Renowned medical scholar and health ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba recently warned in a lecture in honour of the PAC founder that leaders should serve with diligence and honesty

ON the occasion of Professor Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe’s 96th birthday on 5 December, renowned scholar and the country’s health ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba reiterated the message of service to mankind from the late PAC founder.

Makgoba is an immunologist, physician, public health advocate, academic, former CEO of the Medical Research Council of SA and former vice-chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

In his lecture titled, Knowledge, originality, passion and pride in Africa: the pillars and foundations of Sobukwe’s Pan Africanism in remembering Afrika, Makgoba reflected on Sobukwe’s legacy and words.

He warned that it is time for African leaders to heed the advice of the struggle icon to serve, suffer and sacrifice, “to eschew cowardice and self-pity, to stand for principle rather than safety,” and to empower themselves and others through education.

Makgoba delivered the third annual Robben Island Museum (RIM) Memorial Lecture in Cape Town. The event was attended by, among others, members of the Sobukwe family, former political prisoners and academics.

Professor Malegapuru Makgoba

RIM aims to hold its annual lecture in the birth month of the icon being celebrated. It was launched in 2018, when retired Constitutional Court Judge and human rights activist, Albie Sachs, discussed the late Nelson Mandela’s commitment to the country’s Constitution as the world celebrated Madiba’s centennial.

Last year, retired Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, paid homage to ANC struggle icon Govan Mbeki.

“This was an auspicious evening for us and our guests and an opportunity to ponder on the role of the Island, leaders born out of political oppression through unjust incarceration and the museum as a beacon of triumph of the human spirit over extreme adversity and injustice,” said RIM spokesperson Morongoa Ramaboa.

Sobukwe was arrested and sentenced to three years in jail in May 1960 for inciting Africans to demand the repeal of the pass laws.

But after serving his sentence in May 1963, the South African Parliament which did not represent the majority of the population and in which Africans had no meaningful role, enacted the General Law Amendment Act.

The Act, which included the “Sobukwe Clause”, gave the minister of justice to prolong the detention of any political prisoner indefinitely. Sobukwe was then moved to Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, where he served another six years without any charge or sentence.

Sobukwe, who led a breakaway from the ANC in 1959 and founded the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania was kept in solitary confinement during his stint on the island.

Makgoba echoed Sobukwe’s admonition to leaders to strive for service, rather than self-service, and had a stinging rebuke for those who fail.

“True leadership demands complete subjugation of self, absolute honesty, integrity and uprightness of character, courage and fearlessness, and above all, a consuming love for one’s people,” he said.

Makgoba quoted Sobukwe’s seminal SRC presidential address in 1949 at the University of Fort Hare in Alice, in the Eastern Cape, in which he urged Africans “…to not desert Africa in her hour of need” and to harness education of its people to the benefit of all. Education to us means service to Africa. …We must be the embodiment of our people’s aspirations.”

Professor Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe

Makgoba reflected that even at that young age, “Sobukwe was clear as daylight in his mind that his education was not for self-aggrandisement but was a tool to serve his continent. He argued that leaders needed to set very high standards so that their people must feel worthy to emulate.  Today there are leaders that we will not even wish to emulate let alone call their names without cringing.”

“Serve the people that you love and represent. Serve them at all times with no rewards due to yourself. Serve them with diligence and honesty.  Serve them with passion and compassion,” Makgoba said.

“Suffer for the beliefs that you hold. Suffer for the principled stances that you take amid injustice. Do not cringe before your oppressors and be willing to sacrifice for your dreams and the dreams of your people and seek for mercy or fame. If you had to pay with your life in the pursuit of your ideal, so be it.  Sobukwe’s life is an illustrious example in the highest form of humanity and heroism,” he said.

Makgoba also dwelt on the notion of Africa’s place and role in the world and said that the continent has yet made her full contribution to humanity.

“We have to face the responsibility of being Africans, for it is here that I suspect we will also find our most honourable identity; an identity that will also give us a distinctive brand. These responsibilities are moral, intellectual and inspirational and they are served by adapting and asserting our values to the social structure and the cultural environment of globalisation,” he said.

Makgoba evoked Sobukwe’s energetic devotion to freeing the continent of its ills and those who fail its people. He reminded the audience that Sobukwe likened Africa to a very beautiful woman who had to endure many years of abuse by different men who come and go, such that she lost her beauty and spark.

“He saw it as his mission to bring back that beauty and spark to his Africa,” said Makgoba. 

“In defending Africa and its beauty and potential, Sobukwe promised: “I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think.”

“At the close of a tumultuous year, it’s fitting that we examine the concept of servant-leadership in the national, continental and global context, through the lens of intellect like Prof. Makgoba’s and with the indelible legacy of icons like Mr Sobukwe, and their unwavering commitment to Africa.”

further reading on Professor Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe

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