30 Kwame Nkrumah’s Quotes from Class Struggle In Africa: Saluting An African Revolutionary


Kwame Nkrumah was a Ghanaian nationalist leader who led Ghana, formerly the Gold Coast, to independence from Britain. This post explores Kwame Nkrumah quotes I pulled from one of sixteen books, Class Struggle in Africa, he wrote.

You can skip the pursuing paragraphs which place Nkrumah in context to access the quotes below.

Nkrumah first became Prime Minister of the Gold Coast in 1951; he  led it to independence in 1957 when he also became the first Prime Minister of an independent Ghana. In 1960, the country became a republic and he became the president.

On a state visit to Hanoi in February 1966, Nkrumah was overthrown by a coup led by the reactionary forces within Ghana. They were assisted by their imperialist and neo-colonialist masters pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Nkrumah was later to write in Class Struggle in Africa, “Imperialist aggression has expressed itself not only in coups d’état, but in the assassination of revolutionary leaders, and the setting up of new intelligence organisations”.

Front cover of the book Class Struggle in Africa written by Kwame Nkrumah

His experience taught him a lot of things that ordinary people were unaware of. His experience permeates the texts he writes and this is what makes his testimonies so powerful.

His words would became true in the assassination and murder of revolutionaries like Thomas Sankara from Burkina Faso in 1987 and Samora Machel, leader of Mozambique in 1986 to mention a few.

Patrice Lumumba from the Democratic Republic of Congo was long gone by then, killed like the latter two for his anti-imperialist views, and will to uphold the will of his countrymen while refusing to be a puppet of the agents of imperialism.

Fleet Street and the western media and other media outlets demonised Nkrumah, creating fictions that he was a dictator and his rule was becoming authoritarian to justify the coup in support of his political enemies, the reactionaries, who were nothing more than mere puppets in the whole charade.

Nkrumah was a threat to their interests and cut a lonely figure, a voice crying in the wilderness, denouncing neocolonialism and imperialism and calling for the expulsion of the European powers from Africa, and the Unification of Africa into a single state under a socialist government as he spells out in the video clip below.

He was a threat to the neo-colonialist and imperialist ambitions and interests of the west; especially, as he was turning more and more towards the east, China, Russia and other socialist countries.

The western powers couldn’t afford to lose their lucrative share of Ghana’s diamonds, gold and cocoa. They couldn’t let Nkrumah influence other African countries to follow his lead.

The European powers were at war trying to maintain their stranglehold on Africa’s resources. America was using the United Nations to force the European powers to release their stranglehold on Africa so it could get a slice of the cake.

Therefore, he was a threat to their colonial, neocolonial and imperialist ambitions and interests. Nkrumah was a dangerous man. His ideas were dangerous.

The Americans were not happy with him for trying to create a government that was against their interests. They were even more afraid of other African governments which might have been encouraged to follow Nkrumah’s lead.

In addition, Nkrumah’s material and financial support for liberation movements fighting the white minority and colonial regimes in Africa made him a figure who had to go.

Therefore, they used the reactionary forces to get him out of power and continue their monopoly of Ghana’s valuable resources.

Nkrumah spent the last six years of his life as co-president of Guinea where his friend Sekou Toure invited him to partner him.

He also spent time writing books such as Class Struggle in Africa published in 1970 and others.

During that time, he also founded PANAF BOOKS. It came about after the two publishers who had previously published his work refused to publish his books after his fall from grace.

The political motivation was evident: Nkrumah understood better that this was an attempt to silence him and his ideology. He was also able to buy the previous books before they were turned into pulp and all his ideas killed.

Fortunately for us, these books and Panaf Books are still around continuing where he left off.

Nkrumah published about 16 books during his life. Only two of these: Revolutionary Path and Rhodesia File were published posthumously in 1972 by the company he set up. All sixteen books are available through Panaf Books.

I am sure there are numerous other books out there, volumes about Nkrumah’s speeches, and many others inspired by the great man.

Nkrumah died in exile and he never set foot in his Ghana again. There are many around, those close to him, who maintain that Nkrumah was murdered: his death was unnatural as the speech below, Cancer of Betrayal, by Amilcar Cabral spells out.

However, time has been kind to him. Time has absolved him of all the accusations made by his detractors.

Time has restored him as the great man he was. He is remembered as the firebrand of African liberation.  Today, those people who overthrew him hail him as the greatest man in Ghana.

They in turn have since sunk into oblivion. Across Africa he is revered as an international symbol for freedom. His ideology for a United Africa lives in the hearts and minds of true African Revolutionaries.

Nkrumah was central to the founding of the Organisation of African Unity and his support for the liberation movements striving to free themselves from the colonial powers during the decolonisation of the continent made him a hero right across Africa and the Black Diaspora.

Those who have tried to push his visions for a United Africa like Colonel Muammar Gaddafi or Robert Mugabe are either murdered by the imperialist powers or demonised.

Nkrumah’s ideology continues to live in young and old across Africa and the Black Diaspora.

His words remain relevant to an awakening generation of revolutionaries. This is why I have taken the time to share 30 of his quotes below from Class Struggle in Africa. Enjoy.

  1. Workers are workers, and nationality, race, tribe and religion are irrelevancies in the struggle to achieve socialism.
  2. In Africa there should be no African “alien”. All are Africans. The enemy-wall to be brought down and crushed is not the African “alien” worker but Balkanisation and the artificial territorial boundaries created by imperialism.
  3. It is the task of the African urban proletariat to win the peasantry to revolution by taking the revolution to the countryside.
  4. It is the indigenous bourgeoisie who provide the main means by which international monopoly finance continues to plunder and to frustrate the purposes of the African Revolution.
  5. The exposure and the defeat of the African bourgeoisie, therefore, provides the key to the successful accomplishment of the worker-peasant struggle to achieve total liberation and socialism, and to advance the cause of the entire world socialist revolution.
  6. Colonialism, imperialism and neocolonialism are expressions of capitalism and of bourgeois economic and political aspirations.
  7. There is not one country in Africa today where the political consciousness of the worker-peasant class has resulted in the establishment of of a socialist state.
  8. The worker-peasant class even though it has assisted in the winning of independence, has not yet assumed leadership in Africa as a conscious class. Closeup picture of Kwame Nkrumah and his book entitled I Speak Of Freedom. The quote superimposed over his face reads,
  9. Imperialist aggression has expressed itself not only in coups d’état, but in the assassination of revolutionary leaders, and the setting up of new intelligence organisations.
  10. As long as African States continue to be dependent in any degree for training, and for arms and supplies on capitalist sources, the African Revolution is in jeopardy.
  11. Historically, professional armies of the capitalist world have a tradition of suppression of socialist and revolutionary movements. They are the instruments of the ruling class or classes for maintaining bourgeois power.
  12. There is little justification for the enormous sums of money spent on the armies of Africa. Africa is not threatened territorially by any outside power. The border disputes which exist between certain African States, most of them legacies from the colonial period, are all capable of peaceful resolution.
  13. Inequality can only be ended by the abolition of classes.
  14. Ideologies reflect class interests and class consciousness. Liberalism, individualism, elitism, and bourgeois “democracy” – which is an illusion – are examples of bourgeois ideology. Fascism, imperialism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism are also expressions of bourgeois thinking and of bourgeois political and economic aspirations.
  15. Those who for political reasons pay lip service to socialism, while aiding and abetting imperialism and neocolonialism, serve bourgeois interests. Workers and peasants may be misled for a time, but as class consciousness develops the bogus socialists are exposed, and genuine socialist revolution is made possible.
  16. The principles of scientific socialism are universal and abiding, and involve the genuine socialisation of productive and distributive processes. Picture of Kwame Nkrumah waving at the masses at a stadium. The quote superimposed on the picture reads “And my last warning to you is that you are to  stand firm behind us so that we can prove to the world that when the African is given a chance, he can show the world that he is somebody!”
  17. For race is inextricably linked with class exploitation, in a racist-capitalist power structure, capitalist exploitation and race oppression are complementary; the removal of one ensures the removal of the other.
  18. A non-racial society can only be achieved by socialist revolutionary action of the masses. It will never come as a gift of the minority ruling class.
  19. Elitism is an ideology tailor-made to fit capitalism and bourgeois de facto domination in the capitalist society. Furthermore, it intensifies racism, since it can be used to subscribe to the myth of racial superiority and inferiority.
  20. In general, intellectuals with working class origins tend to be more radical than those from the privileged sectors of society.
  21. Intelligentsia and intellectuals, if they are to play a part in the African Revolution, must become conscious of the class struggle in Africa, and align themselves with the oppressed masses. This involves the difficult, but not impossible, task of cutting themselves free from bourgeois attitudes and ideologies imbibed as a result of colonialist education and propaganda.
  22. Socialist revolutionary struggle, whether in the form of political, economic or military action, can be ultimately effective if it is organised, and it has its roots in the class struggle of workers and peasants.
  23. The total liberation and the unification of Africa under an All-African socialist government must be the objective of all Black revolutionaries throughout the world.
  24. The core of the Black Revolution is in Africa, and until Africa is united under a socialist government, the Black man throughout the world lacks a national home. Picture of a portrait of Kwame Nkrumah on the front cover of Time Magazine. A quote beside the picture reads,
  25. It is around the African peoples’ struggles for liberation and unification that African or Black culture will take shape and substance.
  26. The African Revolution is not an isolated one. It not only forms part of the world socialist revolution, but must be seen in the context of the Black Revolution as a whole.
  27. Socialism can only be achieved through class struggle.
  28. In Africa, the internal enemy – the reactionary bourgeoisie – must be exposed as exploiters and parasites, and as collaborators with imperialists and neo-colonialists on whom they largely depend for the maintenance of their positions of power and privilege.
  29. The rural proletariat are workers in the Marxist sense of the word. They are part of the working class and the most revolutionary of the African rural strata.
  30. The basis of a revolution is created when the organic structure and conditions within a given society have aroused mass consent and mass desire for positive action to change or transform that society.

I hope you enjoyed those quotes and found them not only interesting but enlightening and they inspire you to know more about Kwame Nkrumah. Keep your eyes open for my book review of Class Struggle in Africa by Kwame Nkrumah coming soon.

If you want your copy of the books or others by him, you can order from Panaf Books. Follow the link.

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June 26, 2015 · 4:25 pm

Sometimes, I write poetry…


Sometimes, I write poetry that I never get to share. I was a poet before I was a blogger.

I wrote poetry that was published in a few anthologies. I even put together a collection of poetry I was keen on publishing but looking back today, a lot of it makes me cringe.

I performed on the London Spoken Word Scene for a few years before I went to university to study writing or find inspiration for a novel.

Between then and now, I have written less and less poetry although it was poetry that got me going for years when I had no outlet for my ideas or I was struggling with prose.

I think part of it has to do with the academic approach to writing poetry which I found too scientific and akin to skinning and dissecting corpses.

It put me off writing poetry for a while. By the time I was through with my studies, the poetry that had once bubbled effervescently from my mind was a dry well.

However, that period of dissecting corpses did throw up some interesting projects that I worked on for my poetry modules.

I recently came across some spoken word poetry I created for one of my modules as I was clearing my computer because the start disk was too full.

I thought I would share it with you guys. The picture quality is not that great but the sound is cool. It is not very original but I had fun putting it together.

It was inspired by This Poem I heard been read by Mutabaruka at Def Poetry on Youtube or you can watch it below. Enjoy.

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Filed under Creative Writing, Poetry

Thomas Sankara’s remains to be exhumed: Revisiting The Upright Man’s Legacy



Last year, I signed a petition calling for the remains of Thomas Sankara, popularly known as The Upright Man and the former leader of Burkina Faso, anti-imperialist activist and revolutionary, to be exhumed. Now, his remains or what are believed to be his remains are in the process of been exhumed.

Medium closeup picture of Captain Thomas Sankara wearing military fatigues. The quote “We are not against progress, but we do not want progress that is anarchic and criminally neglects the rights of others.” appears in the picture.

I am not sure if the petition I signed had anything to do with it or if his widow and her family’s calls for his remains to be exhumed are the catalyst. It is immaterial.

The good news is that an injustice can be corrected and the late revolutionary, feminist, anti-imperialist activist and one of the best leaders to emerge from Africa can receive a dignified burial befitting a legend of his stature.

It is more important that this is done not only to provide closure for the family but for Thomas Sankara’s story to be told in full.

The truth is something we all want to hear. We want to know who killed him. We want to know about the alleged involvement of external imperialist and neo-colonialist forces. We want those who took him out to be brought to justice.

The exhumation of Sankara’s remains reopens a chapter of African history that those who assassinated him hoped would never be revisited.

His assassination echoes the murder of other great African leaders like Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel, Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Herbert Chitepo, Dr Samuel Tichafa Parirenyatwa, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Khalid Abdul Muhammad and many other revolutionaries too many to mention here.

Revisiting Sankara’s legacy will provide us with the opportunity to understand the modus operandi of those forces that trot the globe preaching democracy on the world stage, but use proxy wars and propaganda to silence and remove leaders who are critical of their unorthodox methods and install puppet regimes sympathetic to their interests.

The assassination of African leaders who have upheld the interests of their people’s and selflessly defended their sovereignty is beyond tragic.

It has arrested the development of the continent and in many cases set Africa back decades, and provided a platform for corrupt dictators and despots to flourish with the support of many Western nations.

The support of these despots has been a vain attempt to maintain the cultural, socio economic and political hegemony of the more powerful nations over the weaker nations and maintain their stranglehold on the resources of Africa for their exclusive use.

These are the ills Sankara diagnosed through a Marxist critique and offered remedies to cure Africa of its ailments. He reached out to and spoke on behalf of all the oppressed and exploited people’s of the world who refused to accept the economic subjugation of classified societies and their consequences.

He condemned ecological devastation, African genocides and wars, racism, wars of conquest and plunder brought on by the workings of capitalism. He understood that those conditions were unnatural but a by-product of the modern imperialist order.

Closeup picture of Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara in military fatigues and a red beret with a star on his head. The subtitles on the screen read

For 28 years, what happened on that fateful day in October 1987 has been shrouded in mystery. Now, the opportunity to find out the truth has become a reality.

Nowhere is this need to know greater than within Burkina Faso. Hundreds of Burkinabe went to the graveyard where the exhumation was taking place in Ouagadougou. However, the security forces kept them out.

Blaise Compaore who is largely believed to have been instrumental in the assassination of Sankara, has always denied involvement but while he was in office, the courts denied a request by the family for Sankara’s exhumation.

His ousting during the riots in October last year paved the way for this historic occasion.

The assassination of Sankara made him a martyr not only in Burkina Faso, but across Africa and internationally. His star continues to rise and many people are embracing his ideas, reinforcing his belief that, “You cannot kill ideas. Ideas do not die”.

Picture of a smiling Thomas Sankara with the quote, “It’s true You cannot kill ideas. Ideas DO NOT DIE.”

His most popular quote, “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas”, has proved that the assassination of Sankara did not kill his ideas, and that they continue to influence new generations 28 years later.

His mission to confront imperialism, colonialism, social inequality, socioeconomic and political transformation and the subjugation of women has not diminished with time.

More and more movements are sprouting internationally, continuing the work Sankara started and he has become a figurehead of many of these social movements.

The riots last year that led to the ousting of Compaore were attributed to the lingering influence of Sankara.

The spirit of Sankara lives on in the downtrodden, oppressed and exploited people’s of the world. His calls for a more humane world where people live with dignity resonates with most people: this is why Sankara’s ideas continue to inspire new and old followers alike.

A quote of Thomas Sankara which reads,

Books like We Are Heirs of the World’s Revolutions, Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle, and Thomas Sankara Speaks which are books that contain Sankara’s speeches are powerful weapons to those fighting oppression and exploitation and trying to gain a better understanding of the man and what he represented.

The books mentioned above are important resources that make Sankara’s ideas more accessible but most importantly, they illustrate what he stood for as well as show that he was an excellent theoretician who could break down complex ideas and reproduce them in a form palatable to the layman.

They reveal his accomplishment as an orator but also set out his plans for Burkina Faso and his achievements within the four years he transformed his country from a nation dependent on France to a self reliant people.

His growing popularity is a direct result of his selfless task to speak on behalf of “‘the great disinherited of the world’, those who belong to the world so ironically christened the Third World. And to state, though I may not succeed in making them understood, the reasons for our revolt.”

Probably Sankara’s most endearing quality was his total trust in the people providing answers to their own challenges and transforming their own society and governing it.

His extraordinary confidence in the revolutionary capacity of human beings set him apart from all other leaders and politicians who tend to preach that the role of governance and maintaining order is the sacred duty of only the enlightened in society. That means only the “elite”!

He played a role as a leader of African people and as the unofficial spokesperson for the oppressed, and exploited in the semi colonial world, plus he provided leadership to working people in the imperialist world: it is this internationalist appeal and perspective of his that many people identify with and embrace.

Many have no idea who he is. But once they see his videos or read his books, they are converted almost instantaneously, attracted by Sankara’s charisma, confidence and honesty.

Image of Captain Thomas Sankara dressed in a red beret with a starand military fatigues. The subtitles on the screen read

Sankara’s legacy has many facets I cannot cover here. In principle, his life’s work provides us with the blueprint of what an African leader can, could and should be.

