The Sunday Independent
Sobukwe’s old offices jump makeover queue
ONE chapter closes as another opens. As the blame game continues on who should have completed the refurbishment of the Majwemasweu, Brandfort, house where Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was banished during apartheid, the Sobukwe family seems to have found closure.
The old law offices of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe in Galeshewe, Kimberley, are being renovated as part of a bigger project to rename the local hospital after the late founder of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).
Since the death of Madikizela-Mandela, a war of words has erupted over the delay in transforming the six-roomed house in the small Free State town into a museum to honour her.
Former provincial Premier Ace Magashule, now ANC secretary-general, hasn’t been able to provide clear-cut answers, preferring to give only opaque responses.
He was only able to say that the Mandela family had been kept abreast of developments. The truth was that there have been no developments since money was first budgeted for the project.
A local newspaper, the Bloemfontein Courant, wrote last week: “It is reported that close to R8 million has been spent on the project, which was first initiated in 2005 by the government.
“It remains unclear until today what happened to all the money that was allocated to renovate Madikizela-Mandela’s former home, which locals say has now turned into a haven for thieves, drug addicts and prostitutes.”
New Premier Sesi Ntombela told The Sunday Independent during her whistle-stop visit to the Majwemasweu house that getting the project off the ground and finishing it was a national competency as the house was declared a national heritage site.
Ntombela was confident that Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, Makhotso Maggie Sotyu, who also hailed from the Free State, was well positioned to influence getting work started on the house.
The Sobukwe family had to wait aeons to see work commence on the Galeshewe building.
But finally ground has been broken to do repairs.
Dini Sobukwe said his father was banished to Galeshewe from his Mofolo house in Soweto.
Like Madikizela-Mandela’s move to Brandfort, the aim was to completely isolate Sobukwe by dumping him among strangers in the far Northern Cape.
But through his engagement with the community, who, as in Madikizela-Mandela’s case were warned not to associate with this new face in their midst, Sobukwe came to be a darling of the masses, his son recalls.
An active member of the Men’s Guild of the Methodist Church, as was Madikizela-Mandela in the Women’s Manyano, the banishing orders meant Sobukwe could not do what he loved, preaching the gospel and interacting with the community.
“But slowly people embraced him. Many did not even know what the PAC was all about. They were later to take him as one of their own,” Dini said.
While he was denied contact with the community, Sobukwe took up law studies with Unisa.
“I used to see him study late into the night,” his son said.
Upon completion of his studies, Sobukwe did articles with a local attorney, a Mr Nzimande.
It was after his time with the attorney that Sobukwe started off on his own, buying the building he would turn into his law offices from a shopkeeper.
But once Sobukwe died and his family moved to Graaff-Reinet, it was a case of out of sight, out of mind; his office degenerated into a lair for vandals.
It has been in a sorry state until repairs began recently.
“There are people through the years who made attempts to get it fixed.
“Their efforts came to nought. I have been there a couple of times.
“As a family, we – for the sake of our father and husband – are grateful that it has come to this. In a large part, it is through the efforts of the people of Kimberley.
“The hospital is also going to be named after him.
“We are glad it is finally being restored to its former glory.”
Sobukwe’s widow Veronica, who turns 91, in July, said: “This is the best news ever.”