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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

“Why Doesn’t Everyone Know About Robert Sobukwe?” Benjamin Pogrund’s Book is an Excellent Place to Start

Robert SobukweAndrew P Walker says Benjamin Pogrund’s Robert Sobukwe: How Can Man Die Better “held me rapt like no other book I’ve read”.

In a post Walker shared on Facebook, he describes a trip he undertook to Robben Island in 2008, where a guide pointed out the tiny cottage where Sobukwe was “held in isolation far from the other prisoners, like an island within an island”.

“How could I know nothing of this man who was considered such a threat to the apartheid regime that he was held away from the prison?” Walker wonders. “Even Nelson Mandela was held with the other prisoners.”

Read his piece, shared with permission:

By Andrew P Walker

As some of my Facebook friends and all of my family know, the biography of Robert Sobukwe had a profound impact on me.

While I vaguely knew his name, I didn’t know the story behind It until a 2008 visit to Robben Island, which sits off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. [If you don't know, Robben Island was where the apartheid regime held its most threatening political prisoners.]

While on a tour of the island, happenstance briefly stalled us in front of a small collection of buildings away from the main prison compound. As we waited to proceed, the guide pointed out guard housing, the island’s kennels (for the guard dogs, of course), and another tiny cottage where Sobukwe had been held in isolation far from the other prisoners, like an island within an island.

I wondered, how could I know nothing of this man who was considered such a threat to the apartheid regime that he was held away from the prison? In fact, he was the only isolated prisoner – even Nelson Mandela was held with the other prisoners.

Later, in the post-tour gift shop as we awaited the ferry back to the mainland, I picked up a biography about Sobukwe called How Can Man Die Better, written by Benjamin Pogrund. It details the life, hardship, courage, intellect and superhuman character – and sadly the death – of Robert Sobukwe and it held me rapt like no other book I’ve read. It’s worth mentioning that the intertwined story of white South African journalist Pogrund is also very compelling.

We lived in London at this time and I started reading the book on the flight home. I continued to read it slowly on my commutes to and from work, not wanting to rush through it so I could make it last. The question I asked myself while reading morphed from “How could I not know this guy?” into, “Why doesn’t everyone know about Robert Sobukwe??”

This question compelled me to do two unusual things:

1) Unable to find the book in any store outside of South Africa, I ordered 10 copies from the South African publisher, which I promptly distributed to friends, family and other potentially sympathetic contacts including the very pro-Africa Chairman of the Board of Reuters where I worked at the time. (How audacious!)

2) I stalked Pogrund down. Wikipedia had a much-too-brief article about the author and I wasn’t able to find him on either LinkedIn or Facebook, checking both – as you do to find anyone these days. I did, however, find another Pogrund on Facebook and proceeded to compare her present day Facebook photo to one included in the book of the author’s daughter sitting with Sobukwe’s kids. An already long story cut shorter, indeed via Facebook I found Pogrund’s daughter Jennie Pogrund. In turn she introduced me to her father and Sobukwe’s son, who is working hard to preserve his father’s legacy through the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Trust. I enjoy an irregular but ongoing correspondence with each today.

So what compells me to write about all of this now (again) on Facebook? In conjunction with the third printing of the book, this past Thursday was the re-launch of Sobukwe: How Can Man Die Better. The ebook is available everywhere on Amazon so now anyone can get it – and of course I encourage you to do so! And while I am at it, you should also check out the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Trust on Facebook.

Here’s a link to the book re-launch: The Legacy of Robert Sobukwe: Integrity, Vision and an Emphasis on Economic Justice

Here’s a link to the Trust’s Facebook Page: Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Trust

Everyone should know about Robert Sobukwe, so why don’t you?

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Kelwyn Sole</a>
    Kelwyn Sole
    August 19th, 2015 @14:18 #

    I'm hoping someone will do a history of FOFATUSA.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    August 19th, 2015 @15:01 #

    Please write it, Kelwyn. And I've often asked Walker's question here, not just rhetorically. Sobukwe was an extraordinary human being -- is this history invisible because of the eclipse of the PAC? (Even the link to their website is currently broken.)

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Kelwyn Sole</a>
    Kelwyn Sole
    August 19th, 2015 @21:01 #

    cf 'In the Twilight of Revolution' Kwandiwe Kondlo p. 129.


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