His honesty and integrity and political will are qualities we should seek in those who we elect to power.

In addition, the way he lived his life with compassion, empathy, in reverence of nature, cognisant of the struggles of women and all oppressed people should inspire us to live a more meaningful life with purpose, and think and act like those mad men who dare to dream and change the world.

The Upright Man, Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara, gave us hope when we had all but lost it. He gave us the confidence to believe that we can create a world built on different economic and  social foundations and not by technocrats, financial wizards or politicians.

He inspired us to acknowledge that we, ordinary human beings, can transform ourselves by becoming active, conscious forces, transforming our conditions in life.

Most importantly, the Burkinabe Revolution is a blueprint to freedom that he left to inspire us to dare to dream and change the world. It enlightened us and left us with many valuable lessons in the same way Sankara was inspired by those revolutions that came before him.

In his own words, he said we are “open to all the winds of the will of the people’s of the world and their revolutions, having also learned from some of their terrible failures that led to tragic violations of human rights. We wish to retain only the core of the purity from each revolution. This prevents us from becoming subservient to the realities of others”.

Like Sankara, “we are heirs of the world’s revolutions” and we too can learn from the “terrible failures that led to tragic violations of human rights” and the loss of The Upright Man’s life to prevent such mistakes from happening in the future.

Revisiting Sankara’s legacy is necessary to understand our potential as revolutionaries and our role in determining the future of a liberated Africa. No developed nation, no matter how benevolent, can provide us with solutions to develop our continent. Let the spirit and ideas of Sankara be our guide to the Promised Land.

Thomas Sankara was a soldier, not only in the literal sense, and even from beyond the grave, he continues to fight for justice and inspire a new generation of fearless warriors, soldiers and revolutionaries. As long as we are breathing, we will continue to uphold Sankara’s legacy and spread it internationally. Sankara Lives!

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Filed under Great African Leaders, Revolutionaries, Under The Spotlight

Thank You


When I started writing my very first post, Yeah, I Think A Lot About Shit, I had no idea anyone would ever read my blog. Nevertheless, I persevered and continued to write without any expectations but simply as an outlet for my thoughts and as a means to sharpen my writing skills.

Seven thousand five hundred plus visitors and over ten thousand views later, I am pleasantly surprised by the traffic to my blog. I know these figures are a grain of sand in the desert to other accomplished bloggers.

However, considering my innocuous start, I find these figures are encouraging because I had no idea I would reach this milestone. Picture of a tarred road stretching to the blue sky flanked by blossom trees and well manicured green turf. Thank You For Reading Thegatvolblogger

Therefore, I would like to thank you personally for taking the time to visit my humble blog and view the articles I write. You make it worthwhile and I would be ungrateful if I didn’t show my appreciation for your kindness.

I am not a prolific blogger. I am not disciplined. I may go for months without writing or sharing anything, but there is never a day when you do not visit and read my posts, including the stuff I wrote when I first started.

There are some posts which you read diligently such as the stuff on Thomas Sankara, Steve Bantu Biko, Miriam Makeba, Samora Machel, Malcolm X and others.

Picture is an artists impression of the late Captain Thomas Sankara in military fatigues and a beret with a star.

An artists rendering of the late Captain Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso who came to power through a popular coup and within four years made the country self reliant. The image is taken from the book Thomas Sankara Speaks.

I kind of have a good idea what you like now. It never ceases to surprise me that you appreciate the work that I have done otherwise you would not be reading these posts. I have come to realise that the articles I have written have a very long shelf life beyond the time I wrote them. They remain relevant to new readers and visitors.

Lessons Learnt From Blogging

Firstly, never underestimate what you have to write, say, think or share. There are people who appreciate what you have to say. Your voice matters. Your perspective adds something that is missing in the mainstream media.

Secondly, have faith in whatever task you undertake. And when you commit yourself to any activity, do your best.

Thirdly, when you devote yourself to an activity, you build an expertise on that field and develop your competency in that field. I started off as an amateur and now I also blog professionally for other institutions and sites. It is why I am not always able to write and post as much I would like. Without the experience I gained from here, I would never have had the competency to blog professionally. Opportunities like these, open up doors to others.

Follow your heart

Fourthly, if you do something you love, you are more likely to be successful doing what you love. You will find it rewarding and you are more likely to be fulfilled it by it. My advice, therefore, is follow your heart and live the dream. Even if you don’t become wealthy pursuing your passions, you will be rich in satisfaction. An you will be happy. You can’t put a price on that.

Fifthly, gimmicks like SEO and the likes can only do so much. I don’t understand them very much, I have the faintest idea therefore I never use them, but I know that sincerity, passion and love can achieve much more than SEO; especially, if you value organic growth, slowly and steadily to learn as you grow.

In addition, it takes time to do something properly and see the growth. You have to learn a lot along the way as the video below illustrates. As they say, Rome was not built in a day. If you have any endeavour you wish to pursue, take the time to build your dream but don’t expect instant results. There are few overnight successes. What you see, is often the results of years, if not decades, of hard work before the “overnight success”.

I can go on and on but maybe that is the substance for another article or post. Right now, I just want to thank you for your support and love. I am grateful to you for having my back. Your visits and investing your precious time to read my posts is the greatest encouragement you could have ever offered me. I am eternally grateful for your support.

Thank You.

Thegatvolblogger

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Filed under About Writing, Blogging, Creative Writing

Thoughts about my motherland


Sometimes I wonder when I see the fat cats looting the coffers of our nations to line up their greasy pockets, using their struggle credentials to monopolise and misappropriate national resources for their bloodlines, what is the future  for my motherland.

Sometimes I wonder when I see the future of Africa drowning in the ocean off the coasts of Europe, fleeing the motherland to lands unknown, in search of a better life far from the dehumanising poverty many have been reduced to, what is the future  for my motherland.

It strikes me then that some animals, not in the Animal Farm sense, but literally that some animals in Africa enjoy better living standards than human beings. They have better access to health. They have better access to housing. They have better access to water and sanitation.

They have better access to security and protection. They have passports and don’t have to walk thousands of miles across arid deserts, risking their lives crossing treacherous oceans in search of greener pastures.

How is it that an animal can have more rights and protection than man? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe animals shouldn’t be protected or have some rights, but I don’t believe they should enjoy better privileges than human beings.

Sometimes I wonder when I see the violence and terrorism unleashed on my people by those with their twisted holy wars, crusades and xenophobic impulses snuff out fruitful lives casually like a man putting out a candle flame between his fingers, what is the future for my motherland.

Image of Patrice Lumumba with the quote which reads “The colonialists care nothing for Africa for her own sake. They are attracted by African riches and their actions are guided by the desire to preserve their interests in Africa against the wishes of the African people. For the colonialists all means are good if they help them to possess these riches.”

Sometimes I wonder, I dream, about what heights Africa would have risen to if Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel, Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, Steve Biko, Robert Sobukwe, Herbert Chitepo, Dr. Samuel Parirenyatwa, and Mwalimu Julius Nyerere were steering this mighty vessel, The Motherland, towards The Promised Land – the United States of Africa.

It’s at times like this I realise that there is a dearth of leadership. Everytime we talk about African leaders, we don’t talk about the living because we cannot find one leader living today worth talking about or looking up to.

We keep turning back to the past and talking about leaders who are no longer present, and died decades ago, but whose influence is sorely missed today.

In the absence of great leaders, I conclude, it is up to us, the small people, to unite and fight for what is rightfully ours. That is our future, an equal slice of the economic cake, prosperity and a better life.

This cannot become a reality while the hawks of imperialism and neocolonialism are circling the continent in search for rich and easy pickings, robbing us from the food right from our mouths.

Image of Steve Biko taken from his book I Write What I Like. The accompanying quote reads, African unity is not a concept that should remain a dream but it should become a reality because that is where our salvation lies. We cannot do it alone as individuals but as a collective.

Therefore, we, Africans, have nothing to lose but our colonial and neocolonial shackles. We have a motherland overflowing with diamonds, cobalt, gold, uranium, milk, honey and every thing else a people could ever need. Africans of all nations, all ethnic groups unite and reclaim what is rightfully yours.

Homeland or death, we will win comrades! Aluta Continua!

Thomas Sankara 8

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May 2, 2015 · 1:40 pm

Afrophobia or xenophobia is unAfrican!


In William Shakespeare’s lyrical tale of “star-crosse’d” lovers, the legendary playwright penned four immortal lines that embody a struggle and tragedy that still plagues mankind to this day. In those lines, Juliet tells Romeo:

“What’s in a name? That

which we call a rose

By any other name would

smell as sweet.”

Her point was that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention because she was in love with the person who happened to carry the Montague name but not the  name “Montague” nor the family.

Looking at what is happening in South Africa, we can reach the same conclusion in describing the absurdity of those in power who tried to spin the xenophobia which resulted in the deaths of numerous “foreigners” by calling it by another misnomer, namely Afrophobia.

We could rewrite Shakespeare’s immortal quote, trying to make sense of this crime against humanity:

“What’s in a name? That

which we call Afrophobia

By any other name would

still be inhumane.”

The point is clear: whether or not we call the xenophobic attacks Afrophobia, the outcome is still the same. They are senseless murders.

Numerous people died. Many more were displaced. Businesses were destroyed. Properties looted. People are living in fear. People were horrified. Disgusted.

Picture of a man in a red cap and sweater arrested by the Johannesburg for allegedly being a xenophobic attacker

A man is held in Jeppestown by the police in Johannesburg for allegedly attacking foreigners in the xenophobic attacks last month and looting businesses owned by foreigners.

The nation is severely divided. Relations between nations are tense. Tempers are flaring across borders and social media. The forecast is not looking good for Africa.

From the north to the south, the east to the west, Africa is in trouble. We are in trouble. Rarely has one incident, maybe with the exception of Boko Haram, set so many people in Africa against each other, or united them to condemn such depravity.

Yet international condemnation was absent in the furore engulfing Africa at the time. The mainstream [western] media barely uttered a word for over a week or two. When it finally did, many social commentators argued it was too little too late.

They argued that if the attacks had targeted white foreigners, they would have reacted sooner condemning the attacks in the strongest terms. Maybe there is some truth to that.

If that was the case, President Jacob Zuma would have reacted swiftly and firmly to avoid a situation where NATO countries would venture to put boots on the ground to protect their citizens as what happened during the Crisis in the Congo during the reign of Patrice Lumumba, and in Egypt under the watch of Gamal Abdel Nasser at the time of the Suez Canal Crisis. No African president wants a situation like that.

Residents from Jeppestown hostels flee for cover when the police fire rubber bullets to disperse the unruly rioters who were attacking people and destroying and looting business, local and foreign owned. [Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]

Residents from Jeppestown hostels flee for cover when the police fire rubber bullets to disperse the unruly rioters who were attacking people and destroying and looting business, local and foreign owned.
[Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]

The mainstream media’s’ sluggish and non-committal reaction led many to question if black lives were of equal value with white lives.

Not many were convinced the white media placed equal value on black lives as it did on white lives. Their coverage of issues in Africa or their bias in their reporting of the murder of black men and women in America and many other countries has led many to question their motives.

Whether or not we call these xenophobic attacks Afrophobia, it does not mask the horror; the depravity, the inhumane, or the shocking reality of this callous snuffing out of human life.

It goes against the moral and humane tenets of what we call Ubuntu [Zulu], Hunhu [Shona], Umntu [Xhosa – South Africa], Botho in Sesotho and Setswana [Botswana], Numunhu [Shangaan], Vhuthu [Venda], Bunhu [Tsonga], Utu in Kiswahili/ Swahili [Kenya and Tanzania], Ajobi [Yoruba – Nigeria], Abantu in [Luganda] Uganda and many other names across East, West and Southern Africa.

These humane tenets of Ubuntu, Hunhu is the common thread that runs throughout all the different ethnic groups of East, West and Southern Africa.

Pictures of men from Jeppestown making threatening gestures and brandishing axes, sticks and other weapons towards foreign-owned businesses in the neighbourhood.

The men from Jeppestown hostels making gestures and brandishing various weapons to threaten foreign-owned businesses in their local neighbourhood. [Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]

It’s the same common thread binding all Africans from East to  West Africa and Southern Africa as one.

It’s testimony that we, Africans, spring from the same source and we have more in common than we have in differences.

The Zulu saying, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”: a person is a person because of people encapsulates this thinking. We can break it down further into Sotho and Tsonga:

Motho ke motho ka batho (Sotho)

Munhu i munhu hi van’wana vanhu (Tsonga)

The meanings are the same as the Zulu saying above. As we can see clearly, our African worldview or philosophy holds true that we are only human because of other human beings; therefore, when we dehumanise others, we are dehumanised as a result.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu tried to explain the concept of Ubuntu. He said,

Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language. When we want to give high praise to someone we say, “Yu unobuntu”; “Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu.” Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have.

Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu

Picture of a group of Nigerian men trying to salvage a car wrecked after their vehicle repair shop was set on fire by angry mobs. The police stand guard.

A group of NIgerian men attempt to salvage a car from their vehicle repair shop which was burnt down by mobs. The entire workshop was razed and all its contents, other cars, destroyed. The police keep watch over them.
[Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]

We are divine human beings but we are fighting each over borders the colonialists set up at the Berlin Conference in 1884 – 1885 when the European powers cut up our continent and divided it amongst themselves as their imperial conquests, creating these nations we inherited at independence.

All these nations such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Nigeria, etc. are white constructs.

Africa never had these artificial borders on a map until the colonialists cut up the continent to build their personal fiefdoms.

Prior to that, we, Africans could move freely within our continent in search of food, greener pastures, water, etc. without restrictions as we have today.

It was through these migrations that we intermarried, traded material goods and ideas and acquired new skills that enriched our various ethnic groups.

However, the borders we have today hinder trade within the continent. They prevent the easy exchange of ideas, cultural and economical capital and exchange of human resources.

Picture of two women and a baby flee with their few belongings  after receiving death threats by angry mobs.

A family packs their belongings and flee from Jeppestown after receiving death threats by angry mobs.
[Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]

The continued division is a hindrance to the development of Africa and we are impoverished because of it.

The division perpetuates a continual state of arrested development which prevents us from realising our potential as a continent.

The Europeans are constantly calling for continental unity: they realise that a united Europe is stronger in the political, economical, military and cultural spheres.

Yet we, Africans, still refuse to see that our safety and security, progress and strength lies within our ability to unite as a continent.

It seems that the tactics of divide and rule first used by the Romans and later adapted by the Europeans are still as effective today as they were back then in breaking our forward stride.

As long as we are fighting for these small nations we inherited instead of knocking down these imperial borders, the greater vision of the United Africa Kwame Nkrumah, Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley and others called for will always remain a fleeting illusion.

Image of Bob Marley with the quote, “The truth is the truth, you know. Sometimes you have to just sacrifice. I mean, you can’t always hide, you have to talk the truth. If a guy want to come hurt you for the truth – then, I mean, at least you said the truth.”

Some Africans pride themselves about their ability to think outside the box. Ironically, this idea is a cliché, therefore, it can only produce clichéd thinking.

Furthermore, it is nothing but an illusion because those very people can’t think outside the borders set up through the colonisation of the continent, nor outside the confines of their intellectual sandboxes.

We need to stop thinking nationally but develop a continental perspective because the future for Africa lies within the confines of the motherland. No nation is an island.

Our inability to think beyond these border posts the colonialists set up for us is sheepish behaviour. It prevents us from manning up and dealing with the root causes of our poverty and oppression.

It is the reason why many other races and people treat Africans like little boys and girls who constantly need guidance because we can’t do things for ourselves and improve our lot.

Our minds have been twisted to respect flags: useless pieces of cloth coloured and designed by man but which have no value whatsoever.

We have flag flying independence but no economic independence which means the very idea of independence is an illusion.

We remain dependent on whoever is pulling the purse strings. They are the ones pulling the puppet strings of those caricatures of human brings we call African leaders.

Instead of addressing the question of economic independence, we forsake the greater humane good in deference to these useless pieces of cloths that we pledge to die for, yet we wouldn’t die in the quest for humanity, or fighting the forces that seek to keep us politically and economically subservient.

We wouldn’t die for our brothers or sisters but we would die for a useless piece of cloth. This illustrates the problems with the things that we value.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Afrophobia or xenophobia is a violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a violation of the right to life. It is a violation of the right to protection. Afrophobia or xenophobia violate almost all the rights that should be accorded to every human being.

We should never let it spread its ugly roots in our communities. It is a poison that kills and tears apart the delicate fabric of society.

Afrophobia or xenophobia is murder with an abstract name to divert attention from what is really going on in South Africa. It is murder with a different dress on.

Picture of an armed South African policemen sweeping through a warehouse in Johannesburg after the showroom was gutted by fire and all the cars destroed and left covered by dust and ash.

P An armed policemen in Johannesburg checks out the remains of a car sales shop where rows of cars lie under dust and soot after the business owned by a Nigerian was burnt down by some local South Africans during last month’s xenophobic madness.

Afrophobia or xenophobia is unAfrican

Afrophobia or xenophobia is an ugly thing: it is unAfrican. It is unAfrican for hosts to mistreat visitors.

