Veron­ica Sobukwe turns 90 to­day

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - BALD­WIN ND­ABA

VERON­ICA Zon­deni Sobukwe – the Daugh­ter of Afrika – turns 90 to­day.

One of South Africa’s renowned writ­ers and au­thors, Es’kia Mphahlele, de­scribed Veron­ica, the wife of South Africa’s strug­gle icon Robert Man­gal­iso Sobukwe, as “a de­voted wife and mother, who turned pain into an ev­er­glow­ing shrine”.

Veron­ica was born on July 27, 1927, in Hlobane, KwaZu­luNatal. She and Sobukwe met in the strug­gle and their story was that of “love at first sight”, Veron­ica said some years ago.

Sobukwe was the pres­i­dent of the Stu­dent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil at Fort Hare Univer­sity in 1949, while Veron­ica was a trainee nurse at Vic­to­ria Hospi­tal in Lovedale. The nurses at the hospi­tal had been in­volved in a labour dis­pute with hospi­tal man­age­ment. At the time Veron­ica was one of the lead­ers in that strike, which caught the at­ten­tion of Sobukwe and other stu­dent lead­ers.

In his call to stu­dents, Sobukwe said: “The trou­ble at the hospi­tal is part of a broad strug­gle. We must fight for free­dom, for the right to call our souls our own and we must pay the price.”

Ow­ing to her in­volve­ment in that strike, Veron­ica was ex­pelled from Lovedale Col­lege in 1949 and she and her friend Thandiwe Mo­let­sane (later Mrs Maki­wane) went to Joburg af­ter be­ing sent by the then Fort Hare ANC Youth League to de­liver a let­ter to Wal­ter Sisulu to bring to his at­ten­tion the plight of the nurses in Alice.

It was dur­ing those try­ing times that the bond be­tween them grew and they tied the knot in 1950. Veron­ica sup­ported her hus­band through­out, in­clud­ing pray­ing to­gether on March 21, 1960, when Sobukwe handed him­self over for ar­rest in protest against the pass laws.

He was sen­tenced to three years in prison for in­cite­ment, but the apartheid gov­ern­ment re­fused to re­lease him af­ter his jail term ended.

The gov­ern­ment in­stead en­acted a “Sobukwe Clause” which al­lowed it to keep Sobukwe in jail for as a long as it wanted. He was taken to Robben Is­land in 1963 and kept away from other pris­on­ers as the apartheid gov­ern­ment con­sid­ered him very dan­ger­ous.

Twenty years ago Veron­ica re­counted the pain of be­ing sep­a­rated from her hus­band and the ef­fect it had on their chil­dren. She also re­vealed the ill-treat­ment and hu­mil­i­a­tion suf­fered by Sobukwe while he was in jail.

All these gory de­tails were made pub­lic when Veron­ica ap­peared be­fore the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion (TRC) on May 12, 1997, in her bid to find the truth about the cause of her hus­band’s death.

Com­mis­sion­ers and mem­bers of the pub­lic lis­tened in awe as Veron­ica told them how the apartheid au­thor­i­ties re­fused her hus­band ac­cess to proper and in­de­pen­dent med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion.

In 1964, Sobukwe’s health de­te­ri­o­rated and Par­lia­ment was forced to dis­cuss his re­lease, but it re­fused. “In Fe­bru­ary 1966, they trans­ferred him to Karl Bre­mer (Hospi­tal in Bel­lville). They did not tell me. I heard about this when he came back from Karl Bre­mer. He was ad­mit­ted un­der a false name. They did not con­sult with me. He was taken back to Robben Is­land and when I vis­ited him he com­plained that his food was served with bro­ken glasses,” Veron­ica told the TRC.

“You mean bro­ken glasses in his food?” one of the com­mis­sion­ers asked.

“Yes, in his food. He was alone at the time… There are things that were done to peo­ple in jail at the time and I’m sure that they did these things to my hus­band, be­cause he was alone in the cell,” Veron­ica said.

Af­ter his sud­den re­lease from jail in May 1969, the po­lice con­tin­ued to haunt the Sobukwe fam­ily. They re­fused to al­low Sobukwe to go over­seas to re­ceive treat­ment for cancer. They also re­fused him a pass­port to leave the coun­try af­ter he was of­fered a lec­ture­ship at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin in the US.

Dur­ing the TRC hear­ings, Veron­ica Sobukwe was not asked about her own sis­ter, Florence Ribeiro, who was gunned down along with her hus­band, Dr Fabian Ribeiro, in their home on De­cem­ber 1, 1986. Ear­lier, in March 1986, their house was bombed, but they sur­vived the at­tack.

All this af­fected Veron­ica, but clearly did not break her spirit. At the TRC hear­ings, she had this to say about her hus­band’s death and com­mit­ment to the strug­gle: “Noth­ing came to my sur­prise or shock, be­cause from the day I met him he was in the strug­gle and he died in the strug­gle. Ev­ery­thing was to be ex­pected. I was not too ag­grieved, in the sense that I ex­pected this to hap­pen.”

It is be­cause of her com­mit­ment to the cause that Mphahlele paid tribute to Veron­ica in an in­ter­view with the Sun­day Times on March 25, 2003, and said: “You were there with Man­gal­iso, Mama Veron­ica, ever ready for him to draw the vigour, suc­cour from the fam­ily warmth that only one can know in his wo­man’s em­brace, a mil­lion times re­as­sur­ing you were there with him Daugh­ter of Afrika, at the bang­ing and clang­ing of prison doors and gates.

“They (the po­lice) were in the busy wards where your man lay, lis­ten­ing to the rav­aging beat of his pain.

“You had been there wit­ness­ing it all – a man fixed on a course, to set black hu­man­ity free; a man breath­ing the hills and break­ing his feet on rocky road.

“Al­ways, you were re­minded this – that no one in all of sav­age Chris­ten­dom could break your man’s mind or spirit, or tram­ple on the sanc­tity of your home – di­vine gift of supreme one at­tended by the an­ces­tors.

“This could be made a head­ing: We salute you Daugh­ter of Afrika, de­voted wife and mother who turned pain into an ev­er­glow­ing shrine.”

Happy birth­day. Thank you for your love and brav­ery.

All this af­fected Veron­ica, but clearly did not break her spirit


DE­VOTED MOTHER: Robert Sobukwe’s widow, Veron­ica Sobukwe, with some of her daugh­ters in this file photo.


UN­WA­VER­ING: Veron­ica Sobukwe was hon­oured by writer Es’kia Mphahlele, who said that ‘she turned pain into an ev­er­glow­ing shrine’.

THE MAN: An un­dated photo of PAC stal­wart Robert Man­gal­iso Sobukwe.

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