SOBUKWE: My Idea of AFRICA IN 1973

Written in March 1959

What of our Africa in 14 years’ time? Will it be enjoying freedom and peace? Or will it sink to chaos and barbarism? What of those stages leading to a United States of Africa, as defined by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah at the All-Africa People’s Conference? Will they be implemented? These and other pertinent questions of the day are answered in this intriguing article, written for DRUM by Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, who has lately been coming to the front inside South Africa.


NOBODY disputes our contention that Africa will be free from foreign rule. What is disputed by many, particularly the ruling white minority is that she will be free either “within our life time’’ or by 1963 or even by 1973 or 1984.

However, the African nationalist movements which met at the All-Africa People’s Conference in Accra in 1958 put 1963 as the target date for African freedom.

If however, by this date there are still some parts of Africa that are under foreign rule then certainly, they said by 1973 every part of Africa must be free.

Even though I live in South Africa, I have no doubt this prophecy will be fulfilled.

But the question is: after freedom, then what?

THE READY ANSWER of White ruling minorities is: chaos and a reversion to barbarism and savagery.

THE READY ANSWER of all Pan Africanists, and this includes all the genuine black nationalist movements on the continent is: the creation of a United States of Africa, and the advent of a new era…an era of freedom, creative production and abundance.

To many Africans, the United States of Africa symbolises the fulfilment of an emotional urge for formal African unity. What its nature and structure will be and its role and tasks have not been determined.

The obstacles

Before I give an outline of the United States of Africa we envisage, I will list some of the obstacles we are bound to come across.

Let us assume that by 1973 every part of the continent will be free from foreign domination.

In some parts the change-over will have been comparatively peacefully achieved. In others there will have been bitter fighting, which will leave in its wake a legacy of destruction and hate.

In such countries the first 10 or 15 years will be years of re-adjustment and feverish reconstruction.

There will be plenty of work to do. And the capital for that work will be forthcoming from both east and west because there can be no greater guarantee against both political and economic instability than final recognition of the supremacy of African interests in Africa.

By then, the older states will have passed through the first two of the four stages defined by Dr. Nkrumah at the all-African People’s Conference as:

  • The attainment of freedom and independence;
  • The consolidation of that freedom and independence;
  • The creation of unity and community between the free African states;
  • The economic and social reconstruction of Africa.

These states will probably act as “Big Brothers” to the young states.

Of course, we will have recalcitrants. I am certain that some of the leaders of the African states who are “great’’ either because the press has made them so or because they are one-eyed dwarfs in a land of blind dwarfs, will advance a number of excuses to put off the complete unification of the African continent. They will do this for fear of losing their “greatness.’’

Others, while paying lip service to the concept of Pan –Africanism will probably demand autonomy for each state with the object of remaining in the public eye.

Fortunately, all African nationalist leaders on the continent are Pan-Africanists, and are not likely to allow personal ambition to hamper the cause for which they have laboured and suffered so long in their countries throughout Africa.

On the structure of the United States of Africa, there appears to be no clear agreement yet among African nationalists.

At the Accra conference, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah stressed the necessity for such a communion of our own to give expression to the African personality.

The conference adopted the late George Padmore’s outline of an initial federation of states on a regional basis, finally merging into a federal united states of Africa.

The Pan-Africanist Congress [of Azania], though it has adopted the same outline, is not enamoured of federations because they entail compromise sometimes on vital issues.

Federations tend to kill effective unity because inherent in them is the idea of trial for a period and the threat of ultimate secession by one state or another.

So it is unitary constitution that the Pan-Africanist Congress [of Azania] envisages for the United States of Africa, with all power vested in a central government freely elected by the whole continent on the basis of universal adult suffrage.

In such a set-up, only continent-wide parties committed to a continental programme and cutting across sectional ties and interests; whether of a tribal or of a religious nature are possible.

This will in turn promote the idea of African unity and the concept of a free and independent African personality.

The potential wealth of Africa in minerals, oil, hydro-electric power and so on, is immense. By cutting out waste, through systematic planning a central government can bring about the most rapid development of every part of the state.

By the end of the century the standard of living of the masses of the people will undoubtedly have risen dramatically under an African socialist government.

Subsistence farming will have disapproved and a huge internal market will absorb a very large percentage of the industrial and agricultural products of the continent.