It goes against the tenets of Ubuntu, Hunhu, Umntu, Utu, Ajobi, Vhutu, Bunhu, Abantu, etc. most of us were taught to adhere to from an early age.

We were taught to welcome and accommodate strangers. We were taught to offer food and water to visitors who visited us. Failure to observe these customs were frowned upon by our elders.

It was a sure way to earn a chastisement and it was always condemned as a sign of ill breeding as it reflected poorly on ones upbringing. It reflected poorly on ones parents or guardians if one failed to observe these customs.

A person who displayed values such as compassion, empathy, respect or morals was often described as munhu ane hunhu: a person imbued with humaneness.

Anyone who lacked these ethics or morals was seen as a person asina hunhu or haana hunhu, a person lacking humaneness. They were not ashamed of behaving badly, robbing, disrespecting elders, cheating, lying, raping, stealing, killing, etc.

Ubuntu, Hunhu, is what makes us munhu ane hunhu or vanhu vane hunhu: good humane people.

It is a shame that those in the know tried to repackage murder and crimes under a more acceptable and palatable label. That is a shame because Ubuntu condemns corruption of any kind.

They seem to have abdicated their African culture for a caricature of a hybrid culture that is undistinguishable. It seems like they lost their humaneness.

Ubuntu/ Hunhu is the core of the African conception of humanism. A person who embodies this concept of humanism is said to be a good human being who understands propriety; they are morally upright.

They’re responsible, honest, just, trustworthy, hard working, full of integrity, possess a cooperative spirit and can stand in solidarity with others.

They are hospitable and devoted to the  well-being of the family and the wider community. In a nutshell, anyone with Ubuntu/ Hunhu understands how to uphold the norms and values of the family, the community and society.

Therefore, they would never commit the horrific acts we witnessed because life in African culture is sacred.

Those who fall short are often rebuked In Shona or Ndebele [Zimbabwe] as “Hausi hunhu ihwohwo/ Ayisibobuntu lobu” (This is not humanness).

These type of people are viewed as ruffians or scoundrels because of their lack of a moral compass that shows humaneness.

In African tradition or culture, murder is not encouraged. It is a harbinger of ngozi, a curse, because it causes avenging spirits to wipe out generations and cause bad luck until the deceased is appeased.

Pre-colonisation, when a person took a person’s life, they had to atone for their transgression by compensating the family of the deceased; not only to compensate the family materially, but to appease the dead to allow them to rest in peace.

In some cases, the perpetrator or his family were ordered to hand over a member of their family, normally a young girl – a virgin, to the family of the deceased. This was accompanied by rituals that had to be performed but I won’t get into the details here. That is a topic for another day.

However, it illustrates the sanctity Africans had for the living. It was sacrilegious to take a life because the repercussions were devastating for everyone, including those who were not directly involved. Not even the unborn were immune from Ngozi when they finally came to be.

However, it is worth reiterating that Afrophobia or xenophobia are unAfrican. It is not the way of Africans who know themselves and adhere to the philosophy of Ubuntu/ Hunhu.

“Murder is murder”, a friend of mine wrote on my Facebook wall. She was correct and I concur with her.

Learning from past tragedies

Let us not forget that more than a month ago, Rwanda was commemorating 21 years of the genocide on the 7th of April 2015 and then these attacks happened weeks later.

It seems like we, Africans, have not learnt the lessons that ensued from that tragedy and we are bound to repeat the same mistakes again.

Let us not forget that while 800 000 to a million people were slaughtered, the people in power were busy dithering about what to call the genocide instead of taking action to prevent or contain it.

It seems like we are repeating those mistakes again by drawing red herrings, trying to intellectualise these crimes against humanity. Whether it is Afrophobia or xenophobia, it is an ugly thing: it is unAfrican.

While others may argue about the scale and numbers of the murders between what happened in Rwanda and in South Africa, it is irrelevant.

One life callously snuffed out is one life too many. It can be avoided and it should be avoided.

What is Afrophobia?

I must admit that I was unaware of this word until these events occurred and I heard that the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini described these attacks as Afrophobia.

Naturally, my curious nature forced me to look it up and find out what it really means. And a good starting point was Wikipedia. It describes Afrophobia as:

“hostility toward people, culture, or ideas of African derivation, particularly those of Sub-Saharan negroid origin. Unlike Anti-Semitism, Afrophobia is primarily a racial, and, to a lesser extent , cultural phenomenon, lacking a strong religious dimension.”

It goes on to state:

“A degree of Afrophobic self-loathing has on occasion extended to blacks themselves, leading many in the 19th and early 20th centuries to adopt artificially straightened, lye-conditioned coiffures in repudiation of their natural hairstyles. The term ‘Afrophobia” is sometimes used with this ironic metonymy in mind, using the fear of the Afro as a metaphor for the fear of one’s African heritage.”

Considering that the main victims of the attacks are people of African origin, it “appears” that Afrophobia is the appropriate term.

Hence the irony: the hostility is directed towards people of African derivation by people who look like them.

It appears to be a fear of self or “self-loathing”. It is a fear driven by ignorance. A fear heightened by lack of morals.

A fear elevated by a segment of society who cannot understand what brings other Africans to South Africa and what motivates them to strive against all odds and succeed in an alien territory.

It is a dangerous fear because it can and has been manipulated by politicians and media by channelling it to disastrous ends as we have witnessed in the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and many other conflicts throughout history.

It always begins with the denigration of others, demonising them and scape-goating them for the socio-economic and political ills a nation faces.

On the other hand Joseph L Celucien defines Afrophobia as “the fear and denigration of Africa, and the dissociation of things African and peoples of African ancestry”.

Both definitions imply that Afrophobia can be self inflicted or inflicted by the other, non Africans.

In this case, the attacks in South Africa are inflicted by “some” black South Africans on other, mainly, black Africans from other nations on the continent.

It is ironic that there are elements within South African society that refer to “Africa” as if it was a foreign country, and they live on a totally different continent or planet totally detached from the motherland.

It is this “dissociation” Celucien refers to as the detachment from the immediate surroundings or physical or emotional experience that makes it possible to murder one’s own in cold blood without feeling a thing.

Some of these Africans don’t act like Africans living in Africa, but Europeans living in Africa. They create a “them” and “us” mentality which is an ingredient that fuels xenophobia.

It is a shame that some of these individuals are powerful figures within the government, society and the media who should know better than to ferment hatred and division.

The Afrophobia Illusion

The operative word above was “appears”. That doesn’t mean I accept that what is happening or happened is Afrophobia. I believe it is xenophobia.

The question is when Europeans discriminate against their fellow Europeans from the continent, do they cry out Europhobia? No, they do not.

It is simply xenophobia. Therefore, it is idiotic for us Africans to claim it is Afrophobia: if the same thing happened anywhere else in the world, it would be labelled as xenophobia.

We cannot deny what happened by trying to muddy the waters, claiming that it is Afrophobia. These attacks on people of African origin from other countries in Africa is XENOPHOBIA plain and simple.

The complaint is against “foreigners”, albeit black ones; therefore, there is no way we can spin the truth unless those in the media and in power have ulterior motives.

Why are black Africans under attack by their fellow black South African kin?

There lies the absurdity of the attacks. It is an anomaly the term “foreigners” among “some” black South Africans refers to black Africans only.

Whites are viewed as expatriates, investors or tourists. They are not perceived as foreigners but people bringing in foreign currency, opportunities, jobs, cultural capital, etc.

Because they don’t share the same spaces as the majority, they are not perceived as a direct threat in the competition for scant resources.

In contrast, Black Africans often referred to locally as “makwerekwere”, a derogatory term demonising them as thieves, are perceived as people who come to South Africa to sell drugs, steal jobs and opportunities from the locals.

They are often accused of stealing women and men too absurdly as illustrated in the picture below. Who would want to steal the woman of the guy below?

A xenophobic South African in a meme claiming Africans are stealing their women.

In other cases, they are accused of stealing whole suburbs like Yeoville, Berea or Hillbrow in central Johannesburg.

Ironically, the area that foreigners, black Africans, occupy is a grain of sand in a desert when compared to the area controlled by white South Africans or white foreigners which makes this argument most absurd.

To make matters more complicated, a lot of blacks from other countries end up living in the shanty towns, townships and rural areas or farms with black South Africans.

Hence, because they share the same space, both are pitted to compete against one another for a place on the lowest rung on the South African socio-economic ladder.

Such competition opens up room for hostilities and consequently the ugly scenes we are witnessing today.

The legacy of Apartheid and colonialism subliminally brainwashed black people to respect white life because it supposedly had more value. This taboo was reinforced through subliminal brainwashing by convincing black people that they were inferior and whites superior through separate development.

It was a taboo for a black person to kill a white person then. The consequences of killing a white person were worse for killing a white person compared to killing a black person.

Even looking at a white woman could cost a black man his life or a lifetime behind bars. The old immorality laws made sure blacks always knew their place and forced them to respect white life.

It seems like the legacy of Apartheid was internalised and on a subconscious level White foreigners are less likely to be targeted as black foreigners are.

It is also ironic that a lot of Chinese and other Asian nationalities often take up jobs in South Africa or marry South African women yet they are not targeted in the same manner as other Africans from other countries.

In a way, this illustrates that issues about jobs or women are not really the underlying causes for these attacks.

What sparked these xenophobic attacks?

Politicians, the media and others have institutionalised xenophobia and have often used unsavoury terms to demonise black foreigners, blaming them for everything that is wrong in South Africa, that is when they are not blaming Rhodes or Apartheid.

The latest rounds of attacks were allegedly sparked by something the inappropriately misnamed Zulu king, Goodwill [Illwill] Zwelethini said, calling for the foreigners to pack their bags and go. He also allegedly likened them to lice and ants.

According to a speech made by Julius Malema in parliament, Zuma’s son is alleged to have added his vitriol to an already volatile situation.

However, it goes further back. There were other attacks in 2008. Prior to that there were low level attacks that date back to the mid 90’s but never gained any traction. They remained isolated incidents and under the radar.

In recent years, high level verbal attacks by powerful members in society scape-goating foreigners has increased the hatred of black foreigners. They have been blamed for crime and violence as if South Africa was not already a crime ridden country and one of the crime capitals of the world.

Foreigners are blamed for the weakening rand. They are blamed for the lack of jobs. They are blamed for poor or non existent service delivery. They are blamed for the lack of housing.

Social, economic or political ills are blamed on them. They are convenient scapegoats because they don’t have a voice. They have no means of articulating their position because of lack of organisation or a body to articulate their concerns.

The lie is repeated often enough and many people accept is as the gospel truth. However, very few people are willing to critically examine the root causes and point out that an incompetent leadership is the root cause of the social, economic and political ills South Africa is experiencing.

Very few want to admit that the growth of a tiny black elite and a lack of socio-economic and political transformation are the reasons why the poor are getting poorer and it is not the vulnerable African immigrants who are the problem.

The meteoric rise of the Economic Freedom Fighters [EFF] under Julius Malema demonstrates that there is discontent among a significant cross section with regards to the lack of political and socio-economic transformation.

It is a motivating factor in the unrest. However, to deflect from the truth, politicians create an enemy to blame for the problems poor South Africans are experiencing. The voiceless and vulnerable immigrants are made the scapegoats to shoulder this blame in a manner resembling Hitler blaming the Jews for Germany’s woes.

The reality is that whether or not the immigrants are driven out, the situation is not going to change for those competing at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

Without any meaningful transformation, the poor are going to get poorer and the rich richer. There needs to be a greater push towards changing the mindsets of certain sections of the community who remain illiterate and have no practical skills to offer in the workplace.

There needs to be more done to change the mindset of those who spend their time drinking and chasing women, parting with whatever little money they have purchasing juju to bring them luck or secure jobs; or those who believe that funding the flamboyant lifestyle of prosperity prophets will miraculously transform their lives, and they will be blessed in return with miracle money and prosperity.

Picture of illiterate and xenophobic protesters protesting in the streets that qualified medical doctors are stealing their jobs.

This cultural paradigm needs to be addressed first. However, there isn’t a Steve Bantu Biko like figure alive today who can address the question of psychological emancipation and encourage a spirit and mentality of self reliance.

More needs to be done to address the dependency syndrome that makes some believe that the government is a good parent that can cater for all of the needs of everyone. People need to do more to work on continually improving their self through their own means instead of waiting for others to do for them what they should be doing for themselves.

The question is how long are those at the bottom going to carry on walking around in their dazed stupors, refusing to see what is so obvious.

How long are they going to continue voting sentimentally for those who are going to enrich themselves at the expense of the masses?

Divide and Rule

We are all oppressed. But we are oppressed in different ways by the ruling elite. Some are oppressed by their gender. Some by race. Some ethnicity. Some class, religion, political affiliation, etc.

The motive is keep us fighting among ourselves over the crumbs and trivial matters; while we are distracted by our infighting, they are making off with the lion’s share of the economic cake.

As long as we remain fragmented and divided by ideological differences, the elite have nothing to worry about. They can get away with murder and they will use their dirty tactics and hungry youths and people to do their dirty work or fight wars dreamed up by old men.

Picture of an arrested looter claiming he was sent to loot and cause xenophobic violence.

It is no coincidence that one of the looters arrested in the pictures above and below claim they were sent to carry out xenophobic violence and loot the shops of foreigners or local businesses.

These are criminals with no compunction who have no ideological standing. They are rebels without a cause.

These are not the type of people who can or want to work when they can be rewarded through instant gratification, reaping where they did not sow.

Crazy looter 2

They blame foreigners for taking their jobs but use that as an excuse to rob hard working people. They blame foreigners taking their women to find easy pickings for their criminal activities.

They are criminals masquerading as protesters with genuine concerns. Why are they not attacking the Chinese who are doing the very same things they are complaining of?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not inciting violence against any race or nationality. My question is a rhetoric one and nothing more than that.

Consequences of Xenophobia

We all suffer, directly or indirectly, from the consequences of xenophobia. When one black person commits a transgression, the whole race is tarnished.

We don’t uplift our nation or race. Rather, we continue to reinforce the racial stereotypes that some have tried for centuries to prove true.

We have come a long way as a continent but we have a long way to go still. All the progress that we have made is wiped out by transgressions like these xenophobic attacks. It makes us look less humane. It makes us look like barbarians, people who haven’t seen the light.

Picture of people fleeing violence by xenophobic mobs

The families of the victims of the attacks have lost sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, grandsons, etc. They have lost breadwinners. They have lost hope.

The future is a much darker place. We cannot even begin to imagine their grief. Only someone who has lost a family member through senseless violence can appreciate it. The rest will have to imagine it.

The families of the perpetrators suffer too because of the actions of their sons. They are ashamed of the actions of their sons. They are stigmatised.

They also have their losses and share of grief to contend with, let alone the ruined futures of the young men involved in some of these gruesome attacks as illustrated by the consequences the families of the murderers of Emmanuel Sithole a.k.a. Josias suffered after he was murdered in Alexandra Township in Johannesburg, South Africa.

As I touched on above, there has been a massive fallout between South Africa, its neighbours and other countries in Africa such as Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, etc.

Nigeria recalled its high commissioner. Malawi was threatening to expel the South African Ambassador to the country.

South African workers who were based in Mozambique had to be repatriated back home because of fears that they would be attacked.

The South African Embassy in Nigeria was shut down for over a week due to protests in Nigeria.

A number of countries have repatriated their nationals back home. Over two weekends, there were protests at the South African Embassy in London.

The whole continent is destabilised because of the actions of a few. There are some who claim that there are efforts by external forces to create such a situation and exploit it. Whatever the truth is, we are responsible for our own actions and we have to accept it like men and women with minds of their own to think.

The Rand fell while these xenophobic attacks were occurring. It is not Africans who benefit from the fallout of the Rand but the major currencies and we have to pay more to make ends meet in South Africa. It is the poor who suffer when inflation rises.

Armed members of the SAPS gesture to a Nigerian man to keep his distance to prevent him from approaching a South African Man who has been arrested while in the process of looting a Nigerian owned business in Jeppestown, Johannesburg.

Armed members of the SAPS gesture to a Nigerian man to keep his distance to prevent him from approaching a South African Man who has been arrested while in the process of looting a Nigerian owned business in Jeppestown, Johannesburg. [Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]  

There are on-line petitions and campaigns to boycott South African artists, companies and products.

Some campaigners are calling for the likes of the Zulu King to be hauled before the ICC. Others are calling for South Africa to be expelled from SADC and the African Union and leave it isolated as it was during the Apartheid era.

However, the truth is that it is not going to happen. There will be some posturing by ambassadors, presidents and politicians vying for political capital to brush up their bruised egos but nothing meaningful will come out of it until the next wave of attacks when all the posturing will be repeated again like a never-ending charade.

Reviews and inquests will be conducted but it will not make a difference. It is a part of the sham that is modern politics. Afterwards, announcements will be made that they have learnt their lessons and politicians will make empty promises again.

Politicians are going to attend meetings at the AU and SADC to discuss these matters over numerous courses of meals but the discussions at the conference table will serve us no purpose.

