Read time: 3 minutes

Honouring Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe - igniting visions of a brighter future

"Let me plead with you, lovers of my Africa, to carry with you into the world the vision of the new Africa."

These were the plaintive words of the great Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, whose vision and mission was to see Africans unite. "To see an Africa liberated politically, socially and economically, where her people are empowered through education."

His passionate flame is being kept alive by his family, whose foundation is built on the firm beliefs of preserving African roots and cultural heritage.

And, it is a vision shared by Vaal University of Technology's Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Gordon Zide, who also knew the struggle hero personally. So, aligned with these beliefs is Professor Zide's vision that the idea of forming a partnership and collaboration with the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe (RMS) Trust came naturally - and with full support from the VUT community.

With the Robert Sobukwe Museum and Learning Centre, the trust aims to encourage youth to follow in the footsteps of Sobukwe and to strive for the extraordinary.

Prof Zide found a distinct connection between the trust's work and the projects he intends to roll out at the university in the near future.

It is also his intention for the university to support the trust in a variety of ways.

It was for these reasons that he, accompanied by his esteemed colleagues Mpho Diago (Director: Special Projects in the Office of the V-C), Wiseman Jack (Executive Director: International Relations) and Dr Dan Mokoena: (VUT Registrar), visited Sobukwe's widow, Veronica, her family and the Sobukwe Heritage site near Graaff Reinet recently.

The trust is run by his son Dinilesizwe and grandson Tsepo, along with colleague and close family friend, Thando Sipuye. It has made tremendous strides since its inception in 1998. However, it is only through continuous partnerships and collaborations that the trust can operate sustainably and ensure all projects and services are delivered to those who appreciate and acknowledge Sobukwe's great work.

On arrival in Graaff Reniet, the VUT delegation was greeted by Tsepo Sobukwe, whose uncanny resemblance to his late grandfather is striking. One could be looking at a direct mirror image of the political hero.

After being welcomed into their neat, humble home, the meet-and-greet kicked off with Prof Zide relaying stories of his experiences with Sobukwe and the impact he made on his life as a young man.

Prof Zide met him in 1958 through his uncle, John Nyathi Phokela. Phokela and Sobukwe studied together and were both ANC members, but later branched out to give birth to the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). Sobukwe, affectionately called Prof "Ndoda", which is short for Ndodomzi, Prof Zide's middle name.

Prof Zide said his interest in African studies, politics and education was strongly influenced by the struggle hero, as he too was a teacher and later become an African languages lecturer at Wits University. It is obvious that Prof Zide appreciated each encounter he had with the great man, and his tone of voice, glint in his eyes and facial expression all clearly relayed his emotions.

This year, on 28 February, it was exactly 40 years since Sobukwe died. Prof Zide was present at his funeral, which took place in Graaff Reniet in 1978.

"Sobukwe is one unsung hero of the struggle; little is being said about the role uncle Rob played in our history," said Prof Zide.

Unpacking the intentions of his visit to the Sobukwe family, Prof Zide asked pertinent questions such as: "What is it that we can do to ensure that the Sobukwe legacy lives on? What is being said about Mama Veronica?

"Women are actually the engines behind these men who are celebrated and commemorated. It is time that we honour the women too," he explained.

The VUT would like to develop a partnership with the trust and to honour the role "Mama Veronica" played in the struggle. It plans to do this through the office of the Registrar by recognising her with an honorary doctorate.

One of the many ideas is the establishment of an African Cultural Museum at VUT. Sobukwe taught African languages and was a staunch believer and practitioner of pan-Africanism - the principle or advocacy of the political union of all the indigenous inhabitants of Africa. Prof Zide said that with regards to preserving African languages, cultures and traditions, the better we do something, the more relevant and important it becomes to the next generation.

"One needs to know his or her roots in order to know where they are going," he said.

Sobukwe is a national and academic hero and VUT aims to preserve his legacy. Not only through commemorating the trust and the work they have done and are continuing to do, but also by ensuring intensive research is done on Sobukwe, and that all that information can be easily accessed by the public when they need it through the envisaged African Cultural Museum's library.

The RMS Trust has indicated it is experiencing challenges with its day-to-day upkeep and is openly welcoming partnership opportunities. It made mention of memoirs, letters and interview recordings of Sobukwe that need to be digitised and archived. Among the many projects that VUT proposes to assist the trust with, the digitisation and archiving of Sobukwe's interviews and scripts is one of them. This is a project that Jack has placed a keen interest in.

Registrar Dr Mokoena also shared his knowledge and gave a brief history of Vanderbijlpark, just south of Johannesburg, where VUT's campus lies. It is situated less than 5km away from Sharpeville Township, where the massacre occurred on 21 March 1960. At this time, Sobukwe's PAC participated in the anti-pass campaign, which resulted in his arrest and saw him spend nine years in jail. Historically, the PAC has had a strong influence in the Vaal.

"VUT is seen as a beacon of hope for the communities it serves; it is believed that as an academic institution, it is our duty to do something to recognise and preserve the memories of our unsung heroes," said Dr Mokoena.

The university intends to rename its buildings after struggle heroes such as Sobukwe, Japhta Masemola and Mapetla Mohapi.

Prof Zide said he further wishes to establish a Robert and Veronica Sobukwe Scholarship or Foundation that will support VUT's new education degree. This scholarship will tie in with the B.Ed course and ultimately benefit underprivileged students who wish to pursue a career in education. He said he would like this scholarship to give first preference to the youth of Graaff Reniet.

Mama Veronica, who gave everyone a warm welcome and clearly remembered Prof Zide and his uncle, approved VUT's plans to work with the trust, saying it is important to consistently provide a platform that preserves the Sobukwe history.

The pan-African legacy is rarely covered by mainstream media. VUT's vision is to share the school of thought surrounding pan-Africanism. Prof Zide believes it is important that people's stories are told through their own perspectives and preserved for future generations. It is important to ensure the richness, authenticity and culture of Africans is restored, he said.

VUT is proud to be the first university in South Africa to formally visit the Sobukwe family. The experience and gesture of goodwill touched both the VUT delegation and the Sobukwe family.

"It reaffirms that Sobukwe's name will not be forgotten, but etched on the walls of an academic institution and remembered eternally by generations to come," Prof Zide said.