Sobukwe: The Making of a Pan Africanist Leader Vol 1

Title: Sobukwe: The Making of a Pan Africanist Leader Vol 1
Author: Thami Ka Plaatjie
Reviewer: Sam Ditshego
Published 2019
Pages: 290
Publisher: KMM Review Publishing Company (PTY Ltd

The book is about the life of Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe from birth to the formation of the PAC as the author states in the conclusion of the book. Sobukwe’s grandfather came from Lesotho. The Sobukwes were Basotho although they settled among AmaXhosa in the Eastern Cape.

The book confirms that Sobukwe was a brilliant student, disciplined, principled with a sense of humour. The people who knew Sobukwe spoke about him in glowing terms. He loved Africa and African people and grew to become a committed and unflinching freedom fighter. Sobukwe was destined to become a great leader and his leadership potential was manifest at an early age although he didn’t become actively involved in politics until he was a student at Fort Hare University as he himself said during an interview in 1970 with Gail Gerhart.

The author quotes this interview in the book. However, there is that part which the author uses to try and prove that the Africanists were frustrated because they could not openly criticise certain ANC leaders who had been arrested during the Defiance Campaign (page 208). However, Ka Plaatjie quoted selectively, he did not quote the entire answer that Sobukwe gave to Gail Gerhart in order for the reader to have a clearer picture as to what Sobukwe was responding to.

Gerhart asked Sobukwe what his role was in the Defiance Campaign and immediately asked Sobukwe when he first came to Johannesburg from Standerton, did he want to get involved in politics. Then Sobukwe responded thus:

In trying to put our point of view across in Congress we were very frustrated because of the leadership situation in the ANC. By this time the real leaders were banned and couldn’t speak openly. Therefore we couldn’t directly attack them personally, and there was no way they could personally reply to us in public. We knew, however, that it was they who were responsible for the course of events in the ANC. While these banned men were behind the scenes, men of much lesser calibre – total “fools” – were actually in the leadership positions in Congress. We had no respect for any of these people; yet there was no point in personally attacking them, because they were simply carrying out instructions from the banned leaders, saying what they’d been told to say by the big boys. They tended to be dogmatic and there was no point in trying to engage them in argument. Our tactics in the face of this were to try to use every meeting and conference to speak directly to the people, to “hammer home” our “line” with all the persuasiveness we could. Pretty soon they got wise to this and began to exclude us from conferences.

Sobukwe went on and criticised Albert Luthuli which the author captured. He continued to castigate ANC leaders in the same response saying, “The people running the ANC by this time were a very mediocre lot. One couldn’t engage them in argument because they didn’t themselves understand the policies they were supposed to defend. Just as in the earlier days, we felt the ANC was only reacting to moves made by the government. It had abandoned the Program of 1949 altogether. Our aim was always to bring the ANC back to the Program of Action. We would be living different lives today if the ANC had stuck to that Program”.

Sobukwe had lost respect for ANC leaders and justifiably so describing them as ‘total fools’ and ‘a very mediocre lot’ which Ka Plaatjie does not bring up.

The problem is that Ka Plaatjie reflects the views of his current political home. He is trying to put a view across that Sobukwe and his followers were wrong to form a new party and also that their views were wrong.He also portrays the Africanists as anti-communist yet in the same interview from which he quotes, Sobukwe clearly explains their position on communism and the Communist Party. Sobukwe and the Africanists were against whites being in the forefront of the African people’s struggle for liberation. Peter Raboroko is one of the people Ka Plaatjie spoke to but he did not refer to Raboroko’s excellent exposition and an elaborate rebuttal to the Freedom Charter titled the Africanist Case.

He quotes extensively from Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom which I reviewed in 1995 and found it to be extremely partisan. Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom cannot be relied upon for an objective analysis on Sobukwe and the Africanists (pages 234 – 236).He gave Mandela the last word in a book about Sobukwe. Mandela did not even understand the philosophy of Black Consciousness. To Mandela, the PAC and BCM were immature.

To get a balanced perspective, Long Walk to Freedom should be read along with David James Smith’s Young Mandela which I reviewed in 2010. Young Mandela is not referenced in Ka Plaatjie’s book.

Ka Plaatjie could not have acknowledged that Sobukwe and the Africanists were right to question the motives of ANC leaders such as Mandela and Oliver Tambo. Perhaps if he did he could not have been allowed to launch his book from the offices of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.What has emerged in the past few years confirms the suspicions Sobukwe and the Africanists had about some ANC leaders. For example, there are two books The Big Breach by former MI6 officer Richard Tomlinson and MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations by Stephen Dorril which reveal that Mandela was an MI6 agent.

In 1985 while the people of South Africa were under the impression that the ANC was engaged in a war of liberation, their leaders were meeting with white South African business people in Zambia. Oliver Tambo was photographed with Gavin Relly and Kenneth Kaunda during one of those meetings. Tiny Rowland who was an MI6 agent and an apartheid spy had close contact with the likes of Tambo.

Mandela and Tambo are portrayed as paragons of virtue when in the early 1990’s, according to Fred Bridgland in his book Truth, Lies and Alibis: A Winnie Mandela Story they (Mandela and Tambo)arranged with Kaunda that a key state witness in Winnie Mandela’s Stompie murder case, Katiza Cebekhulu be incarcerated in Zambia when he had committed no crime in Zambia. The poor young man was kidnapped from Johannesburg and taken to Zambia where he spent more than two unpleasant years in a Zambian prison to prevent him from testifying against Winnie Mandela. ANC leaders committed countless moral and political blunders.

Ka Plaatjie would not have revealed information such as this to demonstrate to the readers that Sobukwe and the Africanists were always right about the motives of some ANC leaders.The truism that people cannot best represent causes they have betrayed holds true.

The book is a good read although it misrepresents the ideological disposition of the Africanists by obfuscating,inter alia, the fact that ANC elective conferences were characterised by plain thuggery.