Tackling the root causes of xenophobic violence

However, the politicians will not address or tackle the root causes. It will not happen. Tackling the root causes will mean introspection and constructive change which is not something our African politicians are used to or willing to do.

Tackling the root causes of xenophobic violence means educating the people and tackling the high level of illiteracy, ignorance, poverty.

It means delivering on election pledges, transparency and honesty from those in government. It means structural changes to the socio-economic and political order. It means getting rid of corruption and bad governance.

No leader is willing to tackle these issues head on. African leaders, as a collective, all shy away from tackling these issues because they believe that they will threaten their survival.

Keeping the people divided and fighting each other and struggling to survive means the poor don’t have the luxury to think, and develop an awareness of why they are hungry and poor.

By keeping people hungry and fighting between themselves, politicians and the elite prevent the masses from thinking critically and turning against them.

It is at times like this we miss leaders like Steve Biko and his Black Consciousness Movement and philosophy. I can imagine Biko reminding the people that:

“The basic tenet of black consciousness is that the black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country [on the continent] of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity.”

The parenthesis above is mine. I believe Biko would find it difficult to believe that an African would be considered a foreigner on the continent of his or her birth; he would stand up and speak out against the reduction of the black man and woman’s dignity through xenophobia and the reckless utterances by those who yield power in society.

That no other leader after Biko has attempted to empower the people and decolonise their minds reinforces his idea that “the most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”.

Picture of Steve Biko with the quote,

Politicians, like ticks, thrive on the blood of a mainly ignorant population. They can piss on them and tell them it is raining; their deaf, dead, dumb and blind followers will mobilise to convince the masses that the president said it is raining and so that is that.

Forget that the piss is warm and stinks. These ignoramuses in our midst will ignore the evidence in front of their eyes and demonise whoever thinks with their own mind and rejects the lie that it is raining. Those who reject the word will be accused of being unpatriotic or sell-outs; i.e. if they are not subjected to violence to silence their protestations.

Africa is facing a crisis of leadership as I wrote before and we need new leaders to take the continent in a different direction.

Is the influx of foreigners into South Africa a unique situation?

The influx of foreigners into South Africa is in no way a unique situation. It is a universal occurrence. Even countries without economies as strong or as diversified like South Africa such as Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya, etc. are taking their share of economic and political refugees displaced within Africa.

But, there are no cries of xenophobia yet they also face dire economic circumstances and the same high levels of unemployment.

Yes, there are complaints of the Chinese immigrants coming into African countries and killing industries with cheap imports or taking over whole sectors of the economy or monopolising some mining sectors.

However, we are yet to see uprisings against the Chinese from other Africans across the continent as we witnessed in South Africa.

The xenophobic attacks we witnessed are unique to South Africa. The scale and barbarity of the acts eclipses anything we have probably ever seen.

We have witnessed politicians in the west using immigration as a means of manipulating the electorate using fear tactics.

Nigel Farage’s UKIP Party manipulated immigration in the run-up to the recent UK Elections to the   extent of whipping out xenophobic fervour against immigrants, African and European.

Consequently, the Conservatives, Labour and others had to create a perception that they were tough on immigration to avoid being run over by the anti-immigrant electorate.

In this scenario, immigrants received the blame for lack of jobs, unemployment, losses to the NHS, etc.

The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of teaching, nursing and IT jobs that are lying vacant because there aren’t qualified people who can fill those jobs.

It is a sham that slogans like British Jobs for the British are created and they resonate with the populace when in reality, there are hundreds of thousands of jobs British people can’t fill because they don’t have the necessary skills.

The truth is that they are going to recruit foreigners to fill those jobs because there is no other way around it. Politicians play dangerous games by creating such scenarios when the reality is very different from the perception.

This is not to insinuate that this only happens in the UK. No way. It happens in all the major countries in the west such as the US, Canada, etc.

So as stated above, the South African situation is not unique but they have dealt with it in a manner that we have not witnessed anywhere else in the world where people are experiencing the same problems.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Whenever there is a dark period, there is also light at the end of the tunnel. Forgive me when I say South Africans as if all South Africans are the same. I have stated above that “some” sectors of society are responsible for what happened.

There are probably larger pockets of society who are totally against what happened. They did not want this to be done in their name. They do not condone xenophobic violence of Afrophobia or whatever you call it.

Picture of little children holding placards that read

Children join the protests against xenophobia. [Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]

We have also heard of various movements within the ghettoes that have been stepping up to the plate, patrolling their neighbourhoods to protect foreigners and their businesses.

There are numerous initiatives started by South Africans both at home and in the Diaspora to say #NoToXenophobia.

There are a number of musicians, artists and politicians who have stood up and said No To Xenophobia.

Let us not forget all those good hearted South Africans who said enough is enough and took to the streets in protest, demanding an end to the violence and denouncing xenophobia.

Picture of protesters in their thousands take to the streets of Johannesburg, holding up placards and denouncing xenophobia.

Anti-xenophobia protesters take to the streets of Johannesburg in thousands, holding up their placards and making sure their message is heard loudly and clearly.
[Picture source: Ihsaan Haffejee – Al Jazeera]

There is hope at the end of it. There always is. When we lose hope, we die.

I say that the demon of xenophobia/ Afrophobia must be exorcised from the hearts and minds of the black man and woman. As they say in South Africa – Simunye – We Are One!

I believe in the words of Biko and his belief that, “In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift – a more human face”.

South Africa is not going to do that through xenophobia. It is going to do that by working together with her sisters and brothers in Africa and uplifting the human race.

We have a lot in common. We share a common heritage and it is our duty to uplift each other from the gutter as those who did it before us like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Kwame Nkrumah, Samora Machel and others did to see a decolonised Africa.

Picture of Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere smiling and clapping his hands. Below his picture is a text where he is denouncing tribalism.

We are not each others enemy. We want and need the same things. We want a greater slice of the economic cake that comes from the rich repositories of mineral wealth that ensues from our continent.

We want a better life for all: equal access to minerals, economical and political resources. We want an Africa free from violence, starvation and poverty.

Our greatest enemy today is corruption, ignorance and poor governance. They are doing more damage to Africa then anything else. It is the reason why our progress has been arrested. It is the reason why the socialism we fought died in the embryonic stages.

The spectre of neocolonialism and imperialism are on us: they are making off with our wealth while we are dying of thirst yet we are standing in water.

George Orwell, the famous writer, once wrote in the dystopian novel 1984 something to the effect that Africa was the continent that was passed over from one conqueror to another.

Reality is stranger than fiction; it seems like this fictitious work has some morsels of truth in it: we are becoming a continent that is fulfilling the words of Orwell as we are passed on from one hand of the conqueror to another.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must learn to love ourselves. We must love one another. Even the revolutionary is driven by enormous love.

It is important to have an enormous capacity of love to enable us to carry out the arduous and most difficult task of denouncing the cruel, and obscene assault against human beings who have the least in society when it is so much easier and comfortable to accommodate the power structure from which we can reap benefits for ourselves.

Our commitment must not yield to social injustice; we must give hope and hold firm to the conviction that an unfair and discriminatory world can be changed to be more just, less dehumanising and more humane. Change is difficult but it is not impossible. It is possible. We have numerous opportunities and possibilities to shake the structure of the world.

In the words of the great pedagogue, Paulo Freire, “I think that with a tranquil more alert and awakened consciousness, we should assume a position of indignation. I mean we should become indignant, but not at the favela dweller who kills, but indignant at the historical, political, social and economical situation that creates the possibility of me being killed by this unfortunate person”.

The root causes of the xenophobic violence doesn’t lie with the poor who have carried out that violence. On the contrary, the root causes that force migrants to flee their countries do not rest on the shoulders of the migrants.

Likewise, both are pawns in a greater struggle for power and control. It is a struggle shaped by historical, political, social and economical situations of which both are not always conscious of, or have an awareness of how they have shaped circumstances, but they view each other as enemies or competition.

Brothers and sisters, we all need the same basic things in life. All our countries are in the grip of the same forces. Therefore, we need each other to struggle against these forces that seek to use our African-ness as a mark of subservience.

Let us not be driven to desperate measures and remember that we are unofficial diplomats of Africa. As diplomats of the continent, we should work towards uplifting our motherland in all our endeavours.

Let us uplift one another from the slum and continue to strive for excellence in our chosen fields. Our focus should be on the kind of legacy that we are going to leave for our children and their descendants.

Are we going to keep up the stereotypes or are we going to break the chains? I believe we have the capacity to start a new chapter and continue where our respective revolutions left off and restore dignity and humanity to all Africans.

Oppression and poverty are dehumanising. It is our moral duty, our political duty to make Africa a less dehumanising place. Therefore, as unofficial ambassadors we must lead by example and be proud of our culture and remind the world of the beauty of our culture: that is our respect for life, private property and the likes as the picture by Steve Biko spells out below.

Image of Steve Biko with a quote from the book I Write What I Like which states “We must reject, as we have been doing, the individualistic cold approach to life that is the cornerstone of Anglo-Boer culture. We must seek to restore to the black man the great importance we used to give to human relations, the high regard we had for people and their property, and for life in general; to reduce the triumph of technology over man and the materialistic element that is slowly creeping into society.”

We are not each other’s enemy; we should be each other’s keeper. We have nothing to lose but our colonial chains. We have a land overflowing with milk and honey, gold and diamonds, cobalt and coltan, platinum and uranium and everything that the world desires. Africans from all over unite! We have a continent to win. Aluta Continua!

It is time to pause and reflect and realise that to reach our goals we need each other. No man or nation is an island. Our generation must do to our governments what our predecessors did to the colonial regimes if they refuse to change the political and socio-economical structures of Africa. Revolution is the only solution!

I leave you with the following words by Steve Biko, “Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common plight and our brotherhood”. Aluta Continua!

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April 18, 2015 · 12:26 am

Letterbox Library: A crucial ally in helping to teach children Black History


Image of the Front cover of the book Women of the Harlem Resistance which is distributed by Letterbox Library

“‘What became of the Black people of Sumer?’ the traveler asked the old man, for ancient records show that the people of Sumer were Black. `What happened to them?’ 

`Ah,’ the old man sighed. `They lost their history, so they died.'”

This legend above demonstrates what happens when a people lose or forget their history. They die. As it has been written, our people perish because of a lack of knowledge.

image of the front cover of the book Five Famous Writers which is distributed by Letterbox Library

A people without knowledge of their history or past are dead! What happened to the people of Sumer illustrates the dangers a race faces if it fails to document it’s history and tell its own story not “his” story. Because what is passed off as history is not every man’s story.

This is why understanding our history is important. Bob Marley summed it up in the song Buffalo Soldier and said:

If you know your history
Then you would know where you coming from
Then you wouldn’t have to ask me
Who the heck do I think I am

We, Africans, have lost a significant amount of our history because it was not documented.

It is no surprise some people try their utmost best to convince us that our history only begun with the advent of the coloniser in Africa.

image of the front cover of the book Bessie Coleman distributed by Letterbox Library

Such a lie becomes impossible to maintain when one knows the history of Africa that begun while the coloniser was still living in the mountains of Europe, and Africans created the first civilisations of Meroe, Songhay, Mossi Kingdom, Benin Empire, Kingdom of Ghana, Axum and the likes.

Below is a front cover of African Empires: it is a book written for children that elaborates on the empires I referred to above and provides insight on them.

I only got to learn about some of these empires after reading Dr. Chancellor Williams ground-breaking book The Destruction of Black Civilisation. It is available on the link above as a PDF version.

Image of the front cover of the book African Empires which is distributed by Letterbox Library

How I wish I had known about this history while I was younger. However, it is never too late to learn. A book like the one above is not only good for children but it is also good for adults too who may be as ignorant as I was until I stumbled on the work of Williams.

It can provide them with an elementary education of Black History which can be topped off later by reading other books written by writers like Dr. Williams, Dr. John Henrik Clarke and Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan to mention a few.

In addition, it is a good way for parents to bond with their children while learning together and raising their level of consciousness.

Adults can learn something from the titles held on the Letterbox Library archives because there are going to be things that they are ignorant of.

This is not to insinuate that they are unenlightened; it is impossible to know everything. There is too much information to know everything that happened in the past but it is never too late to learn something new.

The front cover of the book The life of Mary Prince which is distributed by the Letterbox Library

Black history matters and it is our duty as parents within the community to spread this knowledge. Without a knowledge of our greatness, we will never be able to realise our potential or know how far we have fallen from those great architects of civilisation.

We, as individuals and as a race, are the total sum of our past and the present. Everything that we are is a mixture of the two. And what we will become in the future depends on these two things.

The past teaches us to avoid the same mistakes that our ancestors made in the past. Not only does it teach us our strengths and weaknesses, but it also teaches us our strengths. It provides us with answers and solutions to some of our problems and challenges in the present and future and how we can be strong again.

The quote below by Chinua Achebe, a legendary Nigerian writer, author, publisher and social activist, illustrates the destruction of of African history and how Africans stepped back into their past to draw strength and ideas to decolonise the continent from white minority rule.

picture of Chinua Achebe

I believe that one of our elders Dr. John Henrik Clarke summed up  the importance of our history  in this quote:

History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are, more importantly, what they must be.

I don’t think I could have summed it up much better myself. Sometimes, this is why we need  this kind of knowledge to draw ideas from those who came before us and have condensed knowledge that took a lifetime to figure out into a form we can make sense of within a short time.

I believe that an awakening of Black people begins with an understanding of their history because that is the beginning of their consciousness. We cannot rely on the past today but we can find answers that we seek about ourselves from it.

Those who destroyed our history or whitewashed it had an aim as Achebe illustrated above. It was necessary to colonise and enslave an entire race to subjugate and exploit them.

It was necessary to convince them that they were an inferior species who were not quite human; hence, they needed to be colonised and enslaved for their own good and their history destroyed for the purpose.

Image of the front cover of the book Five Brave Explorers which is distributed by Letterbox Library

However, the truth is that there is no humane form of colonisation or slavery. Both are inhumane. They are an affront to humanity. Nobody can ever prove otherwise.

Frantz Fanon wrote about the methods of the coloniser in The Wretched of the Earth. You can access the PDF of the book on the link above.

“Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it. This work of devaluing pre-colonial history takes on a dialectical significance today.”

This is why it is important for us to know our history and pass it on so that we may never die like the people of Sumer. Which brings me to the point of this post.

The front cover of the book Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: The Music Man which is distributed by the Letterbox Library

About a month ago, I attended a children’s book festival at the Southbank Centre in London. I came across an educational supplier/ distribution company known as the Letterbox Library.

They are a not-for-profit social enterprise and cooperative that acts as an education supplier based in London. The books they distribute promote multiculturalism and inclusivity in children’s books.

Therefore, children can find fiction books with characters that reflect their reality, look like them or find positive images of black people.

The system via the various mediums such as print, digital media, TV, advertising, etc. subliminally feed people a diet of negative stereotypes.

Consequently, people tend to believe the worst about themselves because everything they know is what is stored in their subconscious as images which have been stored from what the system feeds them in the form of images and portrayal of their people in the media.

The only way to address such an anomaly is to replace the negative stereotypes with these new ideas and images and gradually eradicate the negative stereotypes embedded in the minds of Black people.

It is not possible for us to put new knowledge into old minds: the minds will expand and explode and the knowledge will be lost. But we must put the new knowledge into new minds to preserve them both and this is why it is essential to reteach the children and those adults who are willing to learn for their must be untaught the whitewashed history before they are reborn mentally to receive this new knowledge.

This is where the Letterbox Library and other such distributors and publishers come in.

You can also find non fictional historical titles like the front covers littering this post above and below which show some of the titles Letterbox Library have in their catalogue.

Front cover of the Harriet Tubman book that is distributed by Letterbox Library

Their books are sourced from a wide range of overseas and UK publishers. Their focus is on children who are at the stage of primary and early learning years.

This is the time that children pick up a lot and their minds are formed. This is the time that they are at their most receptive.

Therefore, it makes sense to introduce them to their history at this early age so that no one can ever miseducate them about their history. It will help them to think critically when presented with propaganda or a version of whitewashed history.

Front cover of the book Resistance and Abolition distributed by Letterbox Library

Learning our history should not be limited to Black History Month. We should learn our history every day of the year. That means parents shouldn’t rely on teachers to do for them what they should be doing for themselves; i.e., teach their children about their history.

Malcolm X once said something to the effect that only a fool lets his enemy educate his children. He had a point.

For too long, too many parents have relegated the teaching of their children to a system that continually fails them and then have the audacity to complain about it but take no action to address the rot.

It is time we as parents and elders take responsibility for our own actions and stop blaming the system.

Image of the front cover of the book Nelson Mandela which narrates his story from a young man growing up in the fields of Qunu to the time he became the first president of South Africa. The book is distributed by Letterbox Library.

It is time that we stopped being disinterested in our children’s education and started supplementing their formal education with home schooling.

We should take advantages of educational suppliers like Letterbox Library and help develop the literacy skills of our children.

I remember how as a child I loved discovering new things. I read widely but unfortunately at the time my reading resources were limited. There weren’t  educational suppliers like Letterbox Library around at the time.

Just looking at the titles stocked by the Letterbox Library, I know I would have enriched my general knowledge.

