VERONICA ZONDENI SOBUKWE
Born in Vryheid in the KZN province, Veronica Mathe was known as Zodwa because of a glitch in her official pass book when racist officials could not register her proper name Zondeni. She demonstrated leadership skills at an early age by protecting her siblings from bullies in the village at Inkamana High School and in the dark city of Alexandra Township where they lived in 16th Avenue.
Zondeni unequivocally supported her sister Elizabeth from doubts in the family and surrounding environment when her suitor with Mozambican parents and Portuguese surname Ribeiro asked for her hand in marriage. Incidentally, the couple were killed by CCB assassins in Mamelodi in 1986. CCB was a State Security agency aimed at political activists.
Zondeni Mathe led a strike of nursing students at Victoria Hospital in Alice in 1949. She was outspoken in linking the poor conditions and treatment of women students with the arrogant and abusive attitude of white supremacist managing the hospital. She also approached the then Secretary General of the African National Congress to link the strike with national politics. The African National Congress leadership sent the president of the Students Representative Council at Fort Hare to address the strikers. This was the young Robert Sobukwe. The two of them say it was love at first sight. They later married and had a life long relationship.
Zondeni Sobukwe demonstrated steadfast leadership by unflinchingly hold the torch of Pan Africanism under severe circumstances when the PAC leadership was incarcerated in March 1960. She became the spokesperson of the conditions in which Mangaliso Sobukwe went through in prison. Mrs Sobukwe, also known as “The Mother of Azania,” played an important role in the liberation struggle and her life was honoured by the poet Es’kia Mphahlele in 2003 with a poem entitled “Tribute to Zodwa Veronica, A Great Woman.”
In her capacity as a wife, a health practitioner, and an activist, Mrs Sobukwe wrote several letters requesting meetings with officials regarding the conditions surrounding her husband while he was in jail on Robben Island. She challenged the Apartheid government, demanding her husband be released by the then Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger and Prime Minister B.J Vorster. She also appealed to Vorster to grant her husband and her family permission to leave South Africa but Vorster refused. She had also previously challenged Verwoerd to release her partner but parliament and the opposition rejected it. In fact, but for Helen Suzman, parliament supported Sobukwe’s continued incarceration.
She held the torch even after the PAC was unbanned. She delivered a testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing stating how Sobukwe was poisoned on Robben Island prison and was taken away without any explanation for two weeks in 1969 before he was released and banished to Galeshewe township in Kimberley.
Veronica Zondeni Sobukwe. Noble daughter of the soil. A patriotic hero and symbol of stoic and unwavering support and love of the Azanian masses.