slavery and self-government. Before the advent of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Pan-Afrikanism had not been truly accessible to the masses, it had not been translated into an ideology that could focus and give direction to mass movement. Garvey’s approach therefore, besides further developing and advancing the ideology also “practicalised” it and got people to begin to see themselves within Pan-Africanist thought.

The development of Pan-Afrikan ideology was not only confined to the diasporan part of the Global Afrikan Family, thinkers such as Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Thomas Sankara and Amilcar Cabral, first generation Afrikans, began to make an impact in taking the ideology forward. The message of Pan-Afrikanism, began to emphasise decolonisation and the unity of Afrika and the Global Afrikan Family. It was at this time, mid-way through the 20th Century that Pan-Afrikanist voices like that of Sobukwe began to be heard amongst the victims of apartheid and yet still bore relevance to other Afrikans outside South Africa.

The five decades of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s saw much of what could be considered as advancement in the condition(s) of the Afrikan people, globally. On the continent, foreign flags, representative of colonial rule and the subjugation of the Afrikan masses, were being replaced faster than many could have imagined. In the West, laws which were being perceived as giving more respect and recognition to the humanity of the Afrikans were being passed; no more human zoos, no more jim crow, no more segregation, so people of Afrikan descent were made to believe.

Did these five decades really herald Pan-Afrikanist advances and gains or did we just settle for a mirage? Did Pan-Afrikanism realise its objectives? Could it well be that, all along, we have celebrated and settled for the swallowing of a sugar coated pill; a pill designed to abort a true, meaningful, people centred and people relevant Pan-Afrikanist Afrikan revolution. The sad reality Brathas and Sistas is that what we have settled for, is far short of what we deserve and what our forebears laid their lives down for.

If indeed what we have is far less than what we deserve, it means the Sobukwe challenge to Pan-Afrikanists is as much relevant today as it was when he said it to fellow members of the Pan-Africanist Congress almost forty years ago. Brathas and Sistas, in contextualising the challenge it is necessary to carefully dissect what the great leader said. Given the fact that this is a challenge to Pan-Afrikanists, it is not general to the Global Afrikan Family but to those who claim to be Pan-Afrikanists, in particular. It is admitted that there are some who do not necessarily identify themselves with the label of Pan-Afrikanism but are Pan-Afrikanist in their approach and interpretation of the world, to such this challenge is also being addressed.

Some of the primary tenets upon which the challenge should be viewed are, amongst others that:

1. Afrikan people’s revolutions were compromised and the Afrikan masses are yet to know what freedom and independence really means.
2. Afrikan independence is meaningless without addressing the question of ownership and access to land.
3. Afrikan independence is meaningless without addressing the question of ownership and access to mineral resources.
4. The Civil Rights Movement was aborted before it could fully address the ills bedevilling the masses of people of Afrikan descent, in the United States of America, particularly.
5. People of Afrikan descent, world over, have a legitimate claim to reparations.
6. People of Afrikan descent, in the diaspora, have a legitimate claim to repatriation.
7. Artificial, colonial borders, in Afrika, have to be done away with, as they are a source of division and conflict between Afrikan Brathas and Sistas..
8. Neo-colonialists hijacked the Afrikan people’s revolution.
9. Afrika is not free for as long as Arab colonisation of the North is not addressed and decisively done away with, in a more meaningful manner than the way that Western colonisation and oppression were dealt with.
10. The Afrikan Union is not a representative Afrikan people’s institution.
11. Afrikan presidents and heads of states are opening Afrika up for recolonization and foreign military occupation at the expense of Afrikan people.

The Sobukwe Challenge to Pan-Afrikanists

Appreciate our role
Fellow Pan-Afrikanists, given the state of the Global Afrikan Family, our role goes beyond speaking to each other about the various manifestations of the Pan-Afrikan ideology but actually speaks to organising the masses. In as much as there is room and significance in discussing and debating ideology, that should not be and cannot be the end in itself.

It is essential that we be the catalysts whose primary aim and purpose is to revive the revolutionary attitude and spirit of the masses. No matter how much we can talk about the great leaders of old and their ideological viewpoints if that does not translate to mass organisation on a global scale then we are wasting precious time and resources and are, ourselves, the compromisers of Pan-Afrikanist ideology.