For example, I was unaware of Bessie Coleman, the daring female stunt pilot, until I came across Letterbox Library.

Up until a few years ago, I was ignorant of Nat Turner and the slave rebellion he led. This illustrates the significance of The Letterbox Library.

Front cover of the book Nat Turner Slave Rebellion which is distributed by Letterbox Library

It is an ally in the fight against our greatest enemy – ignorance. It is true that you don’t know what you don’t know.

However, it is a disservice to ourselves to remain ignorant when there are resources to enlighten us and help us in the fight against ignorance using words, ideas and knowledge.

Their books cover numerous black personalities who have excelled in their calling such as the likes of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: the Music Man, famous writers and explorers.

Front cover of the book Lewis Hamilton which is distributed by the Letterbox Library

There are also books on current stars alive today such as Mo Farah, Lewis Hamilton, Benjamin Zephaniah, rulers and leaders, black freedom fighters and others. They cover a significant portion of the  black experience. It is worth checking out.

Image of the front  cover of  the book Olaudah Equiano which is distributed by Letterbox Library.

Letterbox Library not only concentrates on books about Black History. They are more diversified than what I have presented here. They deal with books about migrants, refugees, etc.

They help children to be understanding of people who are different to them or people they don’t understand. It encourages them to respect them. That is the power of books. They are great teachers.

Their fiction titles also include mainstream children’s fiction books as well as the popular Anansi stories which are a staple of the Caribbean Islands.

Front cover of the book Anansi the Banana Thief distributed by the Letterbox Library

 The Anansi stories are a vehicle that carries a people’s culture, mores, values and the likes. They maintain a continuity between different generations. I believe that parents and children can read these books together and bond.

Bonding with children is beneficial for children because if they create significant bonds with their parents, they are less likely to become delinquents or psychopaths.

I am delving into sociology and psychology now but this is a topic for another day.

It is essential that we support works and individuals and organisations promoting Black or African History, whether that is writing it, distributing or publishing it.

Chancellor Williams clarified it best why it is important for us to document our own history:

“Black inertia is the main problem, there is still too much dependence on white scholars to do our work for us. I have written elsewhere that as long as we rely on white historians to write black history for us, we should keep silent about what they produce. They write from the Caucasian viewpoint, and we are naive, indeed, if we expect them to do otherwise, all the ballyhoo about their “scientific objectivity” to the contrary, notwithstanding.”

I recommend you check out the Letterbox Library. It might be one of the best investments you make into your children’s education. Who knows, they are the generation that will continue with the brilliant work started by the great teachers like Dr. Williams, Dr Clarke and Dr. Jochannan who have now departed this earth.

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April 16, 2015 · 5:43 pm

I WRITE WHAT I LIKE – STEVE BIKO 1946 – 1977: Book review, analysis and commentary


The front and back cover of the book I Write what I Like

A scholar of Black Consciousness, Thegatvolblogger, studying I Write What I Like which provides an exposition of Steve Bantu Biko’s Black Consciousness Philosophy.

I Write What I Like is a book featuring the collection of articles written by Steve Bantu Biko. It is an exposition of the Black Consciousness Philosophy. The book’s title comes from the heading of the column in which Biko published his articles in the SASO [South African Student’s Organisation] newsletter. These articles written using his pseudonym Frank Talk form the core of the book.

I Write What I Like also comprises addresses, letters, reports and interviews he gave during the formation of SASO in 1969 until months before his death in 1977.

This collection was published in 1978 a year after his death. Aelred Stubbs edited the collection and also wrote the preface.

The series of articles, fifteen in total plus four extras, that form I Write What I Like are supplemented by two transcripts from Biko’s evidence in the SASO/ BPC Trial that took place in the first week of May 1976; an interview conducted by a European journalist in the first half of 1977 and an extract from an interview conducted by an American businessman month’s before Biko’s final detention and death.

The extras in the book are What is Black ConsciousnessThe Righteousness of our Strength, Our Strategy for Liberation and On Death. In total, there are 19 chapters in this collection that set out the Black Consciousness Philosophy in Biko’s own words.

The video below is the first part of the interview which appears in Chapter 18 of I Write What I Like: it is entitled Our Strategy for Liberation although the video title states Steve Biko Speaks on the Black Consciousness Movement.

The complete video which is in three parts is a recapitulation of the whole argument or exposition of Black Consciousness collected in this book.

He reflects on the impact of the student uprisings in Soweto and elsewhere in South Africa since June 1976, and lays out his plan for a united liberation front to confront the forces of oppression.

It is here that he explains his vision and unique mission to reconcile the African National Congress [ANC] and Pan African Congress [PAC] and bring them into this united liberation front. At this point he is still hoping for a non-violent solution to stem the rising racial conflict.

I first encountered Biko through fleeting media reports as I was growing up. There was an aura about him that struck a lasting impression on me then but I was  way too young then to understand his significance and relevance.

I understood then as I know now that he was unjustly killed by white policemen. Over the years I gathered fragments here and there that put more perspective to this face that was embedded in my subconscious.

It was only when I stumbled on the movie Cry Freedom, the powerful film produced and directed by Richard Attenborough featuring Denzel Washington as Biko, that I began to gain a better understanding of his significance and legacy.

The book Biko written by Donald Woods, former editor of the Daily Dispatch and a personal friend of Biko, introduced me to the Black Consciousness Philosophy.

The book contained quotes and extracts from Biko’s article which gave me a deeper appreciation of the finer nuances about the Black Consciousness Philosophy.

It wet my appetite and I hungered to feed myself from from the source. Both the movie and the book transformed me into a convert and set me off on my quest to read more about Biko until I discovered I Write What I Like. That was my conversion.

Since then I have read the book numerous times. With each subsequent reading, I always discover something I missed during the previous reading.

The book is so well written, any reader, reviewer or critic is spoilt for quotes which is a testimony to the quality of its content and ideological relevance. That is the hallmark of a good writer. Each time I read the text I wish I had written those lines.

My first experience of engaging with the writing of Biko was like discovering an oasis of freedom in a desert of enslavement. His work is on the same par as the writing of Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du BoisFrantz Fanon, the speeches of Thomas Sankara and the Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Humanity would be much impoverished if we were robbed of the work of these prophet intellectuals and philosophical giants.

My only criticism of the book is that it is too short and left me wanting more which is a good thing.

Steve Biko, or Bantu as he was popularly known among his own people in Ginsberg [King William’s Town], was the legendary anti-apartheid activist, dissident or public intellectual and Black Consciousness philosopher.

Bantu was the name he was given by his parents when he was born on the 18th of December 1946 in King William’s Town. Bantu means people.

It was an apt name, a premonition, a precursor of his abilities or God given gift to reach out and connect with old and young people and others of all races. I Write What I Like reflects this quality of Biko.

He was the co-founder of SASO, the Black Consciousness Movement and the Black Community Programmes which set up community programmes like the Ginsberg Crèche, Ginsberg Educational Fund, Njwaxa Home Industries, Zimele Trust Fund [established to help black political prisoners and their families] and Zanempilo Health Clinic.

I Write What I Like reinforces Biko’s belief that the liberation and salvation of Black people in South Africa lies in their own hands. It will come about when they operate as a unified group. It is only through the liberation of their minds that they can break their shackles of subjugation.

Black Consciousness is his special inspiration, the unwavering belief that the Black is as equal and as worthy as any other. This is not mere grounds for recrimination.  Far from it.

He wishes the Black man and woman has the same rights as others and that they must fearlessly claim them. Freedom and liberty means personal responsibility which is important to pursue, even unto death, or compromise full personhood.

These are his beacons, cardinal points, goalposts and references points. These form his guide. These are some of the key tenets of the Black Consciousness Philosophy and the movement of which he was a co-founder.

There are recurring themes in I Write What I Like. These are Blackness; consciousness, fear, freedom, liberals, liberation, oppression, power, racism, subjugation. These themes are interwoven within the series of articles to form the Black Consciousness philosophy.

Biko’s intention is to conscientise Black people to grapple realistically with their problems, to attempt to find solutions to their problems, to develop what one might call an awareness of their situation, to be able to analyse it, and to provide answers for themselves.

For Biko, “Black Consciousness is a way of life, the most positive call to come out of the black world for a long time”. It is not hyperbole. It is not political rhetoric.

It is revolutionary. It is the future. It is the vehicle that transforms the attitudes and thinking of generations to come. It is revolutionary because it rejects the old approach, old slogans, protests, and meaningless rhetoric of previous years in the struggle against apartheid.

The language of yesteryear is dead. Buried. Terms like coalition, fear of white policemen or the government, integration, protests, etc. are remnants of a bygone era.

The door is shut in the face of white integrationists. The ranks are closed. Black students, on the other hand, begin to rethink their position in Black-white coalitions.

Image of Steve Biko with quote reading: “By Black Consciousness I mean the cultural and political revival of an oppressed people. This must be  related to the emancipation of the  entire continent of Africa since  the Second World War. Africa  has experienced the death of  white invincibility. Before that  we were conscious mainly of  two classes of people, the  white conquerors and the black  conquered. The blacks in Africa  now know that the whites will  not be conquerors forever.”  Steve Bantu Biko I Write What I Like

There emerges in South Africa a group of angry young black men who are beginning to grasp the notion of their particular uniqueness and who are eager to define who they are and what.

The emergence of SASO and its tough policy of non involvement with the white world sets people’s minds thinking along new lines.

It is a challenge to the age-old tradition in South Africa that opposition to apartheid is enough to qualify whites for acceptance by the Black world.

Biko is at the forefront of this radical thinking. He is one of the key thinkers and strategists. He is not a mere theorist but a man of action.

He helps set up organisations rooted in oppressed communities, promoting self-reliance projects that affirm that blacks should earn their own keep with dignity while taking care of one another.

They should reassess how they use their economic, cultural, social and political capital, and reinvest it within their own communities to uplift themselves.

The myth of the invincibility of the white man is exposed. His white yardstick of values and beliefs is discarded like an ill fitting garment. The masquerade of apartheid is unmasked and the vanity exposed and challenged.

The Black Consciousness Movement re-shapes the struggle terrain and redefines the rules and terms of engagement. Their focus shifts from the periphery and they begin an in-looking process that focuses on the mind of the oppressed because they realise that it is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of the oppressor.

The book covers the philosophy of Black Consciousness. It addresses crucial and diverse issues such as African culture, apartheid, bantustans, Black liberation, capitalism, the Christian church, economic exploitation, white liberals, white racism, and Western support for the apartheid regime, etc.

I Write What I Like captures Biko’s charisma, intellect and vision. It portrays an astute philosopher rooted at the center of the struggle for freedom, setting out his idyllic road map to a new society.

Philosophy is not a term normally associated with or attributed to Biko. He’s primarily viewed through the prism of a political activist, dissident or public intellectual and overshadowed by the looming shadow of his tragic death.

In layman terms, a philosopher is a person who studies philosophy, or a person who remains calm and stoical in the face of difficulties or disappointments. Both definitions are Biko personified.

Numerous writers such as Father Alered Stubbs, Donald Woods – Biko, Barney Pityana and Xolela Mangcu – Biko A Life who were personally acquainted with the legend bear testimony to Biko’s character as someone who remained calm and stoical in the face of difficulties or disappointment.

Image of Steve Biko accompanied with a quote from the Book I Write What I Like which reads “We don’t behave like Africans,we behave like Africans who are staying in Europe.”

The book is a wealth of history, philosophy and psychological insight, understanding, wisdom and wit. Biko was an avid reader and the book reflects his engagement with the philosophical writings of Jean Paul Sartre, Karl Jaspers, Aime Cesaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Stokely Carmichael a.k.a. Kwame Ture, Frantz Fanon, etc.

I Write What I Like contains references, quotes, allusions, approaches, ideas or methodologies similar to the intellectuals mentioned above.

This is an illustration of his intellectual fluidity. The references to their philosophies or thoughts suggests Biko’s mind is a multiplicity of selves. Understanding those selves implies understanding others and society in general.

Most voracious or widely read readers are able to learn twice as fast because they have the ability to learn through the experiences and lessons that took others a lifetime to understand and articulate as coherent truths.

Some of these allusions, approaches, ideas, references and methodological similarities are evident.

For example, Carmichael and Hamilton Define Black Power in 1967 state, “The adoption of the concept of Black Power is one of the most legitimate and healthy developments in American politics and race relations in our time“.

In contrast, Biko writes in White Racism and Black Consciousness, “The call for Black Consciousness is the most positive call to come from any group in the black world for a long time”.

There are differences in the contexts, diction and semantics but the similarities in defining themselves is evident. However, it doesn’t end there.

Carmichael and Hamilton state, Black Power therefore calls for black people to consolidate behind their own, so that they can bargain from a position of strength”.

Before black people join the open society, they should first close their ranks, to form themselves into a solid group to oppose the definite racism that is meted out by the white society, to work out their direction clearly and bargain from a position of strength,” Biko writes in comparison.

The Black Power Movement state “Black visibility is not Black Power”. Biko and SASO on the hand say, “What we want is not black visibility but real black participation”.

It is evident the Black Power Movement and the Black Consciousness Movement share similar ideas and strategies. The two movements are like ideological twins.

They are willing to walk on a tightrope. They refuse to conform to external expectations. They dare to invent the future like mad men.

Their thinking is on a deeper level. They question power. They question values. They question identities, the system and everything.

Their focus is not merely on external decolonisation but on the decolonisation of the mind which Biko refers to as an inwards looking process.

Picture of Miriam a Makeba with Stokeley Carmichael

Stokely Carmichael with his wife, South African musician, Miriam Makeba shortly before they left America to live in Guinea, Africa.

There are also similarities in their strategies such as the exclusion of liberals, calls for organisation, calls to reject racist institutions, define their own goals, lead their own organisations and support their own organisations.

They are kindred spirits who have never met but are like liberation twins who are separated at birth but still think alike though they are thousands of miles apart. Though their paths never cross, but the roads they travel are similar.

The following quotation from the Black Power Movement [Carmichael and Hamilton] wouldn’t be out of place in I Write What I Like:

“The point is obvious: black people must lead and run their own organizations. Only black people can convey the revolutionary idea – and it is a revolutionary idea – that black people are able to do things themselves. Only they can help create in the community an aroused and continuing black consciousness that will provide the basis for political strength. In the past, white allies have often furthered white supremacy without the whites involved realizing it, or even wanting to do so. Black people must come together and do things for themselves. They must achieve self-identity and self-determination in order to have their daily needs met. . . “

Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement and the Black Power Movement in America have similar ideas and approaches although they are operating in different contexts. This is probably due to the similarities of their struggles.

They are both fighting against a capitalist system where white capital and racism identify the black skin as a mark of subservience; therefore, subjects to be subjugated and economically exploited for the benefit of the white population.

Biko believes that the Black people of the world, in choosing to reject the legacy of colonialism and white domination and to build around themselves their own values, standards and outlook to life, are establishing a solid base for meaningful cooperation among themselves in the larger battle of the Third World against the rich nations.

In the essay, Black Consciousness & the Quest for a True Humanity, illustrated in the image of the excerpt below, it illustrates Biko’s understanding of different disciplines resulting from his wide reading.

The link above links to a PDF version of this article that you can read online. Many argue that this is one of Steve Biko’s most articulate articles and the best he ever wrote.

image showing two pages of Steve Biko's essay Black consciousness and the quest for a true humanity written by Steve Biko and taken from the book I Write What I Like.

An excerpt from the article Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity written by Steve Biko and taken from the book I Write What I Like.

This article addresses the points I raised above. It goes further to pinpoint the role of the church in the subjugation and exploitation of Black people through creating a just cause condoning the oppression of Black People.

Biko believes the Black Consciousness approach would be irrelevant in a colourless and non-exploitative society. It is relevant here because the anomalous situation is a deliberate creation of man.

The leaders of the white community had to create some kind of barrier between blacks and whites so that the whites could enjoy privileges at the expense of blacks and still feel free to give a moral justification for the obvious exploitation that pricked even the hardest of white consciences,” he writes.

It is worth reading further to understand how and why these barriers were created, and the role the missionaries played although they knew that not everything they were doing was necessary to spread the word of God.

One of the greatest influences on Biko’s Black Consciousness Philosophy is Frantz Fanon. Fanon’s works such as Black Skin, White Masks inspired  some of Biko’s articles like Black Souls in White Skins, White Racism and Black Consciousness and Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity.

Picture of Frantz fanon

The Martinique-born Afro-French psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary, and writer, Frantz Fanon, who wrote books like The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks had a major influence on the writing and thinking of Steve Bantu Biko.

At times Biko paraphrases Fanon. At times he acknowledges his contribution through direct quotes; e.g. he quotes him directly in White Racism and Black Consciousness:

 As Fanon puts it: “Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content; by a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it.”

As pointed out above, “emptying the native’s brain of all form and content” and distorting, disfiguring and destroying of the past was the modus operandi of the missionary and his brainwashed education and religion.

Biko is not content to merely paraphrase or quote Fanon. He applies his understanding to what he knows within the South African context.

