South African freedom fighter Zondeni Sobukwe dies at 91

Farida Dawkins Aug 15, 2018 at 08:23am

August 15, 2018 at 08:23 am | News

Farida Dawkins

Farida Dawkins | Contributor

August 15, 2018 at 08:23 am | News

Zondeni Sobukwe (composite)

Zondeni Sobukwe, freedom fighter and ex-wife of South African Pan African Congress founder Robert Sobukwe died early this morning, she was 91. She was admitted to Midland Hospital in Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape six weeks ago after battling a long illness.

Sobukwe received the Order of Luthuli for her resilient advocacy on the behalf of incarcerated freedom fighters. She also worked as a health practitioner. Sobukwe spoke in a 1997 testimony to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) about her former husband being fed with food that contained fragments of glass.

Mr. Sobukwe died in 1978 of complications from lung cancer.

Having met at the University of Fort Hare, the Sobukwe’s were married from 1954 to 1978. They had for children, Miliswa, Dinilesizwe, Dalindyebo and Dedanizizwe.

PAC president Narius Moloto commented, “Mama Sobukwe epitomises the collective experiences of many other black women throughout the African continent and diaspora‚ whose roles and contributions to the liberation struggle remain unacknowledged‚ unrecognised in popular historical narratives‚ biographical memory and national consciousness‚”

He went on to say, “We will honour her for her contribution in the (anti-apartheid) struggle. She contributed to the struggle by supporting her husband‚ Robert‚ through thick and thin.”

Sobukwe’s work was felt wholeheartedly among some South Africans however, she worked in the background as evidenced by Thando Sipuye‚ an executive member of the Africentrik Study Group at Fort Hare when he wrote, “Mama Sobukwe epitomises the collective experiences of many other Black women throughout the African continent and diaspora, whose roles and contributions to the liberation struggle remain unacknowledged, unrecognized in  popular historical narratives, biographical memory and national consciousness.”

Sipuye added, “Unlike many other prominent struggle stalwarts, Mama Sobukwe receives no special attention; she gets no honour, no benefits, and no assistance at all from the ANC government.” “Not a single official gesture of honour and recognition has ever been granted to Mama Sobukwe; no street named after her, no government orders awarded to her, no honorary university degrees conferred upon her, and no institution, except for a local old age home in Graaf-Reinet, is named in her honour.”

Moloto confirmed that PAC leadership would convene today to discuss Sobukwe’s memorial and funeral arrangements.

Sobukwe was born Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe on July 27, 1927, in Hlobane, KwaZulu-Natal.

She began her career of activism early on. While training as a nurse at Victoria Hospital, Sobukwe led a rebellion against hospital administrators citing unfair labor practices.  She was subsequently expelled from Lovedale College.

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