The Political Thinking of Robert Sobukwe and the PAC:

Today we commemorate struggle and intellectual leader, Robert Sobukwe who was born on 5 December 1924. We discuss his political thinking as part of his contribution to the struggle.

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe was a popular Africanist leader and thinker who fought for the political emancipation of Africa.

Sobukwe rose to national prominence when he broke away from the African National Congress (ANC) in 1959 to form the more radical Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). This breakaway group experienced many difficulties with the views of their former political party, the ANC. The newly formed PAC believed that the membership of the Youth League was open to all who “lived like and with blacks”. They felt that the ANC was incapable of promoting black liberation, because of its large number of white members. Essentially they believed that the majority of white members within the ANC had diluted the traditional Black Nationalist position of the ANC. The PAC wanted black South Africans to be in control of their own liberation struggle, without the influence of white liberals, including communists.

The PAC believed that it was the historic task of the black working class and its organisations to mobilize the urban and rural poor so that, along with the radical groups of the middle class, they could bring an end to oppression and exploitation by the white ruling class. During this struggle one national culture, underpinned by socialist values, would emerge.

Keeping these views in mind Sobukwe thus promoted African Nationalism (later called Black Consciousness) and pushed for his Pan-African vision of ‘a government of the Africans, by the Africans, for the Africans’. This can be seen in his speech delivered at the first annual meeting of the newly formed PAC:

“We aim, politically, at government of the Africans by the Africans, for the Africans, with everybody who owes his only loyalty to Afrika and who is prepared to accept the democratic rule of an African majority being regarded as African … Socially we aim at the full development of the human personality and a ruthless uprooting and outlawing of all forms or manifestations of the racial myth” (Sobukwe, 1959/2014: 480).

Sobukwe’s philosophy of African nationalism was essentially a basis for the complete unity of the African people. It was also the basis for the achievement of national freedom for the African people as a step towards a well-developed democratic order in South Africa. Sobukwe and the PAC believed that anti-racism and anti-imperialism, non-cooperation with the oppressors and their political instruments, independent working-class organisations, and opposition to alliances with ruling-class parties would result in the successful execution of the national liberation struggle.

Sobukwe was an icon of African Nationalism and used African Nationalism as the means to emancipate Africans completely. He wanted to liberate them from political oppression, social degradation and economic exploitation.



Delport, Terblanche. ‘Asazi ukuthi iyozala nkomoni1: Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe’s historical imagination of the future’. PINS, 2016, 50, 35 – 52,