And in response to Fanon’s diagnosis, Biko notes the condition and prescribes the remedy to cure these social and historical ills:

 “We must reject the attempts by the powers that be to project an arrested image of our culture. This is not the sum total of our culture. They have deliberately arrested our culture at the tribal stage to perpetuate the myth that African people were near cannibals, had no real ambitions in life, and were preoccupied with sex and drink. In fact the wide-spread of vice often found in the African townships is a result of the interference of the white man in the natural evolution of the true native culture.”

Thus for Biko, his emphasis is on Black people and restoring to Black people a sense of the great stress they placed on the value of human relationships to illustrate that they always had a high regard of people; their property and life.

The reclamation and restoration of these values are central to the Black Consciousness Philosophy.

Image of Steve Biko with a quote from the book I Write What I Like which states “We must reject, as we  have been doing, the  individualistic cold  approach to life that is the cornerstone of Anglo-Boer  culture. We must seek to  restore to the black man  the great importance we  used to give to human  relations, the high regard  we had for people and  their property, and for life  in general; to reduce the  triumph of technology  over man and the  materialistic element  that is slowly creeping  into society.”

The call for Blacks to lead the struggle against apartheid is a dominant theme. According to Biko, no one can free Black people except Black people themselves.

He identifies the strength of the white power structure and sets it out, “The overall success of the white power structure has been in managing to bind the white’s together in defence of the status quo”.

Therefore, Biko aims to bind Black people together and create a unified liberation movement which uses its group dynamics to challenge the hegemony and status quo.

He also draws inspiration from the long liberation history of South Africa and its revolutionaries and touches on it in the article above.

This history goes back to the two great Xhosa chiefs, Ngqika and Ndlambe, and their respective prophet-intellectuals, Ntsikana and Nxele, in the 19th century.

This tradition also includes Tiyo Soga and Robert Sobukwe; the latter led the breakaway from the ANC to found the PAC because the ANC fraternised with white liberals and communists.

Steve Biko Culture

The Black Consciousness Movement uses the template built by the PAC to exclude white liberals from its midst to form a liberation movement led by Blacks.

At the time, most of the liberation movements were led by white liberals who financed them too. Very few Black organisations were not under white direction or guardianship.

The PAC broke this monopoly of white guardianship in the fifties, therefore, sowing the seeds for the BCM. The PAC was active in King Williams Town and Biko’s older brother, Khaya, was a member.

Biko also held Sobukwe in great esteem: he affectionately referred to him as The Prof. So Biko would have been very aware of their modus operandi because his brother tried on numerous occasions but without success to persuade him to join the PAC.

Biko’s article illustrated below, The Church as Seen by a Young Layman, which is available via the link as a PDF, illustrates Biko’s awareness of his history and the heroes that formed part of that long liberation struggle lineage.

In this article, he is concerned with the “return to our beliefs, values” and rewriting history to restore it with its original value.

He is also questioning the role the church plays in the subjugation of Black people and providing solutions to make it relevant to the oppressed in South Africa.

Image of Steve Bantu Biko's essay The church as seen by a young layman taken from the Book I Write What I Like.

Biko’s awareness of the distortion of history by the settlers convinces him to reclaim it and restore it with its true value.

He explains that the coming to consciousness of the Black man will only be possible through rewriting Black history and producing in it the heroes that form the core of Black resistance to the white invaders. He writes:

“More has to be revealed, and stress laid on the successful nation-building attempts of men such as Shaka, Moshoeshe and Hintsa. These areas call for intense research to provide some sorely-needed missing links. We would be too naïve to expect our conquerors to write unbiased histories about us but we have to destroy the myth that our history starts in 1652, the year Van Riebeeck landed at the Cape.”

“Our culture must be defined in concrete terms. We must relate the past to the present and demonstrate a historical evolution of the modern black man,” he elaborates further.

His quest is not to return to some primordial or glorious past, but to return to it in spirit and seek inspiration from that history to make it relevant to the present.

Restoration of Black people’s history, beliefs and values is a recurring theme at the heart of the Black Consciousness Philosophy.

Philosophy is the academic study of knowledge, thought, and the study of life. It also includes any system of beliefs or values, or a personal outlook or viewpoint.

Originally, philosophy comes from the Greek word philosophia which means love of wisdom. The latter phrase encapsulates Steve Bantu Biko.

I Write What I Like captures and reflects Biko’s philosophia quality. His love of knowledge and wisdom permeate the text. It is a direct result of his study of life in South Africa, Africa and what is happening globally, plus his voracious reading.

He absorbs it all and uses his understanding to mould a philosophy that addresses the subjugation of Blacks in apartheid South Africa by demystifying the myths, systems or beliefs used to justify the oppression of Africans.

He gives the people a revolutionary outlook that breathes new life into them and the confidence to face the system as re-born men and women.

steve biko meme with a quote from I WriteWhat I Like

He never writes to boast or show-off. His intention is to change the thinking of Africans. He is committed to engaging with the ordinary person.

He wants to be understood. This is reflected in a response he gives to an interviewer in Our Strategy for Liberation.

“We believe it is the duty of the vanguard political movement which brings change to educate people’s outlook”, he explains.

The teacher, the educator, in him is obvious. The lucid exposition of the Black Consciousness Philosophy in the book speaks for itself.

These articles appeared in the SASO newsletter which was the theoretical organ of the Black Consciousness Movement; it was the medium used to disseminate ideas and educate its adherents and the wider society.

The readers of the newsletter, or readers of this book, who wish to explore and understand Black Consciousness will be enlightened by Biko’s articulate arguments, intelligence, touched by his humanity and impressed by his lack of vengeance against whites.

Despite his experiences with the apartheid police and subjugation by the regime, Biko is not bitter. This text lacks bitterness. The pronoun “I” is almost absent: it is synonymous with the ego. He maintains an objective perspective which indicates a sense of fairness.

I guess this is what Biko refers to as “The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa – giving the world a more human face”.

Steve Biko Human Face

He retains that rare humane trait exhibited by philosopher kings or prophet intellectuals. He transcends the vanity created by the apartheid regime and its dehumanisation of the indigenous people.

Biko’s Black Consciousness Philosophy is revolutionary. It is the first time that a leader in South Africa articulates a liberation ideology or philosophy that addresses the psychological emancipation of the people.

Most leaders merely concentrated on the external factors such as unjust laws, toyi toying, violent struggle, sabotage, etc. Biko digs deeper than the skin and addresses the mind.

Therefore, he has a hard sell because his ideas are new. At the time he is writing, the ANC and PAC are banned so the Black Consciousness Movement is the vanguard movement leading the revolution in the absence of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe and Nelson Mandela and other elders.

Biko understands the importance of putting ideas across to the people in a language that they understand as he says in his own words, “All these must be explained to the people by the vanguard movement which is leading the revolution”.

As the vanguard movement, and the spiritual father of the movement, this burden falls on Biko’s young shoulders.

Unlike other leading intellectuals or those who use their intellectual powers of persuasion to uphold the status quo, and cloud their message through the use of abstract terms, or the language of academia to make their work accessible to the privileged minority, Biko writes in a simple, concise, precise and fluid manner.

Biko believes that ‘”Black Consciousness” seeks to talk to the black man in a language that is his own’. Therefore, he keeps his writing accessible to the audience he is addressing.

Picture of Steve Biko with quote taken from the Book I Write What I Like. The text reads:  “If people want to be our friends they must act as friends, with deeds.” Steve Bantu Biko I Write What I Like

During the BPC/ SASO trial he explains that they settled for English as the common language because there were ten languages available and they had to cater for other groups like the Coloureds and Indians who fall under the definition of Black people according to the Black Consciousness Philosophy.

They are more or less equally oppressed and exploited; therefore, Black is not a term that refers to one’s skin colour. Rather it addresses the conditions of the oppressed and exploited.

He also elaborates how language is used and received by people from different cultures because of our different ways of reading or interpreting the context and contents of a speech.

For example, in response to a question about a document circulated at the funeral of an activist which the court believes the language can be interpreted as inciting violence or anger, Biko replies:

“I am saying both the drawers of this particular piece and the recipients will have no doubt about their communication. You in the middle who is an Englishman, who looks at words you know piecemeal, you may have problems, but the person who perceives it within the crowd has no problem. They are at one, they understand what they are talking about. You may not understand it because you are looking at the precise meaning of words.”

The text of Biko’s work is very simple and accessible. Because it is accessible, it is persuasive especially to people who understand the apartheid context and the historical period.

Picture of Steve Bantu Biko with a quotes from the book I Write What I Like. Quote reads “We believe ultimately in the righteousness of our strength, that we are going to get to the eventual accommodation of our interests within the country.”

The longevity of I Write What I Like bears testament to its persuasiveness and relevance decades after it was published.

That he writes so simply and persuasively reflects his clarity of mind, his ideas and his ability to communicate complex ideas at the level of a layman to a layman without watering down the strength of the argument.

His clarity of thought is a hallmark of a philosopher. He is not interested in the abstract ideas numerous philosophers pursue.

Biko’s philosophy is rooted in his social and political context. It tackles the realities of the oppressed and creates a fighting philosophy in the process.

While reading Biko’s work, we take a number of things for granted. Firstly, we forget that he was only 23 years when he began to develop his own ideas and thinking about Black Consciousness.

Not many people at that age have such a clear conception of society or the world to start formulating such strong ideas. This is partly what makes I Write What I Like a remarkable work.

To say he did it alone is untrue. He worked with friends like Barney Pityana and other fellow students. Together they formed an intellectual cell where they debated and discussed issues and exchanged ideas.

Out of that cell emerged the Black Consciousness Movement. Its genesis and development follows similar lines of social change and revolutionary intellectual movements throughout the history of the world.

Image of Steve Biko with a quote from the book I Write What I Like. It reads, “We are oppressed because we are black. We must use that very concept to unite ourselves and to respond as a cohesive group. We must cling to each other with a tenacity that will shock the perpetrators of evil.”

In addition, I alluded to how Steve was a lover of wisdom. Barney Pityana testifies that “Steve was a voracious reader. He read everything he could lay his hands on”.

Steve was a medical student but he could debate the finer points of literary criticism with Barney who was an English major.

His voracious reading expanded his intellectual horizons and allowed him to engage proficiently and intelligently with numerous disciplines such as philosophy, sociology, psychology, religion, history, politics, current affairs, etc.

That he was widely read, is evident in his comfort and ability to discuss different subjects, quote from myriad sources or bring together an amalgamation of ideas and apply them to the South African context and mould them into Black Consciousness.

We take our access to books, research papers, historical documents and the internet for granted. Biko didn’t have the resources modern scholars have today.

However, his voracious reading of what he could lay his hands helped him forge an international perspective and ideas that were universal in their appeal.

He was an astute observer of the events unfolding in the world such as the politics of decolonisation of Africa and India and the African Diaspora.

He was well versed in the local South African history and the resistance the locals put up against the British and Dutch settlers. All these various struggles that preceded him informed his ideas and helped to shape his philosophy.

The politics of the Civil Rights Movement in the US was also crucial to his learning and developing certain tenets of the Black Consciousness Philosophy.

This is evident in Chapter 14 entitled Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity.

He despairs at the role Christianity plays in the subjugation of Black people and calls for its reformation borrowing ideas from Black Theology and modifying them to suit the South African context.

Steve Biko Christians

Black theology is historically an American product emerging from the Black situation there. I’ll take the liberty to inflict a long quote on you from the article named above to illustrate my point.

“Here then we have the case for Black Theology. While not wishing to discuss Black Theology at length, let it suffice to say that it seeks to relate God and Christ once more to the black man and his daily problems. It wants to describe Christ as a fighting God, not a passive God who allows a lie to go unchallenged. It grapples with existential problems and does not claim to be an ideology of absolutes. It seeks to bring back God to the black man and to the truth and reality of his situation. This is an important aspect of Black Consciousness, for quite a large proportion of black people in South Africa are Christians still swimming in a mire of confusion – the aftermath of the missionary approach. It is the duty of all black priests and ministers of religion to save Christianity by adopting Black Theology’s approach and thereby once more uniting the black man with his God.”

What emerges from Biko’s series of articles is a solid philosophy inspired by diverse intellectual forces such as the African Nationalism of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenneth Kaunda, Kamuzu Hastings Banda and Julius Nyerere; the Pan Africanism of Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure; the Negritude writers of West Africa and Paris, and the Black Power Movement of Stokely Carmichael a.k.a. Kwame Ture, Malcolm X, and the Black Panther Party.

There are very few surviving audio or video recordings of Steve Biko. He never got the opportunity to pen his own memoirs or autobiography to tell his own story.

However, a lot has been written about him. There are numerous articles, essays and books about him or his work, critiquing it.

Songs have been made about him. Documentaries and films too. All these individual narratives are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that build a composite picture of the man, the legend, the tragic hero and the revolutionary.

They aid us in understanding how the world embraced him and what he represented. They illustrate the internationalist appeal of his work and the peoples it touched. Furthermore, they reinforce his enduring legacy.

There are those who accused him of racism. However, that is the propaganda used by those who feared or misunderstood his radical thinking and attempted to use that to demonise or discredit him.

Others who used that approach tried to undermine his legitimate concerns by attempting to portray him as a racist were the secret police and the state to undermine his message and uphold the status quo.

The text speaks for itself. It doesn’t call for annihilation of white people. It doesn’t call for revenge. Rather Biko preaches non-violence.

He preaches understanding. He addresses the concerns of those who claimed Blacks were racists. He made it clear:

“What of the claim that blacks are becoming racists? This is a favourite pastime of frustrated liberals who feel their trusteeship ground being washed off from under their feet. These self-appointed trustees of black interests boast of years in the experience in their fight for the ‘rights of the blacks’. They have been doing things for blacks, on behalf of blacks, and because of blacks. When the blacks announce that the time has come for them to do things for themselves all white liberals shout blue murder… What blacks are doing is merely to respond to a situation in which they find themselves the objects of white racism. We are in a position in which we are because of our skin. We are collectively segregated against – what can be more logical than for us to respond as a group?”

Biko explains why they chose to go at it as Blacks only. The definition of Blacks is not a matter of pigmentation or a lack of it but a mental attitude of declaring oneself as Black.

Image of Steve Biko with a quote from the book I Write What I Like which states “I think when black people are so dedicated and so united in their cause that we can effect the greatest revolt”

It is an inclusive term including oppressed groups such as the Coloureds (otherwise referred to as mixed race in other countries) and Indians.

These three groups were often referred to as non-white in South Africa and used as buffer layers between Blacks and whites but Biko and the BCM rejected that classification because it treated them as an inferior subspecies or subhuman of what was considered the norm – white.

He writes in The Definition of Black Consciousness, “We have in our policy manifesto defined blacks as those who are by law or tradition politically, economically and socially discriminated as a group in the South African society and identifying themselves as a unit in the struggle towards the realisation of their aspirations”.

“Merely be defining yourself as black you have started on a road towards emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being”, he goes on to state.

This definition is both political and strategic to build up a powerful alliance between oppressed and exploited groups.

Image of Steve Biko taken from his book I Write What I Like. The accompanying quote reads, "No, black people must refuse to be pawns in a white man's game".

I Write What I Like is one of the few documents that preserves Biko’s voice and philosophy. We are grateful because it is the closest we can get to his own thinking without the use of an intermediary.

Nothing is lost in translation or interpretation. The text remains unaltered except for the brief paragraphs at the beginning of each chapter that provide a basic commentary putting the articles into context.

The book captures Biko’s thinking from the start of his political career and takes us up to within months of his death.

It provides us with insight into the evolution of the BCM from a small students union [SASO] through to its transformation into a fully fledged movement with various organisations linked to it such as the BPC.

It also illustrates the gradual evolution in Biko’s thinking from his modest start, speaking as the voice of Black students to his role as a leading statesman, representing the masses and setting out his vision for the future.

During the formation of SASO in Chapters 1 – 3, Biko and co refer to themselves as non-whites. However, in chapter 4, the word is obliterated from their vocabulary or conscience. It is nonexistent. From then on they refer to themselves as Black.

The text sets out the definition of Black Consciousness philosophy. Biko defines it as:

“Black Consciousness is in essence the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their operation – the blackness of their skin – and to operate as group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude. It seeks to demonstrate the lie that black is an aberration from the “normal” which is white. It is a manifestation of a new realisation that by seeking to run away from themselves and to emulate the white man, blacks are insulting the intelligence of whoever created them black. Black Consciousness therefore, takes cognizance of the deliberateness of God’s plan in creating black people black. It seeks to infuse the black community with a new-found pride in themselves, their efforts, their value systems, their religion and their outlook to life.”

This is precisely what Black Consciousness is about. It is about self determination. It rejects the idea that the lives and fate of black people can be defined by a tiny settler minority.

Steve-Biko - Black Consciousness

It is about reaffirming and reclaiming the Black system of beliefs and values, allowing Black people to assert their own personal outlook or viewpoint without coercion or persuasion by others i.e. the white man.

There are many ways of “being”. There are many ways of seeing the world. There are many ways of relating to the world. None is more superior or inferior than the other.

The intention is not to subjugate white people. In fact, it is to free them because they are also enslaved by their racism.

Biko argues that the system of apartheid was created specifically for the purpose of subjugation of Black people to exploit them and entrench their privileged position in society and benefiting from the riches of the country.

