Tag Archive: Robert Sobukwe


Continuing sharing some thoughts and extracts from the really great book i just finished, ‘Robert Sobukwe: How Can Man Die Better’ by Benjamin Pogrund and if you missed the first ones, you can catch up over here.

Who better to kick us off on the topic of criticism, than my good friend Jack Handey:

jack

This extract is from Chapter 20 and this is Benjamin, the author, speaking:

We had to delay our first meeting. I could only get away from Johannesburg and the trial over weekends, and he [Robert Sobukwe] was available for only part of the time because of his house arrest restriction. It was a tough period in the trial, I told him, as the prosecution was summing up its case ‘with a flood of abuse flung at Gandar and me and our attorney [Kelsey Stuart, who had four years earlier, cleared my reports on jails for publication in the Mail]. Had it been justified and related to facts one could not and would not mind. But it has all been entirely unrelated either to actual events or to our evidence, so I have found it sick-making… and at an extraordinarily low intellectual level.’

Sobukwe was now following the trial day by day as the Rand Daily Mail reached Kimberley by lunchtime on the day of publication. Once more he stepped in to give comfort, at the same time reflecting his own ability to retain tranquility in the face of the poisonous attacks on him over the years: ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘the prosecution had a field day: a real stryddag [an Afrikaner party political rally]. But what my attitude has always been, Benjie, that what matters is what my friends think of me. It bothers me not a damn what my enemies think of me or say of me. They would not be normal if they showered me with compliments.’ 

i feel like there is some good wisdom there in terms of being comforted and encouraged by those who know you [and like you] – it can be helpful to listen to those who think differently from you for sure, as that is often how we learn – listen and weigh up and hold on to the good and let go of the bad – but not to take everything your detractors say about you on board [yes, i imagine this includes faceless comment trolls!]

[For the next part looking at a brotherly pact, click here]

The first paragraph that stood out for me strongly in this book about Robert Sobukwe and resonated completely, was this one which spoke into my validification as an African [or as my mate, Nkosi, would put it, “Afrikan”].

From Chapter 13 of ‘Robert Sobuke: How Can Man Die Better’ by Benjamin Pogrund:

‘And on his attitude to whites he spoke with passion: “I know I have been accused of being anti-white, not only by the government, but also by others. But there is not one who can quote any statement of mine that bears that out. When I say “Africa for the Africans” I have always made clear that by African I mean those, of any colour, who accept Africa as their home. Colour does not mean anything to me.” 

Not only was this a re-statement of his known position but, as we went on talking, what emerged was that he had thought further into some of the practicalities of applying Africanist thinking.’ [page 204]

africa

i like these words – not because i need anyone else to tell me i am African or that it is okay for me to think that – that is something i just know and feel to the core of my being. But it is great to hear that someone who seems to be very much respected amongst many black communities, thought the same way.

[For the next post extract from this book looking at ‘Enemy Thoughts’, click here]

One of the ways i am trying to prepare myself to be a part of a better conversation in South Africa in terms of race, reconciliation and unity is by learning some of the country’s history…

…from different voices than i grew up with.

To that effect, after my weekend at Robben Island, i got hold of a copy of Benjamin Pogrund’s book titled, ‘Robert Sobukwe: How Can Man Die Better’ and just finished reading it this morning.

rs

Before i read the book, i had no real knowledge at all about who Robert Sobukwe was, or his role in our country’s history. I had heard his name before we visited Robben Island mostly in conversations with my friend Nkosi who has written some posts for me. And it was certainly interesting to me that he had a separate prison house set apart from the typical prison cells [including those of Nelson Mandela] on the island which seemed to strongly indicate there was something very different about him. But beyond that i didn’t really have much idea who he was.

i thoroughly enjoyed the book. It’s always hard when reading someone’s version of another person’s story to be able to separate truth from fiction, but i feel like i got a pretty good idea of the life and character of this man. Reading some comments from a variety of other sources seem to back up a lot of the key features of his life.

