Mama Sobukwe Honoured

The Vice-Chancellor of the Vaal University of Technology (VUT), Professor Gordon Ndodomzi Zide, and the Director of the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Trust (RMST), Dinilesizwe Sobukwe, are pleased to announce that an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities will be conferred posthumously on struggle stalwart, Mama Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe, in recognition of her selfless, struggle and sacrifice to the people of South Africa.

VUT Management, on the recommendation of the University’s Senate and Honorary Degrees Committee, unanimously adopted the proposal to honour the late Mama Zondeni Sobukwe with an honorary Doctorate in Humanities. The award is in accordance with the University’s policy which stipulates that the University Senate/Honorary Degrees Committee may consider conferring an honorary degree upon any person who has made significant contribution to improve the lives of the South African Society or Community.

Mama Sobukwe was a sage who did not become part of the struggle for selfish benefits and personal aggrandizement, but for the genuine cause of freedom of Azania. She outstood the test of time, outshone all her adversaries and outlived many of her contemporaries. For this reason, VUT will always remember and honour the resilient and indomitable “Mother of Azania”, as she was affectionately known.

The award will be accepted by her niece, Ms. Fikile Mathe, at the upcoming prestigious Graduation ceremony to be held at the Desmond Tutu Great Hall, Vaal University of Technology (VUT), Vanderbijlpark Campus, on Friday, 12th April 2019. Ms. Mathe is also expected to deliver an acceptance speech on behalf of the Sobukwe and Mathe families during the ceremony.

“VUT is proud to celebrate and honour the late Mama Zondeni Sobukwe with this award and to recognize her contribution to the marginalized people of South Africa and for her distinguished work. We honour her for her endless and dedicated work in contributing to the building of a better South Africa and its people”, said the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Gordon Ndodomzi Zide.

"My mother has endured immeasurable suffering throughout her life without complaining. As a family we are pleased that VUT is bestowing this honour upon her in recognition of her great sacrifice, service and suffering. In celebration of her humility and the simplicity with which she approached and viewed life, we dedicate this award to all ordinary African women whose contributions remain silenced and forgotten”, said the Executive Director and Trustee at the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Trust, Dinilesizwe Sobukwe.

Born of farming parents, Kate and Henry Stini Mathe, in Hlobane village in Vryheid, KwaZulu Natal, on 27th July 1927, Mama Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe transitioned at age 91 at her home in Graaff-Reinet on the 15th August 2018. She was the second eldest of four Mathe daughters namely, Hilda, Getrude and Florence. Their father was a mine worker at Hlobane where he also acquired an old farmstead; while their mother worked as a local teacher, until she was unfairly dismissed by the then racist authorities.

She had her first experiences of and direct confrontations with racism, the apartheid state and police at an early age, consistently challenging ruthless authorities and calling for justice on numerous occasions throughout her life. In her youth she participated and led protest marches against racist conditions imposed on trainee Black nurses at Victoria hospital in Alice. Her leadership of this protest march resulted in her later meeting with Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, the then Students’ Representative Council (SRC) President at the University of Fort Hare.

Following the Sharpeville Uprising on 21 March 1960, Mama Sobukwe fiercely challenged the regime on the unjust conditions surrounding Robert Sobukwe's incarceration under the draconian Sobukwe Clause, remained a backbone for her family and sacrificed her life for freedom and the vision of a liberated Azania.

Interestingly, her younger sister, Florence, married activist, Dr. Fabian Ribiero and together they used their medical and nursing profession to help ordinary people in the Black community pro- bono during the darkest days of apartheid. When Mangaliso Sobukwe was incarcerated on Robben Island under the draconian Sobukwe Clause, the Ribeiros often accompanied Mama Sobukwe to visit him. For their political activism the Ribeiro couple were ruthlessly honeycombed with bullets and assassinated at their home in December 1986 by the South African Civil Cooperation Bureau military/death squad.

In 2008, Mama Sobukwe championed the establishment of the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Trust to preserve, celebrate and profile the memory, as well as the intellectual and political legacy of her husband, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. She served on the board of executives of the Sobukwe Trust and was the visionary leader behind the institution until her passing in August last year.

Through the tireless and commendable efforts and zeal of young people from the Blackhouse Kollective in Soweto, President Cyril Ramaphosa bestowed the Order of Luthuli in Silver on Mama Sobukwe in April last year. This Honorary Doctorate by VUT is the second national honour to be bestowed upon her in recognition of her steadfast contributions to the Azanian liberation struggle and life sacrifice.


Mr. Mike Khuboni
Executive Director: Corporate Affairs
VUT Corporate Affairs Tel: 016-9509216/ 0824526385

Mr. Thando Sipuye
Programme Coordinator
Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Trust
Tel: 0604544949