Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe may have physically departed planet Earth on August 15, 2018, but her spirit will live with us forever. Mama Veronica Sobukwe (née Mate) was born on July 27, 1927, in Hlobane, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Mama Sobukwe, also known as “The Mother of Azania”, played an important role in the liberation struggle.
Azania is the Indigenous name referring to South Africa, which is used by Indigenous Black nationalists and liberationists. Her valuable contribution to the Struggle and her extraordinary life was honored by the legendary poet Es’kia Mphahlele in 2003 with a poem entitled “Tribute to Zodwa Veronica, A Great Woman.”
She played an integral role in the Defiance Campaign in the early 1950s. And her family was constantly harassed by the police.
Mama Sobukwe trained as a nurse at the Victoria Hospital which was established in 1898 through the Lovedale Missionary Institution and was the first hospital in South Africa to train black nurses.
And while Mama Sobukwe was a trainee, she got involved in a labor dispute with hospital management. This dispute escalated to strike action with Mama Sobukwe as one of the leaders and caught the attention of Robert Sobukwe, a prominent political dissident, who was at the time President of the Student Representative Council at Fort Hare University in 1949.
In the same year, Mama Sobukwe was expelled from Lovedale College for her participation in the Victoria Hospital Strike. After her expulsion, the Fort Hare ANC Youth League sent the young Veronica Sobukwe to Johannesburg to deliver a letter to an ANC leading figure, Walter Sisulu to bring to his attention the struggles of the nurses in Alice, Eastern Cape province.
On June 6, 1954, she married Robert Sobukwe and they had four children, Miliswa, Dinilesizwe, Dalindyebo and Dedanizizwe. After they married she worked at Jabavu Clinic in Soweto, Johannesburg. While her husband was in prison, Mama Sobukwe unsuccessfully petitioned Jimmy Kruger and Prime Minister B.J. Vorster, demanding the release of her husband so that he could get medical treatment at home.
Robert Sobukwe was jailed in 1960 after the anti Pass Laws demonstrations organized by the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) he founded on April 6, 1959. Robert Sobukwe was released in 1969 and banned to a remote farm in Kimberly. He died in 1978.
And in a bid to find the truth about the cause of her husband’s death, Mama Sobukwe testified to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in King Williams Town, Eastern Cape province on May 12, 1997.
Mama Sobukwe also appealed to Vorster to grant her husband and her family permission to leave South Africa but Vorster refused. She had also previously challenged Verwoerd to release her husband but parliament and most of the opposition rejected it.
Only in 2018 did the ANC-led South African Government confer the Order of Luthuli on Mrs. Sobukwe in April 2018 for her tenacious fight for freedom and her steadfast and loving support of incarcerated freedom fighters.
Mama Sobukwe died on August 15, 2018, in Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape province, South Africa at age 91.