“For more than 30 years the movement’s (ANC’s) old Guard had spent their lives trying to win the acceptance of their white country men. They had been openly contemptuous of the ‘lower classes’ and had shied away from attempts to mobilize the masses, fearing that this would antagonize the government and the white public.”




Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe
First president of the Pan African Congress


The Birth

For many years there was tension inside the African National Congress (ANC) between those with more accommodating views and those with more revolutionary views.


[An ideology that says that black people should determine their own future – Africa for the Africans. It was first expressed by a Xhosa missionary, Tiyo Siga, in the 19th century.]

Tension became more pronounced with the Freedom Charter, which was accepted by the ANC in 1955, and the years of harassment that followed. The Africanists found the Freedom Charter too moderate, and felt that they should focus more on African needs. In November 1958, at the Transvaal provincial congress, some Africanists were excluded from the hall. Rather than causing confrontation, they decided to break away, and on 6 April 1959 the PAC was formed. They elected Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe as their first president and Potlako Leballo as secretary and decided to follow the route of the Programme of Action and Defiance Campaign. Members of the PAC were also not happy with the multi-racial character of the ANC. There was a lot of competition between the ANC and the PAC as they both wanted support from the same group of people. In December 1959 the ANC planned an anti-pass campaign for 31 March the following year, and the PAC decided to organise a similar campaign before this date.

The anti-pass campaign turned out to be very important for the PAC, and for South African politics in general. The date for the campaign was finalised on 18 March, and set for 21 March 1960. The weekend was spent spreading pamphlets about the campaign and calling on people to leave their passes at home and offer themselves for arrest at police stations. The protest was of a non-violent nature, but turned violent in Sharpeville where police opened fire on a crowd of protestors, killing 69 and injuring 180. In Langa, near Cape Town, the police also opened fire and killed two people. PAC member Philip Kgosana led a protest march in Cape Town two days later.

The Sharpeville Incident resulted in international criticism and concern and increased suppression from the National Party (NP) government. The negative thing for the PAC was that Sobukwe had also taken part in the campaign, together with other leaders of the PAC, and they were all placed under arrest. Many other leaders were arrested in the aftermath of the incident, not to be released for between two and three years. Sobukwe was not released until 1969. A state of emergency was declared on 30 March after other marches in Cape Town and Durban. As a result of the Sharpeville Incident both the PAC and ANC were banned on 8 April 1960, a year after PAC was formed.

Sobukwe, the Man


by R.L. Molomo



Sobukwe, Robert Mangaliso

Date of Birth:

05 December 1924

Date of Death:

27 February 1978

Place of Birth:

Graaff-Reinet, Cape Province, South Africa

Place of Death:

Kimberley, South Africa



In Summary :

Politician, activist and first president of the PAC.



When Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe assumed the leadership of the PAC in April 1959, the people of South Africa could have justifiably proclaimed: “The Man of the hour has arrived.” Sobukwe belongs to that breed of individuals who have been referred to as ‘great men of history or simply’ or simply ‘men of destiny’. The great debate around these individuals is whether they are ‘mere products’ of the circumstances in which they find themselves or whether they mould the circumstances to suit their purposes.


There can be no doubt that Sobukwe was not simply and purely a product of settler colonialism and white domination. Certainly the oppressive system always set him on fire. But there was something more in the man himself. In the realm of ideas he was a giant among giants. He had a vision for the future of South Africa, Africa and the world. For South Africa and Africa he was committed to the destruction of white domination, the creation of African unity and monolithic United States of Africa. For the world Sobukwe was no less committed to individual liberties and a non-racial world. “We are fighting for the noblest cause on earth,” he said, “the liberation of mankind.” For us (the PAC) “There is only one race, the human race. Multi-racialism is racism multiplied.”


It is this system of ideas which set Sobukwe aside from the hitherto leaderships in South Africa. But what was even more, Sobukwe showed unflinching commitment and determination to these ideas. And he had the courage and the charisma to practicalise them. He said the PAC was “blazing a new trail”, and “we will not relent” he said. Piloting what is now known as “Sobukwe Clause” through the Apartheid parliament the Minister of Justice, B.J. Voster described Sobukwe as “a man with magnetic personality, great organizing ability and a divine sense of his mission…He will not see freedom this side of eternity”.


Both at his trial and in pronouncements such as this one of John Voster quoted above, Sobukwe and the PAC policy objectives were maliciously distorted. A revisit of the Party’s Basic Documents will readily show that the bulk of the unsuspecting members of the white community in South Africa were subjected to severe bouts of disinformation about the PAC and Sobukwe. For an instance, the PAC maxim that Africa belongs to Africans was and still is interpreted to mean that in a PAC-ruled Azania the white people will be chased away. The PAC Basic Documents adopted in 1959 and still adhered to to this day say an African is any one who regards himself/herself as an African and owes his/her only allegiance to Africa and is prepared to accept African majority rule is an African. To the PAC this is the best security for the future the whites could find anywhere. And all critically important life support systems such as air the decision comes with no cost. All an individual needs do is: I am an African; and renounce any and all other existing loyalties.


Sobikwe led the PAC from April 6, 1959 to March 21, 1960, a period of about eleven months. He had turned around the struggle culture and introduced armed struggle in the new equation. Immediately after the arrest and banning of the PAC and ANC, following the Anti-Pass Positive Campaign the PAC (Poqo) went underground (April 1960) and unleashed so much violence that the racist regime was forced to declare a state of emergency. In 1961 the ANC announced the formation of MK, its military wing. Henceforth South Africa was in a state of hot war which would be halted by CODESA Two in 1993 and freedom agreements at Kempton Park.


Sobukwe, as per prediction never saw the freedom. He had passed on in February 1978, 40 years ago. The second material achievement that must be credited to Sobukwe, was the abolition of the pass laws announced in 1986, 26 years after 1960, there can be little doubt that it was Sobukwe’s blow that shattered the structure. The third material achievement that Sobukwe can legitimately claim is the flight of capital out of South Africa. The rand lost more than a third of its value, an event which rocked South Africa to its foundation and gave credence to the liberation movements’ call for comprehensive economic sanctions against the country. Fourth, South Africans should know that the foundations of the very freedom they are enjoying today were laid by Sobukwe and the PAC. Sharpeville was declared a Human Rights Day and Apartheid (Apart-hate) was declared “a crime against humanity”. The Declaration followed the Sharpeville and Lang Massacres of 1960.


Finally, with Sobukwe’s advancement of pan Africanism, It is no doubt fitting that the Pan African Parliament is located in his country. It is, in a way honouring the man. Not that it would matter, at any rate to him, where in Africa it was located. What would be of concern to him, and is of concern to the PAC of Azania, is its content.


The institution is devoid of any pan-Africanism.  


For further information on the our-story of the African liberation struggle, link here:



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