Next up for me is the book, ‘I write what I like’ which is a collection of Steve Biko essays, so i can learn some more about another South African who was pretty much just a headline to me til now. [bad form, Brett]

But in the meantime, i thought i would share a couple of passages or thoughts that stood out for me from ‘How Can Man Die Better’ in the hope that it will encourage you to get hold of a copy of the book and find out more about this incredible man’s life and refusal to be broken by an evil and unjust system that took so much away from him.

While searching for the cover pic, i learnt that the title is from this quote in a book by Thomas B Macauley:

diebetter

How Can Man Die Better – part Afrikan

How Can Man Die Better – part enemy thoughts

How Can Man Die Better – part brotherly pact

How Can Man Die Better – part bigger man

How Can Man Die Better – part black racism?

How Can Man Die Better – part economic justice

cell door

i never particularly wanted to go to Robben Island. in fact, to be honest, for a time i particularly didn’t want to go to Robben Island.

Something about growing up in a not too politicized environment perhaps and then later not really seeing the point or perhaps thinking it was a ‘flavour of the month’ kind of vibe with everyone going and it being such a touristy thing.

But then somewhere along the line [maybe when i was in Americaland and we would drive past Alcatraz on the bridge and i’d think, ‘Well, i can’t go there cos i haven’t even been to Robben Island] it changed and it was ‘a thing i would like to do someday’. but it always seemed booked up and quite expensive and so never became an actually planned reality.

WHY THE CHANGE OF HEART?

On the 27th of November, tbV [the beautiful Val] and i received an email that contained this invitation:

“SACLI’s youth team, Freedom Mantle, is putting together a small event (about 20 younger leaders) on Robben Island for young Christian leaders who are passionate about coming together to transform the nation in their generation. I have attached some documents that give more details. The head of the Freedom Mantle team is Siki Dlanga, who is based in the Eastern Cape. 

The young leaders will aim to discern what God is doing in the nation at this moment, specifically around the identity of this new generation of leaders and the calling we have to achieve in our lifetime. The outcomes of the Imbizo will hopefully provide the beginning of some foundations for a deeper and broader process of discernment as we clarify how we understand the movement God is initiating in our nation at the present time. At this stage the participants are a mixture of artists, activists and academics. 

Could you join us on Robben Island from the morning of 5 December to 7 December and be part of this discernment process? December 5 is the one year anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death and the 90th anniversary of the birth of Robert Sobukwe and we will include some symbolic spiritual acts around committing to picking up the Mantle of the older generation of Godly leaders in our nation. We will be sleeping in the prison. Most days will be facilitated prayer and conversation. On Dec 5 Archbishop Njongonkulu, who was a prisoner on the island for 10 years, will join us to lead some symbolic actions committing ourselves to picking up the leadership mantle of our elders.”

The invitation combined two things i am absolutely passionate about – God and South Africa and so it was a no brainer. The trip was fairly pricey in terms of what we’d want to spend on a weekend, but it included the expensive tickets to and back from the island and so was an easy purchase.

i imagine, in the next few days, as i try to put some words together to try and adequately give some kind of glimpse of the depth and significance of this week to me and us as a group, that i will fail dismally, but i will try. Suffice it to say it was an incredible group of people, some deep and involved conversations on a number of issues facing our country and the church, and some incredible food and profound experiences.

One of the highlights for me was getting to hang with my friend Nkosivumile Gola who has written a number of times for this blog, such as this piece on First Steps towards a Really New South Africa, to be able to eat together and have some back and forth conversations. And he was just one of the legendary young leaders that were brought together for this Indaba.

So glad i went – many reflections to come [both online and privately] and a copy of ‘Robert Sobukwe: How can Man Die Better’ by Benjamin Pogrund to dive into, as i start to increase and diversify my knowledge of the South African story thus far.

sobukwe

[To continue with this journey and read about my identity as an African, click here]

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