He believes it is not a coincidence Black people are exploited. It is a deliberate plan.

Therefore, Black Consciousness is Biko’s vehicle to liberation as he explains, “Liberation is therefore of paramount importance in the concept of Black Consciousness, for we cannot be conscious of ourselves and yet remain in bondage. We want to attain the envisioned self which is a free self”.

Image of Steve Biko with the quote “Whites must be made to realize that they are only human, not superior. Same with blacks. They Must be made to realize that they are also human, not inferior. For all of us this means that South Africa is not European, but African.” Steve Bantu Biko I Write What I Like

 

Biko opposes racism. His whole text is absent of racial incite. Rather he illustrates the pitfalls of racism and the harm it inflicts on both the racist and the victim. They are both enslaved by it.

His understanding of racism fundamentally echoes that of Frantz Fanon and American Black Power activists like Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton in the 1960s.

Carmichael and Hamilton defined racism as, “the predication of decisions and policies on considerations of race for the purposes of subordinating a racial group and maintaining control over that group”.

This form of institutional racism was further developed and explained by American sociologists like Robert Blauner. He argued, racism was “located in the actual existence of domination and hierarchy”.

Biko believes racism is a question of power, the power to subjugate and without that power one can’t be racist.

He defines racism as “discrimination by one group against another for the purpose of subjugation or maintaining subjugation”.

“We do not have the power to subjugate anyone… Racism does not only imply exclusion of one race by another – it always presupposes that the exclusion is for the purposes of subjugation”, he adds.

The definition of racism above illustrates that exclusion of whites from the Black Consciousness Movement is not an act of racism. There is no intent to subjugate or maintain subjugation. Therefore, it is not racist.

It is merely an act of solidarity among the oppressed to rid themselves of the shackles that enslave them. It is a genuine attempt to facilitate a very strong grassroots build-up of black consciousness such that Blacks can learn to assert themselves and stake their rightful claim.

Steve Biko whites 2

Biko’s  references to whites as the group that “wields power”, the “totality of white power”, or “white power presents itself as a totality” reinforces the idea that within that context, only whites can be racist because they wield all the power to subjugate, dominate and maintain the white supremacy structure to exploit Black people for their economic benefit.

Biko’s views are supported by Hendrik Vervoerd, the chief architect of apartheid. In his attempt to justify apartheid or separate development Vervoerd stated:

‘Reduced to its simplest form the problem is nothing else than this: We want to keep South Africa white… “keeping it white” can only mean one thing, namely white domination, not “leadership,” not guidance, but control, supremacy. If we agreed that is the desire of the people that the white man should be able to protect himself by retaining White domination, we say that it can be achieved by separate development.’

This is what Biko is rejecting and resisting. This is what he is fighting. This is the totality of white power he is against not the individual.

Image of Steve Biko with a quote from the book I Write What I Like which reads, “We are looking forward to a non-racial, just and egalitarian society in which colour, creed and race shall form no point of reference.”

Furthermore, Biko not only objects to the white liberals trying to hijack the liberation movement, but to their paternalism in constantly treating Blacks like perpetual under 16s, and supplying them with solutions which suit the white liberals but are not what Blacks necessarily envision.

Like Carmichael and Hamilton, Biko dismisses the integration the liberals eschew because it is artificial. According to him, the integration they talk about is a response to a conscious manoeuvre rather than to the dictates of the inner soul.

Biko accepts an integration that is organic, mutual. He believes each group must be able to attain its style of existence without encroaching on or being thwarted by another.

Out of this mutual respect for each other and complete freedom of self-determination there will obviously arise a genuine fusion of the life-styles of the various groups.

He also rejects Black leaders who cooperate with the apartheid regime. He articulates the damage these so-called leaders inflict on the people through fragmentation of the struggle and the confusion they sow in the article entitled Let’s talk about Bantustans.

Bantustans, or Bantu homelands, were independent or autonomous African homelands set aside by the regime for different tribes or ethnic groups.

Biko was working hard to unite the people so he viewed the Bantustans as a South African version of the Roman imperialist idea of “Divide and Rule”.

The bantustans allocated 13% of the land to Africans who formed 80% of the population and left whites who were the minority, 20% of the population to enjoy 87% of the best arable land.

Therefore, Biko saw bantustan leaders such as Kaiser Mantanzima, leader of the Transkei, Gatsha Buthelezi of Zululand and Lucas Mangope of Bophuthatswana as “sell-outs and Uncle Toms”.

It is probably the only time one can detect some anger in Biko. He rips into the leaders and exposes the futility of their plans by allowing the people who are oppressing them to offer solutions to the problems they created.

Biko uses the following analogy to illustrate the futility of the apartheid regime prescribing solutions for the Bantustan leaders: “If you want to fight your enemy you do not accept from him the unloaded of his two guns and then challenge him to a duel”.

Steve Biko No Pawns

Biko’s disappointment with their approach is obvious. He doesn’t hide his strong views as illustrated: “there is no way of stopping fools from dedicating themselves to a useless cause”.

He is against the idea of these homelands. He sees them as a great injustice inflicted on the Blacks regardless of the propaganda the regime spins to make them look like there is genuine progress. Biko denounces them in the strongest terms.

‘These tribal cocoons called “homelands” are nothing else but sophisticated concentration camps where black people are allowed to “suffer peacefully”. Black people must constantly pressurise the bantustan leaders to pull out of the cul-de-sac that has been created for us by the system,” he writes.

He accuses these leaders of subconsciously aiding and abetting in the total subjugation of the country. They are exonerating the country and giving the process legitimacy.

“No, black people must refuse to be pawns in a white man’s game,” Biko warns the people.

He advocates for Black people to provide their own initiative and to act at their own pace and not one created for them by the system.

Apart from these leaders who are helping maintain the status quo, confusing the masses and fragmenting the resistance to apartheid, Biko rejects Black policemen, security forces or those who collaborate with them.

He sees them as “extensions of the enemy into our ranks”. He views them as a danger to the community and he is not afraid of stating that publicly. He doesn’t even see them as Black.

He doesn’t support them or their motives. They might as well be outsiders or Judas Iscariot to Biko:

“One can say of course that blacks too are to blame for allowing the situation to exist. Or to drive the point even further, one may point that there are black policemen and black special branch agents. To take the last point first, I must state categorically that there is no such thing as a black policeman. Any black man who props the system up actively has lost the right to being considered part of the black world: he has sold his soul for 30 pieces of silver and finds that he is in fact not acceptable to the white society he sought to join. These are colourless white lackeys who live in a marginal world of unhappiness. They are extensions of the enemy into our ranks.”

He demonstrates this fearlessness at the SASO/ BPC Trial in 1976. In response to a question by the defence attorney about black policemen who work for the government, Biko calls them “traitors”.

He says this without any equivocation and he says this to a room-full of policemen. One has to remember that the apartheid police was one of the most feared institutions in the country then.

They can arrest people without any charges and detain them. They kill with impunity because they have guaranteed state immunity. They beat people and they have no recourse to justice.

Picture of Steve Biko with the quote "The black man has no ill-intentions for the white man. The black man is only incensed at the white man to the extent that he wants to entrench himself in a position of power to exploit the black man." it is taken from the book I Write What I Like.

“The black man has no ill-intentions for the white man. The black man is only incensed at the white man to the extent that he wants to entrench himself in a position of power to exploit the black man.”
Steve Bantu Biko
I Write What I Like

The two chapters that cover the SASO/ BPC Trial are enlightening. The transcripts illustrate how Biko uses the trial as a platform to spread Black Consciousness. He transforms the charge of terrorism against the state itself.

He walks a fine line between walking and talking revolution and inciting treason which can earn him a jail or death sentence.

Not only does he defend Black Consciousness, but he addresses white misconceptions of Black Consciousness.

He reinforces the movements commitment to non violence, anti-racism, anti-exploitation, unity and creation of an egalitarian society which Biko seeks to create.

The trial was a result of members of the BPC holding a pro Frelimo Rally to celebrate Frelimo as the de facto government of Mozambique.

However, the way the indictment is formulated, makes it clear that Black Consciousness is on trial.

Biko turns it around. This trial is for the Black Consciousness Movement what the Treason Trial was for the Congress Alliance of the 1950s. It is to Biko what the Rivonia Trial [1964] was for Mandela.

Both these trials showcase the fearlessness of the leadership and the content of the message that both trials send out to the Black community and the world at large.

The SASO/ BPC Trial confirms to society and the world that Biko is the authentic voice of the people and he is not afraid to say openly what other Blacks think but are too frightened to say it aloud.

The trial also illustrates how Biko handled hostile interrogation or cross examination by being always quick to take the route of humour and respond to what was human in his persecutors as illustrated in this short exchange.

QUESTIONER: Why do you seek confrontation?

BIKO: There is nothing wrong with confrontation as such.

QUESTIONER: Confrontation leads to violence. Do you approve of violence?

BIKO: No, confrontation does not necessarily leads to violence. You and I are now in confrontation, and there is no violence.

ADVOCATE ASIDE TO COLLEAGUE: This isn’t a confrontation – it’s a massacre.

Black people though remain his main concern. The whole philosophy of Black Consciousness is the remedy Biko believes will cure the patient and rejuvenate them back into health.

He turns his attention to them in We Blacks. Biko was a medical student and at times uses medical terms to scrutinise the problem.

Black Consciousness therefore is his way of diagnosing the ailment, establishing the root cause and setting up the remedy as he puts it in his own words:

‘One needs to understand the basics before setting up a remedy. A number of organisations now currently “fighting apartheid” are working on an oversimplified premise. They have taken a brief look at what is, and have diagnosed the problem incorrectly. They have almost forgotten about the side effects and have not even considered the root cause. Hence whatever is improvised as a remedy will hardly cure the condition.’

By this, Biko means that other organisations ignore the premise that apartheid is tied up with white supremacy, capitalist exploitation and deliberate oppression so it makes the problem more complex.

He also notes that spiritual poverty is also part of the cocktail of social ills that creates mountains of obstacles in the course of emancipation of Black people.

Biko asks probing questions of the Black man. “What makes the black man fail to tick? Is he convinced of his own accord of his own inabilities? Does he lack in his genetic make-up that rare quality that makes a man willing to die for the realisation of his aspirations? Or is he simply a defeated person?”

He answers these questions and articulates them well. Like a doctor, and Fanon his inspiration who also studied medicine [psychology], he understands the effects of apartheid and colonialism.

He understands how they dehumanise the native and mess up his head and self confidence.

In characteristic style, Biko proclaims: ‘The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth. This is what we mean by an inward-looking process. This is the definition of “Black Consciousness”‘.

Picture of Steve Bantu Biko

The seeds of the Black Consciousness Philosophy speak for themselves when in 1976, school children reject Afrikaans as a medium of instruction and take to the streets in protest.

The apartheid police retaliates by shooting them down in a hail of bullets on the streets of Soweto. These school children answer Biko’s question about the Black man:

“Does he lack in his genetic make-up that rare quality that makes a man willing to die for the realisation of his aspirations? Or is he simply a defeated person?” 

No! They are not defeated people. They have that rare quality that makes a man or woman or child willing to die for the realisation of his or her aspirations.

The Black Consciousness Philosophy and Movement produce new men and women.

They are conscious. They are militant. They are proud of their blackness and totally reject the white yardstick as the standard to judge themselves. They are prepared to die for their ideals.

Biko’s realisation comes to bear fruit. His aim to remove the fear factor in Black people is evident.

He states, “But part of what you are trying to kill has not quite died, the whole concept of fear, and black people steeped in fear. We want to get them away from this”.

Steve Biko picture quote which reads, "It is better to die for an idea that will live than to live for an idea that will die".

The children are not the only ones who are prepared to die. Many members of the Black Consciousness Movement are hunted down and murdered by the apartheid regime too.

Some are murdered while they are being held by the police. Biko is one of them and the most high profile of the lot.

He believes in his ideas and dies for them. He dies for his conviction: “It is better to die for an idea that will live than to live for an idea that will die”.

He also knows that the cause is justified and victory is assured as he prophesies, “We believe in the righteousness of our strength, that we are going to get to the eventual accommodation of our interests within the country”.

In the final chapter, On Death, Biko relates how a friend of his is killed days before he is arrested for the final time, “They just killed somebody in jail – a friend of mine – about ten days before I was arrested”.

He talks about death casually in an almost detached manner, like a man who is used to death. He talks about it like a man who has reconciled himself with death.

The irony is this final chapter contains the last words recorded shortly before his death.

Like many of his comrades and school children murdered by the regime, he also answers his own question when the regime murders him: “Does he lack in his genetic make-up that rare quality that makes a man willing to die for the realisation of his aspirations? Or is he simply a defeated person?”

The opening paragraph of the last chapter illustrates that rare quality in his genetic make-up that makes a man willing to die for the realisation of his aspirations.

This paragraph I am about to quote is quite poignant. It is ironic because months later he is murdered and his words ring true.

“You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can’t care anyway. And your method of death can itself be a politicising thing. So you die in the riots. For a hell a lot of them, in fact, there’s nothing really to lose – almost literally, given the kind of situations that they come from. So if you can overcome the personal fear of death, which is a highly irrational thing, you know, then you’re on your way.”

Picture of Steve Biko with a quote from his book which reads, "You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you don't care anyway".

Again Biko is correct. His death, the method of his death is a “politicising thing”. His death shows up the brutality of the apartheid regime. The world’s eyes focus on the regime and the opposition to apartheid outside the borders of South Africa increases.

Unfortunately, he is wrong in one aspect. There is something to lose.

The BCM loses its most articulate theorist, it’s charismatic ambassador and selfless spiritual leader. South Africa loses a young statesmen who could have gone on to become an influential leader in post apartheid South Africa.

South Africa loses a visionary who wanted to build a new society as he said: “in our country there shall be no minority, there shall be no majority, just the people. And those people will have the same status before the law and they will have the same political rights before the law. So in a sense it will be a completely non-racial egalitarian society”.

His words, his ideas are the spark that light a veld fire across South Africa. With his simple messages Black is Beautiful! Be proud of your Blackness! Assert yourselves and be self reliant!

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” Organise! His work is complete. Black people shed their feeling of inferiority and they walk tall.

Picture of Steve Biko with the quote, "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed" taken from the book I Write What I Like written by Steve Biko.

Biko’s writing is sincere and thought provoking. You might not agree with everything he says partially because time and circumstances have changed and there have been material changes in South Africa.

However, that is not entirely true. Biko warns about the dangers of the integration that the white liberals are pushing for. He warns them that it is bound to be a disaster if it is not done properly:

This is the white man’s integration – an integration based on exploitative values. It is an integration in which black will compete with black, using each other as rungs up a step ladder leading them to white values. It is an integration in which the black man will have to prove himself in terms of these values before meriting acceptance and ultimate assimilation, and in which the poor will grow poorer and the rich richer in a country where the poor have always been black. These are concepts which the Black Consciousness approach wishes to eradicate from the black man’s mind before our society is driven to chaos by irresponsible people from Coca-cola and hamburger cultural backgrounds.

Biko is correct. The poor in South Africa today are growing poorer and the rich richer due to the lack of transformation Biko proposes in I Write What I Like.

Recent reports in the media have highlighted how people are going for days without food to eat because of the high unemployment and lack of structural changes.

The changing of political power from white leaders to black leaders did nothing economically for Black people.

image of Steve Bantu Biko with quotes from I Write What I Like

Biko expresses his concerns if this happens:

There is no running away from the fact that now in South Africa there is such an ill distribution of wealth that any form of political freedom which does not touch on the proper distribution of wealth will  be meaningless. The whites have locked up within a small minority of themselves the greater proportion of  the country’s wealth. If we have a mere change of face of those in governing positions what is likely to happen is that black people will continue to be poor, and you will see a few blacks filtering through into the so-called bourgeoisie. Our society will be run almost as of yesterday. So for meaningful change to appear there needs to be an attempt at reorganising the whole economic pattern and economic policies within this country.

Of course, he is correct on that point. This is the situation in South Africa today.

The rise of the technocrats and Big Chief Syndrome has created a class of the ruling elite and their acolytes who benefit from the country’s vast economic resources while the poor are sidelined.

As a matter of fact, the great compromise made by Mandela benefitted foreign capital and their compradors. Imperialism triumphed at the expense of the people’s revolution, betraying the ANC Freedom Charter.

Under the current leadership there is no distinction between public authority and private interests. Corruption has become endemic and striking workers are shot down or dispersed with brutal force, something reminiscent of the apartheid regime.

Biko’s words, ideas and philosophy still appeal to the poor and downtrodden who still see him as a symbol of resistance and liberation against Black exploitation and oppression.

Today there are those like the Economic Freedom Fighters and others who claim validity for their ideas by claiming a lineage to Biko.

They are calling for genuine economic transformation and are seeking to address the land question which has seen the majority of the land remaining in the hands of a tiny minority.

Steve Bantu Biko and the Black Consciousness Philosophy remain relevant to our generation because of the lack of reorganisation of the whole economic pattern and economic realities in Africa.

He remains a politicising factor today because Black people remain at the bottom rung of every society we live in.