Appreciate our responsibility
Our responsibility is to give direction and meaning to the unrealised aspirations and desires of the people. We have a duty to all people of Afrikan descent. Our duty is to use Pan-Afrikanist ideology to confront the situations that are staring us in the face. We have to evolve Pan-Afrikanist thought and help open the eyes of the people to see that the future of the Global Afrikan Family lies squarely within the ideals of Pan-Afrikanism.

Not only do we help to open the eyes of the masses but we have a direct responsibility to get them out of the feelings of despondency and uselessness created by the attitudes of the betrayers of the Afrikan people’s revolution. We have to ensure that they are truly re-ignited and learned in the realities that are facing them today, see them beyond the tricks and lies that have been sold to them through politricks.

In the endeavour to re-ignite the masses, we have an important responsibility to give greater meaning and solidarity to the Global Pan-Afrikan Movement. The only time that our message will be of any meaning, significance and relevance to the people is when we, the Pan-Afrikanists, the custodians of the message of liberation for Afrika and its people, globally, find ways and means by which to speak with the same voice. Pan-Afrikanism is one.

The Afrikan people have entrusted their future to us
Whether it has been declared or not, directly or indirectly, Afrikan people have entrusted their future to Pan-Afrikanists. For as long as there is an Afrikan person today, crying out and lamenting as a result of the dissatisfaction occasioned by the shortfalls of “independence” and various other Afrikan struggles, world over, it means that that person is still looking for a future that will be Pan-Afrikanist in orientation. It is not in the use of the title that the future of the people will be secured, it is in us continually evolving and using the ideology for the benefit of the people.

The masses have seen that there is no future in negotiated settlements that simply saw white oppression and excesses being replaced by black ones. They have further seen that neo-colonialism is no answer as it simply ensures that blacks in so-called independent Afrikan countries are now doing the bidding for their white bosses at the expense of the Afrikan people. The masses don’t want to continue to be spectators in the game of politricks where the only winners are the neo-colonialists, their masters and the new colonialist kids on the block, namely China.

That is why we have such a great responsibility on our shoulders. Disorganised as the Pan-Afrikan Movement is, if we are to be honest with ourselves, we are still the only real hope for the Afrikan masses. Let us therefore be a better and more meaningful hope as an organised and united entity. One of the major weaknesses of the Global Pan-Afrikan Movement is its multiple manifestations and lack of cohesion.

We have sworn that we are leading them
By virtue of the fact that we have responded to the Pan-Afrikanist call, we have effectively taken oath before God, our Ancestors and the people that we are leading them. Taking oath does not mean laying one’s hand on some religious text and repeating some words; no, it means committing oneself and life to working for the people’s cause – to spend and be spent for the sake of the advancement of Afrika and its people globally.

Not to death, but to life abundant
In our leadership of the masses we have to always ask ourselves where we are leading the people to. As Pan-Afrikanists we have the ability to lead the people out of the abyss that they find themselves in, into the abundant life that is the right of every human being to have.

Having read the challenge Brathas and Sistas, let us not generalise its contents; yes it is a message to everyone who claims the Pan-Afrikanist identity or label, but it cannot be applied collectively without being applied at individual level first. Given the betrayal of the independence and civil rights movements and some other struggles that our people have been forced to be involved in, a more concerted effort to keep the teachings of the likes of Sobukew alive is most paramount.

The subtleties that have become the realities of the unrealised struggles are a greater challenge than fighting the white man and his oppression. Pan-Afrikanism now has to respond to the black on black in-fighting and build one great Afrikan nation. People have to be moved from the illusion of freedom and democracy to see the reality of what has not changed for the Afrikan masses; People have to see the United States Africa Command and the Chinese advances into Africa for what they are; People have to see the Arab drive towards the southern parts of Afrika for what it is; this can and will only be realised by fully embracing the Sobukwe Challenge.

Are you up for the challenge M-Afrika?
Rise, be seen and be heard M-Afrika

Don't miss:
Marcus Garvey Philosophy (God and Nature first made us what we are - Part 1)
Marcus Garvey Philosophy (God and Nature first made us what we are - Part 2)
Marcus Garvey Philosophy (Up, up, you mighty race! You can accomplish what you will)
Pan Afrikanism : Brief Introduction


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