Defend Truth


Highlighting the compelling case for renaming Graaff-Reinet to Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe


Vusumzi Vusie Mba is a researcher for the Eastern Cape Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture. He writes in his personal capacity.

Any democratic government committed to rewriting history, decolonising, and preserving South African heritage must acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of figures like Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, who was born in Graaff-Reinet.

In recent months, I have closely followed the discussions surrounding geographical name changes, particularly the proposal to rename Graaff-Reinet to Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, fondly known as “Prof’’. This debate transcends mere semantics; it embodies a multifaceted endeavour with profound historical, decolonial and heritage preservation implications.

Firstly, the debate surrounding the renaming of Graaff-Reinet to Mangaliso Sobukwe is inherently a history project, necessitating a deep understanding and appreciation of South African history. It is a narrative reshaping effort aimed at acknowledging and rectifying the marginalised narratives of South Africa’s dispossessed and oppressed societies.

Secondly, it is a decolonial project that endeavours to reclaim narratives and spaces from the colonial legacy that has long dominated South African society. By renaming places to honour figures like Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, we challenge the colonial imprint on our heritage and assert the cultural identity of marginalised communities.

Lastly, it is a heritage preservation and conservation project. Sobukwe’s name is intertwined with the heritage of the oppressed, landless, and black people of South Africa. Any democratic government committed to rewriting history, decolonising, and preserving South African heritage must acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of figures like Prof Sobukwe.

This debate unfolds during the centenary year of the birth of Mangaliso Sobukwe, urging historians, political scientists, social science scholars, and students alike to reawaken the world’s awareness of Sobukwe’s significance to Graaff-Reinet and South Africa at large.

Prof Sobukwe, a bona fide son of the soil was born and raised in the small Eastern Cape town named after the colonial governor of the then Cape Colony, Cornelis Jacob van de Graaff and his wife Cornelia Reinet. Sobukwe was not just an anti-apartheid icon — he was a revolutionary legend and one of the founding members of the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC). He was not just a liberation fighter, but an ideologically sound and theoretically astute individual. His contributions extend beyond mere activism; Sobukwe’s intellectual depth and commitment to pan-Africanism set him apart as a visionary leader.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Robert Sobukwe: Equal status in the pantheon of South African activists is long overdue

However, Sobukwe’s historical significance has often been obscured, primarily due to his departure from the African National Congress (ANC) to establish the PAC in 1959, and despite his significant contribution to the liberation Struggle, his legacy has been overshadowed by that of towering ANC giants such as Nelson Mandela and Black Consciousness’s Steve Biko. His divergence from the ANC distanced him from mainstream narratives of the anti-apartheid Struggle, leading to his underrepresentation in historical discourse.

Despite his marginalisation, Sobukwe was a visionary leader who espoused a radical vision of African nationalism that challenged the status quo in South Africa. He believed in the inherent dignity and worth of all Africans and called for the liberation of the continent from colonial rule.

Sobukwe’s most famous act of defiance was his leadership of the anti-passbook protests in 1960, which resulted in the massacre of 69 unarmed protesters in Sharpeville by the South African Police. This event galvanised international support for the anti-apartheid movement and led to increased pressure on the apartheid regime.

Sobukwe’s courage and commitment to the cause of freedom made him a hero to many South Africans and his contribution to the Struggle against apartheid cannot be denied.

Sobukwe’s ideas were ahead of his time. He was an academic whose ideas and actions were instrumental in shaping the evolution of South African history and whose ideas are still alive within the people of South Africa today, inspiring a new generation of activists and intellectuals.

As we commemorate Sobukwe’s centenary, we must reflect on his legacy and its relevance to our present. Unlike contemporary academics, Sobukwe did not merely theorise, he led from the frontlines, challenging the status quo.

The discourse surrounding geographical name changes during the centenary year of Prof Sobukwe offers us an opportunity to delve into our history, to educate, and to understand our collective journey. It is a chance to honour the memory of visionaries like Mangaliso Sobukwe and to forge a more inclusive, decolonised future for South Africa. DM


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  • Carl Nielsen says:

    Great chap but a crap name for a town. Have you ever noticed that towns often end with ville or stad or town or rus or berg etc. I realise these examples are probably a bit too colonial in there own right but surely there must an appropriate ethnically acceptable suffix that distinguishes a name of a person from a name of a town that could be used. Not to mention the relative length of the proposed name. It’s just not practical.

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