Biko’s calls for Black people to unite and liberate themselves are relevant today when we see what is happening with police brutality and militarisation of the security forces within Africa and America.

Black lives don’t matter is the message they seem to be sending out.

However, Black Consciousness urges us to assert ourselves: Be proud of your Blackness!

His writing displays the many facets that are Steve Biko. Chapter 17, American Policy towards Azania, showcases Biko at his diplomatic best. It is a masterclass in diplomacy.

He walks a fine line between telling the greatest superpower off and pricking their conscience: he comes as close he legally can to call for trade boycotts, arms embargoes, and withdrawal of investments from Senator Dick Clark.

Steve wrote the memorandum after he was released from 101 days in detention under section 6 of the Terrorism Act less than a week before his meeting with Clark.

He had no access to books, newspapers, the radio while he was held in isolation. He only had access to a Bible. The coolness and tact he displays in the memorandum illustrates Biko speaking with a mature and conscious authority as leader of the real opposition to the Nationalists in Pretoria.

Image of Steve Biko with the quote “Russia is as imperialistic as America. This is evident in its internal history as well as in the role it plays in countries like Angola. But the Russians have a less dirty game: in the eyes of the Third World they have a cleaner slate. Because of this, they have had a better start in the power game. Their policy seems to be acceptable to revolutionary groups. They are not  a ‘taboo’.” The quote comes from the book I Write What I Like.

He makes a passionate and penultimate plea to those who can bring about a nonviolent end to the tyranny of apartheid. The only reason apartheid continued for so long is because America supported this totalitarian regime.

America has a long history of supporting dictators, totalitarian regimes and masterminding coups in Africa and South America, Israel and Asia.

Biko picks that thread up and informs Senator Clark:

“Because of her bad record America is a poor second to Russia when it comes to choice of an ally in spite of black opposition to any form of domination by a foreign power. Heavy investments in the South African economy, bilateral trade with South Africa, cultural exchanges in the fields of sport and music and of late joint political ventures with the Vorster-Kissinger exercise are amongst the sins with which America is accused. All these activities relate to whites and their interests and serve to entrench the position of the minority regime”.

This is a different Biko speaking from the Biko who we meet during the formation of SASO. This Biko now speaks with the an air of diplomacy and statesman-like air.

He also sets out minimum requirements he expects the Americans to meet if America intends to act as a mediator because her current actions make her hands dirty and that is unacceptable for a mediator.

One of Biko’s requirements is that:

“America must call for the release of political prisoners and banned people like Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Steve Biko, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Barney Pityana and the integration of these people in the political process that shall shape things to come.”

It is also worth noting that in Chapter 18, Our Strategy for Liberation, Biko has come full circle. He expresses hopes for groups of whites who can come up to form coalitions with blacks to minimise the conflict.

It is a far cry from the initial strategy of withdrawal from Black-white coalitions of SASO and the Black Consciousness Movement’s formative years.

This is a reflection of the confidence Biko had in the Black Consciousness Movement’s ability to stand their ground and by their values and beliefs and to have a strong and leading voice within any Black-white coalitions.

It illustrates Biko’s ability to confront reality as he grapples with the issue of how to achieve freedom, and grow while developing his ideas all the time and broadening his outlook simultaneously.

I Write What I Like sets out the genesis, growth, development and evolution of the Black Consciousness Philosophy.

It is an engaging read showcasing the subtle evolution of Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement’s thinking and philosophy.

Biko had faith and conviction in victory. He took up a struggle alongside other men and women of his generation, and in doing so, managed to create a spark that powerfully resonated and disturbed the forces of injustice.

I don’t know if he knew that he was lighting fires of struggle throughout the world. However, I know that whenever his name is mentioned or his image appears, he still has the moral strength to powerfully disturb the forces of injustice today and inspire the oppressed and exploited to stand up for their rights.

His image and name still ignite a passion within the oppressed and exploited today that makes the foundations of power tremble. His conviction, humanity and demanding character command respect.

Image of Steve BAntu Biko with a quote from the book I Write What I Like which reads: “The most important phenomenon in South Africa today is the blacks’ struggle for freedom.” Steve Bantu Biko I Write What I Like

He was a revolutionary among revolutionaries. He was a man who could have gone on to be a successful doctor or lawyer, but he turned his back on the easy road, and dedicated himself to assert himself as a man of the people; a man who makes common cause with the suffering of others. That is probably what inspires people the most.

The apartheid regime killed Biko. It killed him because of its entrenched racism. Racism is a mental illness. It is also a question of power. Biko had diagnosed their condition and setout a remedy to cure their malady.

He also recognised their power. He knew that a unified Black people were the antidote to white power. Therefore, he was a threat to the white hegemonic power with his calls to unite Black people and confront the perpetrators of evil by creating a unified liberation movement.

Therefore, they killed him before he could heal them. They killed him before he seized power from them using the group dynamics.

Fortunately, you can’t kill ideas. Ideas do not die. And I Write What I Like contains the ideas, the seeds that Biko planted, and they are still germinating and bearing youths full of revolutionary fervour.

These are youths who are in search of the society Biko envisioned where there would be a reorganising of the “whole economic pattern and economic policies within this country” and probably within Africa, South America, Asia and the West.

This book contains Biko’s ideas that encourage the Black man and woman to have confidence in themselves and their abilities.

This book is above all about revolutionary conviction and faith in the cause and outcome, revolutionary conviction, revolutionary faith in what you are doing, and the conviction that victory belongs to us and that struggle is our only solution.

Biko lives! some say. His ideas are still alive. That’s why Biko, an embodiment of revolutionary ideas and self sacrifice is alive.

Young people thirsty for dignity, thirsty for courage, thirsty for Biko’s ideas and for the vitality he symobolised in South Africa and across the continent  seek out to drink from the invigorating source represented by our revolutionary spiritual father.

His ideas inspire us and are inscribed in our hearts and minds. His ideas live in each of us in the daily struggle we wage and this is why this book remains relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1978.

I Write What I Like is a masterpiece of  liberation and political philosophy focusing on Biko’s strengths bolstered by his love of writing.

He combines his love of the craft of writing and what he is passionate about – freedom and liberation and politics – and produces a historical document that will be read for generations to come.

And it will continue to inspire writers, bloggers, musicians, artists, scholars and activists and many others too numerous too mention.

Biko understands that “The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed” and he puts pen to paper to decolonise the mind and shatter the shackles that bind the Black man and woman’s mind.

I Write What I Like is an enduring tribute to the depth and range of Steve Biko’s thoughts and ideas. His selfless reflections, thoughts, resilience, wit, wisdom and lasting faith in a humanely shared planet will influence Black Consciousness scholars, disciples and converts journey into the future, to create a better future where we can show the world a more human face.

This book is a collector’s item and a book you should at least read once in a lifetime. It is a worthwhile investment and every cent or penny you spend on it is worth it. I recommend it.

You can check out a PDF version of I Write What I Like at this link http://abahlali.org/files/Biko.pdf. However, I prefer the real book because there is nothing like holding it in your hands and engaging directly with it

I leave you with a quote from Steve Biko which best sums up his vision in this book and a phrase that appeared on the first page of the Daily Dispatch  with a large colour portrait of Steve and the phrase on either side of it read:

“We salute a hero of the nation.”

[“Sikahlela indoda yamadoda.”]

“We have set on a quest for a true humanity, and somewhere on the distant horizon we can see the glittering prize. Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common plight and our brotherhood. In time we shall be in a position to bestow upon South Africa the greatest gift possible – a more human face.”

9 Comments

January 19, 2015 · 3:14 am

Thegatvolblogger 2014 in review


Compliments of the New Year

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support in 2014 and helping to take this blog to the next level. Much love to you for taking the time to read the content, comment, like, share and recommend thegatvolblogger.

I am overwhelmed by your support and love. It has been a labour of love and you have made every moment worth it. I could not have done it without you. Without you, I would have given up but you have given me the strength, encouragement and motivation to do even better in 2015.

I would like to give a special shout out to

  • Jo Robinson
  • Adam Henig
  • nativedrum
  • sallysuccess
  • wiseandlovelyme

You were my most active commenters and supported and shared my work. Nuff respect to you. You can check out the report below to see your contributions to make this blog a success.

My goal this year is to take this blog to the next level and I feel indebted to you. Keep your eye on this blog for better content, more posts and better quality.

I hope all your dreams, desires, hopes and goals become a reality in 2015. Have a Happy New Year. You rock you have made my year and I am starting on a high because of you.

All the best and One Love.

Thegatvolblogger

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,600 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Filed under Blogging, Creative Writing

In memory of Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara, The Upright Man: 27 quotes on Women’s liberation and the African freedom struggle


Thomas Sankara

The Upright Man: Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara

Captain Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara is the late Burkinabe military captain, Marxist revolutionary, Pan African theorist and the President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. He is more popularly known as The Upright Man. He was born on the 21st of December 1949 in Yako, Burkina Faso.

He rose to power through a popular revolution or coup in what was known as Upper Volta in West Africa. He was only 33 at the time. His goal was the socioeconomic and political transformation of his nation, eliminating corruption, oppression, exploitation and dominance of France, the former colonial power.

He renamed Upper Volta and called the new country Burkina Faso  which literally means Land of Upright Man, hence his popular moniker.

Sankara is remembered for some of the most ambitious and successful programmes for social and economic change he implemented when he came to power. Within four years, he transformed Burkina Faso from an impoverished nation to a self reliant country through his commitment and drive to transform his political and moral ideology into action.

He conducted a struggle against imperialism, foregoing foreign aid for his government, nationalising the land and mineral wealth, neutralising the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

He was one of the first presidents to launch a tree planting programme to arrest the desertification of the Sahel, agrarian self sufficiency, local production of Burkinabe goods, nationwide literacy campaigns and vaccination programmes.

These are only a few examples of his programmes. It is by no means an exhaustive list. He was deeply committed to the liberation of women from exploitation and oppression by outsiders and society and culture.

He banned female circumcision, forced marriages, polygamy, expelling girls from school when they fell pregnant. Sankara appointed women to high governmental positions, employed women in the army, encouraged them to be employed outside the home and set up committees and institutions to tackle women’s liberation.

This article is not going to focus on his accomplishments and programmes. The focus is on his words and ideas and one of his concerns – Women’s Liberation.

Therefore, I have chosen 27 quotes, mainly from The book Women’s Liberation and the African freedom Struggle. The book features two speeches. The first, Women’s Liberation and the African freedom Struggle, was made he made in 1987.

The second, Women’s role in the democratic and popular revolution, was made earlier on the 2nd of October 1983. I was reading the book and was going to write and post a review. However, time was not on my side.

Therefore, I thought that 27 quotes, one for each year since he passed away, was a befitting way to remember Thomas Sankara through his own words and ideas and something, women’s liberation, that concerned him very much while he was still alive.

In a sense, it captures the essence of Thomas Sankara and provides a focus on the man himself, his convictions and his essence without an interpreter or narrator providing their own opinion of what they made or understood of the Upright Man.

Look forward to the review in a few days. In the meantime enjoy these quotes and please share them so that more people become aware of Sankara and what he stood for; his ideas, his quest for the liberation of the oppressed worldwide and women’s liberation.

In his own words, “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas”. He would happy that his ideas are still alive and are a source of inspiration to the people he sacrificed his life for – you and me – and humanity.Caption of Thomas Sankara

  1. The weight of age-old traditions in our society has relegated women to the rank of beasts of burden. Women suffer doubly from all the scourges of neocolonial society. First, they experience the same suffering as men. Second they are subjected to additional suffering by men.
  2. Our revolution is in the interests of all the oppressed and all those who are exploited in today’s society. It is therefore in the interests of women, since the basis of their domination by men lies in the system through which society’s political and economic life is organised. By changing the social order that oppresses women, the revolution creates the conditions for their genuine economic emancipation.
  3. The men and women of our society are all victims of imperialist oppression and domination. That is why they wage the same battle.
  4. The liberation and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or out of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the revolution to triumph. Women hold up the other half of the sky.
  5. A diploma is not a free pass to emancipation.
  6. We must have a correct understanding of the question of women’s emancipation. It is not a mechanical equality between men and women, acquiring habits recognised as male – drinking, smoking and wearing pants. That’s not emancipation. Nor will acquiring diplomas make women equal to men or more emancipated. A diploma is not a free pass to emancipation. Picture of Thomas Sankara
  7. The genuine liberation of women is one that entrusts responsibilities to women, that involves them in productive activity and in different fights the people face. The genuine emancipation of women is one that compels men to give their respect and consideration. Emancipation, like freedom, is not granted, it is conquered. It is for women themselves to put forward their demands and mobilize to win them.
  8. Could it be possible to eliminate the system of exploitation while maintaining the exploitation of women, who make up more than half of our society?
  9. The final goal of this great understanding is to build a free and prosperous society in which women will be equal to men in all spheres.
  10. We should be conscious of the battles that have been waged, the successes that have been achieved, the setbacks that have been suffered, and the difficulties that have been encountered. This will aid us in further preparing and leading future struggles.
  11. It now falls to you to act with the great sense of responsibility in breaking through all the chains and shackles that enslave women in backward societies like ours and to assume your share of the responsibilities in the political fight to build a new society at the service of Africa and at the service of all humanity.
  12. As long as women don’t have a clear appreciation of the just nature of the political battle to be fought and don’t see clearly how to take it forward, we can easily stop making headway and eventually slip backward.Image of Thomas Sankara emblazoned with the quote "I want people to remember me as someone whose life has been useful to humanity".
  13. Education and economic emancipation, if not well understood and channelled in a constructive direction, can be be a source of misfortune for the woman and thus for society as a whole.
  14. Our women should not retreat in face of the so many-sided struggles that lead a woman to take charge of herself fully and proudly, so as to discover the happiness of being herself, not the domesticated female of the male.
  15. We must say again to our sisters that marriage, if it brings society nothing positive and does not bring them happiness, is not indispensable and should be avoided.
  16. As revolutionaries, we should see to it that marriage is a choice that adds something positive, and not some kind of lottery where we know what the ticket costs us, but have no idea what we’ll end up winning. Human feelings are too noble to be subjected to such games.
  17. The revolution cannot triumph without the genuine emancipation of women.
  18. Women, like men, have qualities and weaknesses – which undoubtedly proves they are equal to men. Placing the emphasis deliberately on women’s qualities in no way means we have an idealistic vision of them. We simply aim to single out the qualities and capacities that men and society have always hidden in order to justify their exploitation and subjugation of women.
  19. Though our resources are ridiculously small, our goals are ambitious. The will to go forward and our firm conviction are not sufficient to make our wager succeed. We must marshall our forces – all our forcs, organise them, and channel them toward winning our struggle. Image of Thomas Sankara addressing a rally
  20. We should avoid shirking responsibilities, which has led to a failure to bring all forces into the struggle and to making this pivotal question of women’s emancipation into a marginal one. We must avoid rushing ahead, leaving far behind those, especially the women, who should be on the frontlines.
  21. It’s in the heat of the struggle that important and decisive victories are won.
  22. Conceiving a development project without the participation of women is like using only four fingers when you have ten. It’s an invitation to failure.
  23. It is an obvious fact that wherever women have had access to education, their march to equality has been accelerated. Emerging from the darkness of ignorance allows women to take up and use the tools of knowledge in order to place themselves at the disposal of society.
  24. Living in squalor produces squalid relations. Look at the pigs if you don’t believe me.
  25. For the time being, we have no choice but to recognise that male behaviour – made up of vanity, irresponsibility, arrogance, and violence of all kinds toward women – can in no way result in coordinated action against women’s oppression. What can be said of these attitudes, which can sink to the level of stupidity, and which in reality are nothing but a safety valve for oppressed males, who, through brutalising their wives, hope to regain some of the human dignity denied them by the system of exploitation. This male stupidity is called masichismo. It includes moral and intellectual impoverishment of all types, even (acknowledged or not) physical powerlessness, which often compels politically conscious women to consider it their duty to fight on two fronts. Thomas Sankara
  26. We must pay close attention to the situation of women because it pushes the best of them to talk of a war of the sexes, when what we really have is a war of social groups and of social classes that should simply be waged together, with men and women complementing each other. We have to say frankly that it’s the attitude of men that makes such confusion possible. That in turn paves the way for the bold assertions made by feminism, some of which have not been without value in the fight that men and women are waging against oppression. This fight is one we can and will win – if we understand that we need one another and are complementary, and finally, if we understand that we are condemned to being complementary.
  27. Comrades, there is no true social revolution without the liberation of women. May my eyes never see and my feet never take me to a society where half the people are held in silence. I hear the roar of women’s silence. I sense the rumble of their storm and feel the fury of their revolt. I await and hope for the fertile eruption of the revolution through which they will transmit the strength and the rigorous justice issued from their oppressed wombs.

Keep your eyes peeled for two book reviews coming within the next few days. The first is Woman’s liberation and the African freedom struggle based on speeches by the late Captain Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara.

The second is I Write What I Like written by the late Steve Bantu Biko. It is a compilation of his speeches, letters, reports, articles and interviews. Don’t miss them. Thanks for reading. Spread the word. Spread the ideas.

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