By: Funzani Mtembu
Mme Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe (nee’ Mathe) born on 27 July 1927, to Kate Mathe and Sithi Mathe in Hlobane, Kwa-Zulu Natal. The eldest of 4 daughters, educated as a nurse during the apartheid era.
Mme Zondeni met her husband, the first president of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, Robert Sobukwe through her involvement in the struggle against the violent colonial apartheid regime. They married in 1954 and she bore four children, Miliswa, Dinilesizwe and twins Dalindyebo and Dedanizizwe. Sadly, one of the twins, Dalindyebo, passed away.
Waking up to the news that Mama had transcended into the realm of the ancestors, transports me back to the vivid memory of May 2017, the cold winter’s night in which we travelled to visit Mme Sobukwe in her home in Graaf Reinet.
The racing thoughts in my mind throughout the drive to the Eastern Cape wondered of how Mme has managed to remain at the core of herself and her socio-political beliefs given the past and present predicaments.
Little is known or is made out of Mme Sobukwe’s life. This is a result of the single narrative that prevails in this country continually erasing important figures, thereby robbing our people of a complete knowledge of the country’s history.
Mme Sobukwe had her identity obfuscated and ignored in mainly two ways. Firstly, as a revolutionary womxn and secondly as someone who remained firm in living through the ideals of Pan Africanism in her own personal capacity.
These are the two traits which rendered one an aberration especially in those particular times. Mama knew what was required of her being involved in the struggle and she said repeatedly that nothing will come as a surprise being privy of the kind of violence they experienced from the state.
Robert Sobukwe’s existence was sought to be erased from history books by the colonial regime and this remains so even in the so-called post-apartheid, democratic South Africa. To this day there is no single recording of Robert Sobukwe available to the public.
Both Mme Sobukwe and Rre Sobukwe were staunch Pan Africanists who firmly believed in Pan Africanist ideals. Pan Africanism is a school of thought which advocates for the unity of Africa, the governing of Africa by Africans, the land to be repossessed to the indigenous people, the complete economic, psychological, spiritual liberation of the oppressed and advocates for socialism.
Perhaps then, this is the reason why this country hides this particular history, shamed by the fact that Africans remain homeless in their very own land, that this freedom is a sham and the rainbowism is an illusory theory to pacify and lull our people.
They fought the apartheid regime until his incarceration. We know that Rre Sobukwe was an exceptional prisoner in Robben Island in that, a special law taken from his name “the Sobukwe clause” was passed. This resulted in him being the only political prisoner isolated from the rest and remained in solitary confinement until he became fatally ill.
The continued attempt to diminish Mangaliso Sobukwe’s existence and legacy, fiercely loved and venerated by those he lived with, is indicative of the stature he had, it also highlights the level of fear both the previous apartheid and current democratic state has of him.
Knowing this gives us an understanding of why so much of Mme Sobukwe’s life and that of her husband’s still continue to be erased, even post the apartheid era.
I gather from this, the kind of suffering, existential angst and anguish Mama had to go through in those times and post those times. She being a wife of a man with the kind of incarceration no prisoner was subjected too. A wife of a man which the then minister of police dubbed the “only political prisoner” in Robben Island, all this resulted in her being ostracized by society.
Mangaliso Sobukwe left his job as a lecture at Wits University to actively fight the unjust and appalling apartheid regime side by side with Mme Sobukwe who had to hold up space for not only her husband but for the community of black people who suffered through the atrocities of the time. Rre Sobukwe and Mme Sobukwe gifted us an embodiment of the kind of unconditional love we ought to aspire too, for the oppressed.
Mme Sobukwe allows us a perspective of what fighting for your own agency and autonomy under conditions that denies you, would look like. That while there were women who took up arms such as Mme Nomvo Booi there were those who used melodies to fight such as Mme Mariam Makeba and those who took to the streets such as Mme Winnie Mandela.
There also existed such women as Mme Sobukwe who saw the importance of the work of healing that black people needed, she gave a kind of self-sacrificial love, very rare but an absolute necessity ,at the time in which all that was experienced was violence day in and out.
I appreciate even more the array of women revolutionaries I get to read about and interact with, who show us different ways of loving black people, of thinking about a revolution and honoring the work we were called upon by the Gods to do in this lifetime.
Mme Sobukwe for me becomes an oasis of freedom and love in a desert full of depression and violence. She becomes half of the duo that was defiant and rooted in pan Africanist principles and love for their people. One cannot speak of Rre Sobukwe and not speak of Mme Sobukwe and vice versa, however it becomes extremely imperative to recognize her as a stand-alone revolutionary womxn.
So what do we take from her life as young womxn and men of this country, who continue to find ourselves fighting the very same demons of oppression, an imperialist white supremacist capitalist, patriarchal and racist system?
I have learned from her how loving is an integral part of any revolution, how even in the darkest of days it is important that we find a place and a reason to survive and carry that survival with grace knowing and understanding that indeed victory is certain.
I have learned how a love coupled with a radical and revolutionary spirit, can literally carry a community of people into the promise land. Much like our forebears such as Harriet Tubman who freed slaves, when they were not even aware they were slaves. Mme embodied that similar profound love.
it is Audre Lorde who speaks about this kind of feeling, the power and information extracted from allowing one to feel so deeply about a people and a course. She says “The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change.”
We read from the life that Mme lived how releasing such a powerful resource within ourselves can provide that energy for change.
Oh how blessed are we to now refer to uMama Sobukwe as one of our ancestors ? as one who watches over us, as those she actively chose over and over again without a flinch. May we continue to honor her life, her contributions to the struggle and the gift that is resistance.
Robala ka Kgotso Mama
Funzani is an investment analyst, activist, Wits University student , member of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and a grassroots community organiser rooted in deconial thought.
By: Funzani Mtembu