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Unisa salutes struggle giants

What’s in a name?

Unisa Council’s recent decision to rename both the Vista and Vudec Buildings has provoked this question yet again. The Vista Building is now the Robert M Sobukwe Building and the Vudec Building is the Solomon Mahlangu Building.

The former Vista Building – now the Robert M Sobukwe Building

The former Vudec Building – now the Solomon Mahlangu Building

Sobukwe and Mahlangu, two giants of the struggle, left an indelible mark on the South African socio-political landscape. The renaming of the two Unisa buildings in their honour goes a long way towards preserving their names and history. Mahlangu and Sobukwe relentlessly fought against the apartheid government and laid a foundation for the freedom we all enjoy today.

Solomon Mahlangu (Image sourced from the National Digital Repository)

Born on 10 July 1956, the young Solomon Mahlangu’s prophetic last words, “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight,” still resonate in many people’s minds. In his youth Mahlangu could not complete standard 8 due to ongoing riots in Mamelodi, where he attended school. After joining the African National Congress (ANC) in 1976, he left the country to join Umkhonto we Sizwe in exile. Mahlangu died at the hands of the brutal apartheid regime by hanging on 6 April 1976.

Unisa’s renaming of the Vudec Building to Solomon Mahlangu Building is in line with the upgrading of the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom Square in Tshwane, a heritage project undertaken by the City of Tshwane’s Department of Sport, Recreation, Art and Culture. Recently, as part of the city’s street renaming project, Hans Strydom Drive was also renamed Solomon Mahlangu Drive.

Robert Sobukwe (Image sourced from SABC

There is much more to Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe than the Sharpeville Massacre, a tragic event with which he is generally associated. In the course of his remarkable life he was a teacher, lecturer, lawyer, Fort Hare University SRC president, secretary of the ANC branch in Standerton, founding member and first president of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and Robben Island prisoner. Sobukwe was born on 5 December 1924 in Graaff-Reinet. Sobukwe was passionate about schooling. He received a bursary from the Department of Education and an additional loan from the Bantu Welfare Trust, which enabled him to enrol at Fort Hare University for tertiary education in 1947. Sobukwe registered for a BA majoring in English, Xhosa and Native Administration. His keen interest in literature continued and became more focused on poetry and drama.

In 1948 Sobukwe joined the ANC Youth League whilst at Fort Hare. However, he became sceptical of the ANC as he believed that the future of South Africa should be in the hands of black South Africans. A staunch Africanist, Sobukwe’s scepticism gave birth to a breakaway party, the PAC, to which he was unanimously elected president. His party led a march which famously gave rise to the Sharpeville Massacre, which left 69 people dead at the hands of the apartheid police. After the march Sobukwe was charged with incitement and sentenced to imprisonment on Robben Island. He was incarcerated for six years. Released from prison in May 1969, Sobukwe was banished to Galeshewe in Kimberley. Though out of prison, he remained under twelve-hour house arrest and his banning order prohibited him from participating in any political activity. On 27 February 1978 Sobukwe died from lung complications at Kimberley General Hospital.

The names of Sobukwe and Mahlangu are the latest additions to a list of other stalwarts Unisa has saluted by renaming infrastructure. These heroes include OR Tambo, ZK Matthews, Enoch Sontonga, Dr Miriam Makeba and other giants. As the students walk in and out of these buildings, they should remember the heroic lives of these giants.

Additional information sourced from

*Written by Trevor Khanyile

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