by Derek Hook
This book, comprising approximately 300 letters, provides access to the voice of Robert Sobukwe via the single most poignant resource of Sobukwe’s voice that exists: namely his prison letters. Not only do the letters evince Sobukwe’s evident storytelling abilities, they convey the complexity of a man who defied easy categorization. More than this: they are testimony both to the desolate conditions of his imprisonment and to Sobukwe’s unbending commitment to the cause of African liberation.
The memory of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, inspirational political leader and first President of the Pan-Africanist Congress, has been sadly neglected in post-apartheid South Africa. In 1960, Sobukwe led the Anti-Pass Protests, which culminated in the Sharpeville Massacre, which proved a crucial turning point in the eventual demise of apartheid. Nevertheless, Sobukwe – a man once thought to hold greater promise for the liberation of South Africa than even Nelson Mandela – has been consistently marginalised in histories of the liberation struggle. With the changing political climate of recent years, the decline of the ANC’s hegemonic hold on power, the re-emergence of Black Consciousness and Africanist political discourse, the growth of student protests, Sobukwe is being looked to once again.