Struggle icon Robert Sobukwe celebrated at lecture

South Africa’s health ombud Professor Malegapuru William Makgoba

It is time for African leaders to heed the admonition of PAC founder and struggle icon Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, to serve, suffer and sacrifice, “to eschew cowardice and self-pity, to stand for principle rather than safety,” and to empower themselves and others through education.

So said South Africa’s health ombud Professor Malegapuru William Makgoba, delivering the third annual Robben Island Museum memorial lecture on Saturday December 5 at the Westin Hotel.

The museum aims to hold its annual lecture in the birth month of the icon being celebrated. The lectures were launched in 2018, when retired Constitutional Court judge and human rights activist, Albie Sachs, discussed Nelson Mandela’s commitment to the country’s constitution as the world celebrated Madiba’s centennial.

In his lecture titled “Knowledge, originality, passion and pride in Africa: the pillars and foundations of Sobukwe’s Pan Africanism in remembering Afrika,” Professor Makgoba reflected on Mr Sobukwe’s legacy and words, on what would have been his 96th birthday. He echoed Mr Sobukwe’s admonition to leaders to strive for service, rather than self-service.

“True leadership demands complete subjugation of self, absolute honesty, integrity and uprightness of character, courage and fearlessness, and above all, a consuming love for one’s people.”

Professor Makgoba quoted Mr Sobukwe’s seminal SRC presidential address in 1949 at the University of Fort Hare in Alice, in the Eastern Cape, in which he urged Africans “…to not desert Africa in her hour of need” and to harness education of its people to the benefit of all.

“‘Education to us means service to Africa. …We must be the embodiment of our people’s aspirations.’ At that young age, Sobukwe was clear as daylight in his mind that his education was not for self-aggrandisement but was a tool to serve his continent. He argued that leaders needed to set very high standards that their people must feel worthy to emulate. Today there are leaders that we will not even wish to emulate let alone call their names without cringing,” said Professor Makgoba.

“Serve the people that you love and represent. Serve them at all times with no rewards due to yourself. Serve them with diligence and honesty. Serve them with passion and compassion,” said Professor Makgoba.

“Suffer for the beliefs that you hold. Suffer for the principled stances that you take amid injustice. Do not cringe before your oppressors and be willing to sacrifice for your dreams and the dreams of your people. If you had to pay with your life in the pursuit of your ideal, so be it. Sobukwe’s life is an illustrious example in the highest form of humanity and heroism.”

He added that the African continent has yet to make her full contribution to humanity: “We have to face the responsibility of being Africans, for it is here that I suspect we will also find our most honourable identity; an identity that will also give us a distinctive brand.

“These responsibilities are moral, intellectual and inspirational and they are served by adapting and asserting our values to the social structure and the cultural environment of globalisation.”

The event was attended by, among others, members of the Sobukwe family, former political prisoners and academics.

Last year, retired Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, paid homage to ANC struggle icon Govan Mbeki.

Robben Island Museum spokesperson, Morongoa Ramaboa, said: “This was an auspicious evening for us and our guests and an opportunity to ponder on the role of the island, leaders born out of political oppression through unjust incarceration and the museum as a beacon of triumph of the human spirit over extreme adversity and injustice.

“At the close of a tumultuous year, it’s fitting that we examine the concept of servant-leadership in the national, continental and global context, through the lens of intellectuals like Professor Makgoba’s and with the indelible legacy of icons like Mr Sobukwe, and their unwavering commitment to Africa.”