South Africa // The Eastern Cape //

Robert Sobukwe and the Africanists


One of Graaff-Reinet’s most brilliant but often-forgotten sons is Robert Managaliso Sobukwe, founder of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). Born in 1923, Sobukwe went to Healdtown, a boarding school, then Fort Hare University, where he joined the African National Congress Youth League. After graduating in 1947, he became a schoolteacher and then a lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand. A charismatic member of the Africanist wing of the ANC – even the ultra-apartheid prime minister B.J. Vorster acknowledged him as “a man of magnetic personality” – Sobukwe questioned the organization’s strategy of cooperating with whites, and formed the breakaway PAC in 1959. The following year he launched the nationwide anti-pass protests, which ended in the Sharpeville massacre and his imprisonment on Robben Island for nine years. In 1969, Sobukwe was released under a banning order to Kimberley, where he died in 1978. Five thousand people attended his funeral in Graaff-Reinet.


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