Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe — struggle icon and widow of the late Pan African Congress (PAC) founder Robert Sobukwe — died on Wednesday morning.
Sobukwe, 91, passed away at a hospital in Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape, where she had been for three weeks.
PAC leader Narius Moloto described Mama Sobukwe as “exemplary” and as someone women in South Africa can look up to.
“We are saddened but at same time we celebrate her life, a life well lived, and a principled woman. She was a very strong woman, she supported her husband through tribulation, she was behind Sobukwe.”
Sobukwe was born in Hlobane in KwaZulu-Natal, and upon completing high school, she pursued a nursing qualification in the Eastern Cape. She met her husband — who at the time was a student at the Fort Hare University — when she was a trainee nurse at Victoria Hospital in Lovedale.
Sobukwe was expelled from nursing college over her involvement in a strike during a labour dispute between staff and hospital management where she was training. She was sent by the Fort Hare ANC Youth League, alongside Thandiwe Makiwane, to deliver a letter to former party deputy president and secretary general Walter Sisulu to bring attention to the plight of nurses in the Eastern Cape.
The Sobukwes had four children.
In April this year, Sobukwe was awarded the Order of Luthuli which is the highest honour a South African president can bestow on citizens. This award is given to individuals “who have made a meaningful contribution to the struggle for democracy, human rights, nation-building, justice and peace, and conflict resolution.”
At the inaugural Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe tribute lecture held in August 2017, celebrated poet Don Mattera dedicated a fitting poem to the “Afrikan Queen”.
The Afrikan Queen
Azania, behold the Afrikan queen
Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe
The mother of Azania
We honour you valiant monarch
You whose life was dedicated to the liberation of your people and your land
Mother, servant, friend of the African dream of liberation and humanity
You, caring, giving servant of God
This humble ululation of song and gratulation comes from the deep deep hearts of the Azania nation