All nationalist movements on the continent aim at wiping out racialism, imperialism, and so on. In a United States of Africa there will be no  “racial groups’’ and I am certain that with the freedom of movement from Cape to Cairo, Morocco to Madagascar, the concentration of so-called ‘minority groups’ will disappear. End


Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe was 35 years old when he wrote this article. He was then a lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and editor of a monthly publication called The Africanist. It was the mouthpiece of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania.

It is under the leadership of Sobukwe and his colleagues like Potlako K. Leballo, Zephania Mothopeng, Jafta Masemola and Philip Kgosana  that the Sharpeville Uprising erupted in Azania on 21 March 1960.

Writing about the Sharpeville Uprising, Frantz Fanon, the renowned author of  THE WRETCHED OF THE EARTH  writes that  this historic positive action campaign, now internationally known as the Sharpeville Uprising “shook South Africa, and indeed the entire world from March 21 this year[1960]  and have forced an irrevocable turn in the history of the country…PAC and the urban proletariat actively intervened in their affairs and ushered in a new period, rich in historical perspective and pregnant with political possibilities for the democratic movement….Sharpeville has become the symbol. It was through that, that men and women in the world became acquainted with the problem of apartheid in South Africa.”

It is this Sharpeville Uprising that led to the imprisonment of Sobukwe on Robben Island without even a mock court trial. The largest number of political prisoners on Robben Island was that of Sobukwe’s Pan Africanist Congress. The first batch of PAC political prisoners arrived on Robben Island Prison on 12th October 1962.

Six of the PAC members were the first to be sentenced to life imprisonment in Robben Island. They were Jafta Masemola, Isaac Mthimunye, Phelimon Tefu, Samuel Chibane, Dimake Malepe and John Nkosi. Jafta Masemola is also the longest serving political prisoner on Robben Island in the history of South Africa.

The late President Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island on 13 June 1964. That is why his prison number was 466/64. After spending 18 years on Robben Island he was transferred to two other prisons with lesser harsh conditions. These were Pollsmoor and Victor Verster in Cape Town.

For Sobukwe, the apartheid colonialist regime made a special law in its parliament called “Sobukwe Clause” to detain him for “eternity this side of the grave” as the illegitimate regime put it. The regime kept its word. Sobukwe died in banishment and poisoned according to himself and his colleagues.

The colonialists never concealed their fear of Sobukwe’s Pan Africanist Congress. The apartheid colonial Commission of Judge Snyman after investigating the armed wing of the Pan Africanist Congress then called POQO told the apartheid colonial parliament:

“I do not want to create the impression of despair by what I have said, but the Pan Africanist Congress is a cancer in our community. It must not be allowed to develop.”

When sentencing members of the Pan Africanist Congress for the 1976 Soweto Uprising on 1st July 1979, Judge Curlewis said, “And then the last thing I want to mention here is that Pan Africanism is the goal of PAC…they propagate and promote the concept of Pan Africanism….From the beginning throughout its existence the aims of the Pan Africanist Congress were radical in the sense that they strove for fundamental change.”

What reasons did the members of the colonial parliament give for imprisoning Sobukwe illegally?

“Sobukwe is a leader, a man who had the entire country in turmoil within a short space of time.”

“The powers that are seeking our down fall are gathering their forces to destroy us, and at this time they are assiduously looking for a star to give lustre to their nefarious schemes….Sobukwe would if given the opportunity, not hesitate to make up and regain what he has lost during his time of detention.”

Another member of the colonial parliament told his colleagues, “I asked Sobukwe, have you considered changing your ideology?

He replied,‘Not until the day of the resurrection.’”

Pan Africanists must be as determined as Sobukwe, Nkru     mah, Lumumba and many other African leaders were. Only dedicated and committed Pan Africanists can bring about a United States of Africa. The imperialists see Pan Africanism and United States of Africa as a threat to their long criminal looting of Africa’s riches and under developing the Continent.

But as Sobukwe told a colonial magistrate who convicted him of organising the Sharpeville Uprising:

“As individuals, we do not count. We are but the tools of history which will always find new tools. We are not afraid of the consequences of our action and it is not our intention to plead for mercy. Thank you, Your Worship.”

Dr. Motsoko Pheko

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