On the 28th of April 2018, a day after Freedom Day, 90 years old struggle stalwart and anti-apartheid activist affectionately known as the ‘Mother of Azania’, Mama Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe, was awarded the Order of Luthuli: Silver by South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, at the Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guest House in Pretoria. Her son, Dini Sobukwe, received the award on her behalf.
Significantly, Mama Sobukwe received this long-overdue honour in the year marking the 40th commemoration of the death under banishment of her husband, founding president of the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) and a liberation struggle icon, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, and exactly a day after South Africa celebrated 25 years since the dawn of democracy.
This was the first-time government is recognizing and honouring her.
Mama Sobukwe’s name was nominated for receipt of the National Order award by members of the Blackhouse Kollective in Soweto following the Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe Tribute Lecture dedicated in her honour during Women’s Month the previous year in recognition of her muted and silenced contribution to the liberation struggle. The Tribute Lecture was the first national initiative that celebrated the immense contributions of Mama Sobukwe to the liberation struggle, inscribing her in national public discourse.
To further honour her uncelebrated legacy, and to highlight the critical role she played in the fight against apartheid white supremacy and inscribe her in national memory, the Blackhouse Kollective nominated Mama Sobukwe to receive the highest honour in the country, the Order of Maphungubwe: Platinum.
However, the government decided to honour her with the Order of Luthuli: Silver, awarded for excellent contribution to South Africans who have served the interests of South Africa by making meaningful contribution in the struggle for democracy, human rights, nation building, justice and peace.
Whilst acknowledging that more can be done to honour her legacy and celebrate her contribution to the liberation cause, the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Trust (RMST), and the Blackhouse Kollective, welcomed this significant honour bestowed upon Mama Sobukwe as the first step towards the genuine and meaningful recognition of one of the nation’s least known and celebrated heroines.
“My mother epitomizes the collective experiences of many other Black women, whose roles and contributions to the liberation struggle remain unacknowledged, written out of popular historical narratives, biographical memory and national consciousness. It is most befitting that the South African government decided to honour her as we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the death under banishment of Robert Sobukwe; we hope that more will be done to celebrate her and other women struggle stalwarts going forward”, said Dini Sobukwe, the Executive Director trustee at the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Trust.
“Mama Sobukwe deserves the highest honour in our nation for her enduring resilience and quiet courage. A freedom fighter and a liberation heroine in her own right, she has suffered immensely for her family and the nation at large, without ever complaining or seeking attention. This award comes a little too late, but it is certainly fitting that she should be celebrated and honoured while still alive and in our midst”, said Thando Sipuye of the Blackhouse Kollective.
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