The Sunday Independent
Sobukwe’s Kimberley offices used as
Robert Sobukwe’s Kimberley offices go beyond a state of rack and ruin
IWAS in Kimberley earlier this past week and found just enough time to force a whistlestop tour of Galeshewe, the township, where Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe was banished to after his release from Robben Island. I shouldn’t have. I left the township with the sort of depression that will keep pharmaceutical companies in business until, as the First Citizen is wont to describe the length of time, Jesus returns.
There is a building in a part of the township that should be its centrepiece, almost the same as the hallowed ground allocated to the Hector Pieterson Museum in Orlando West, Soweto.
It is a shell; what remains of Sobukwe’s law offices. The state of its neglect jars the nerves.
It is in such a state of disrepair that only a deliberate effort can turn things about. The layabouts milling around it use the building as their makeshift toilet, with human faeces dotting almost every nook and cranny.
The signpost pointing to the building is behind it, as if the city fathers wanted to mislead those who came searching for this historic site.
This write-up, which is a lament, is not designed to offer a comparison between Sobukwe and Solomon Thekisho Plaatje. It is not even subtle that attempts have been made to write Sobukwe out of history.
The house at 32 Angel Street that was donated to Plaatje in 1929 by the community of Kimberley as a token of their appreciation for his selfless community spirit has been made into a museum. It is well-kept.
There is very little that Plaatje accomplished that Sobukwe did not. They both edited newspapers; Plaatje and
Koranta Ea Becoana Sobukwe .
The Africanist A further tabulation of what the two stalwarts did respectively would be the very comparison that this lament is not aimed to achieve.
There could be no worse insult to the memory of the two than to engage in this exercise save to say, Plaatje’s presence is ubiquitous around Kimberley and Galeshewe – from the street named after him to the university – simply because he was something Sobukwe was not, a founder of the ANC.
Sobukwe broke ranks with the ANC to establish the rival PAC, the brains behind the Sharpeville pass protests that led to the massacre on March 21, 1960, where 69 people were gunned down, most shot in the back as they fled apartheid bullets.
An alien visiting from outer space each year on March 21 would be forgiven to think burning the dompas in protest was the brainchild of the ANC.
This is the level ahistoricism has scaled in the ANC.
It is not like there is no money in the Northern Cape to refurbish a four-roomed structure. For starters, the well-fed Premier Sylvia Lucas was found to have used the government credit card to buy fast food in excess of R50 000 reportedly during her first 10 weeks in office.
When this scandal broke it was found that in one month alone – August 2012 – she had splashed out R11 956 on fast food in Kimberley’s fast-food outlets.
Based on these figures alone, it is clear that fixing the Sobukwe building is small change.
Forget the six-figure amounts bandied about in former ANC provincial chairman John Block’s fraud and money laundering trial for which he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Block was ordered to pay back R2 million to the state. If it was the state’s intention to spruce up the building and preserve Sobukwe’s legacy, the powers-that-be could use this money of the countless revenue streams open to them.
But there is simply no political will to remember Sobukwe. But it is foolhardy to think an act of deliberate omission can wipe out the memory of a man deemed to have been more dangerous to the apartheid regime than Nelson Mandela.
At their wits’ end over how to contain Sobukwe, the apartheid regime had to craft the General Law Amendment Act No 37 of 1963 “which allowed people already convicted of political offences to be further detained (initially for twelve months)”. This was called the Sobukwe Clause, because it was used to keep Sobukwe on Robben Island for an additional six years.
He was originally arrested in 1960 and sentenced to three years.
While Plaatje was the first black South African to write a novel in English, Sobukwe – The Prof who lectured at Wits University – was among the first blacks to do so.
Well, this is still comparison. Perish the thought.
Just bring Sobukwe back to life by renovating that office.
To erase the memory of Sobukwe, maybe all the governing party needs to do is go destroy the political history archives at Wits and the University of Fort Hare where Sobukwe was a student.