Veronica Sobukwe was born on July 27, 1927 to Kate and Stini Mathe in Hlobane village in Vryheid in KwaZulu-Natal. Kate Mathe gave birth to four girls, Hilda, Gertrude, Florence and Zondeni Veronica. Stini was a mine worker, and his wife was a local school teacher.
The family soon earned the wrath of the racist system when they were forcibly removed from their land and relocated to a skomplaas.
The loss of land had a bitter taste for the young Veronica and planted a seed of rebellion which was to blossom into a conflagration of fire.
Stini was able to salvage few of his earthly possessions including his livestock which the girls tended to since he did not have a son.
Veronica enrolled at Lovedale College to do a nursing course and soon found herself in the leadership role of a student protest against unacceptable conditions that included problems with food and the racist conduct of some staff members.
Veronica and her fellow students wrote a list with 10 demands to the college administration which then reacted by suspending them.
Veronica led a delegation to mobilise for support at Fort Hare, and it was on this occasion that she set her eyes on a man who was destined to change her life and that of South Africa.
She met Robert Sobukwe, who was then the president of the Student Representative Council and their meeting was a case of love at first sight.
They met in the crucible of the Struggle, and this fact was never lost to her.
Sobukwe took up the issues of the nursing students at Lovedale and on many platforms raised their plight. In his address to the students at Fort Hare, he said the following in relation to the plight of the nursing students: “The troubles at the college are part and parcel of the broad struggle. We must fight for freedom to call our soul our own, and we must pay the price.” This couple was to pay the price for their entire lives for daring a system of racist rule.
Upon completion of her studies, Veronica was employed as a nursing sister at McCord hospital and was soon transferred to Ladysmith Hospital.
By this time, Sobukwe was a teacher in Standerton, and they would meet when she visited her family in Soweto. According to Mr Hleko, who was one of Sobukwe’s students, the couple would meet at a train station, and in some cases, she would visit him in Standerton when she was on leave.
On June 6, 1954, Sobukwe paid a lobola of £100 to secure the hand of Veronica in marriage. Thereafter, a matrimonial ceremony was held at the St Paul’s Anglican Church in Jabavu, Soweto. Sobukwe had taken up a new post as a lecturer at Wits University.
The couple moved to their new home in Mofolo, and they were blessed with four children Miliswa, Dinilesizwe and twins Dedanizizwe and Dalindyebo.
Veronica was now working at Mofolo clinic and played a behind-the-scene role in supporting her husband and the Africanists, who were increasingly becoming opposed to the presence of the Communist Party in the affairs of the ANC.
When Sobukwe left his house on the fateful day of March 21, to hand himself over for arrest, she accompanied him in that brief march and separated when she took her way to work.
She was well aware that anything could happen to him. She knew that they met in the Struggle and it was thus a life of struggle.
By midday of March 25, 1960, she was hurriedly fetched from work by the police who demanded to search their house for any incriminating evidence against her husband. Sobukwe was arrested and was an awaiting trial prisoner at the Fort prison in the wake of Sharpeville.
When her husband was sentenced to three years for incitement against the passes, she was sent from pillar to post when the prison officials hid his place of imprisonment.
When he was due to be released, she was so delighted that she planned a big welcome party for family and friends only to receive a letter informing her that he would not be coming home.
She wrote a letter demanding answers as to why was he kept in prison after finishing his lawful sentence.
That began another long and painful six years of loneliness, lobbying and travelling to Robben Island.
In 1964 she made a case for her husband to be granted an exit permit but this was flatly refused. Year after year she endured the wrath of Vorster and his minister of Justice, Pelser.
She lobbied Helen Suzman to raise her husband’s plight, including his ill health, to no avail.
When Sobukwe wrote an urgent letter to her in 1969 asking her to visit him urgently, the regime knew that something was amiss and they hurriedly released him to banishment in Kimberley.
She was told some months later that her husband had been released and she relished the idea of being reunited.
His health had deteriorated, and she nursed him and even demanded that he be allowed to see a specialist in Johannesburg.
Her brother-in-law, Dr Fabian Robeiro, did much to attend to Sobukwe and referred him when the latter managed to get that rare permission to travel to Johannesburg.
Veronica was an unassuming person who kept her peace to herself. She loved her husband and stood besides him for all their troubled lives. Farewell daughter of Azania.
* Ka Plaatjie, Adviser to Minister Lindiwe Sisulu
The Sunday Independent