Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa’s statement on the passing of “Mother of Azania” and National Order Recipient Mama Zondiwe Veronica Sobukwe

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15 Aug 2018

"MAMA SOBUKWE IS NO MORE…” - These are the news that South Africa woke up to on Wednesday morning.

The same Mama Sobukwe that was awarded the National Order of Luthuli in Silver this year for... her tenacious fight for freedom and her steadfast support of incarcerated freedom fighters. She challenged the injustices meted out against the majority of South Africans” ...?

The same Mama Sobukwe that must have remembered when this year began, that it (2018) marked 40 years of the untimely death of her husband, the heroic struggle stalwart, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe?

It is with deep sorrow that Minister Nathi Mthethwa learnt of the passing- at the age of 91- of the "Mother of Azania" Zondiwe Veronica Sobukwe.

Mama Sobukwe was bestowed the highest honour that can be accorded a citizen of South Africa in the form of the National Order detailed above. Minister Mthethwa is satisfied to know that at the time of her death, Mama Sobukwe knew of the high esteem she was held in by the government.

As the Ministry of Arts and Culture, it would be remiss to not note that stories (i.e. books, documentaries and films etc.) of women who have clearly proven roles as matriarchs of our struggle for liberation are too few and far between, and it would appear that this applies even where Mama Sobukwe is concerned. In awarding her the National Order, government displayed its recognition of women who have made selfless sacrifices and contributed immensely in creating a just and equal society.

Stories about the liberation struggle tend to cast the men as protagonists in the story “plot”, with women cast in supporting roles, specifically as spouses to their more prominent and “heroic” husbands. In this year that the government has set aside as the “Centenary of Albertina Sisulu and Nelson Mandela”, this assertion stands true where Mama Albertina would ordinarily be cast in a supporting role to Walter Sisulu, and likewise Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Because of the stories we are yet to tell of these matriarchs of democratic South Africa, it is easy to reduce women like Mama Sobukwe to being merely spouses of great men.

May the life and death of Mama Sobukwe remind us all as South Africans, and especially storytellers in whatever mediums they opt to tell their stories, that unless written into existence and their memories immortalised in books, in theatre productions and/or in film- for the benefit of subsequent generations and for their remembrance to posterity- heroines’ stories are ours to forget.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the family of liberation struggle stalwart, Mama Zondeni Sobukwe, affectionately known as "The mother of Azania" who has sadly passed on. She was a part of the generation of heroines who held the torch of liberation high during our darkest hour.”

-           Hon. Nathi Mthethwa

The Ministry of Arts and Culture dares not forget Mama Zondiwe Veronica Sobukwe. Hers is a story that is integral to this nation's identity. It is a life story that ends, coincidentally, in the month of August that is designated as “Women's Month”. May her death- and her life- be a powerful influence in generating a new future for the women (and men) of this nation, while shifting the narrative that ours is a liberation won on the struggle of men alone, because indeed, women like her lived and soldiered on– despite oppressively difficult odds- until freedom was won.   

Phumla ngoxolo Mama Sobukwe. Ugqatso ulufezile. Rest in peace Qhawekazi.

For further information and interview requests, please contact: Asanda Magaqa, Spokesperson for the Minister of Arts and Culture – 072 372 6807.