Category Archives: Under The Spotlight

The poetry writing African President: Agostinho Neto


What does writing poetry and African presidency have in common? None. Unless you are Agostinho Neto. He was an acclaimed poet and the first African President of Angola.

I knew a bit about Neto and his role in the decolonisation of Africa. He was quite an exceptional leader in many ways. Not only did he become the first president of Angola in 1975, but he was also a medical doctor who specialised in gynaecology.

I only discovered it a few years ago that he was an acclaimed and published poet after stumbling on one of his few translated poems in the anthology The Heritage of African Poetry: An Anthology of Oral and Written Poetry edited by Isidore Okpewho.

obra_poetica_completa_agostinho_neto-300x300

It is no ordinary anthology because it features some household names and the greatest African poets to grace the African continent. This includes heavyweights like Wole Soyinka, Kofi Awoonor, Christopher Okgibo, Leopold Sedar Senghor to mention a few.

To be published among such names speaks volumes about the nature of one’s work and the quality of it. You don’t get published among legends like that unless you are made of the same stuff.

It is probably little known that Neto was a poet because his work was not so easily accessible to those of us who cannot read or write Portuguese. But it is also not so well known that Neto, to this day, is one of Angola’s most acclaimed poet and writer. That is no easy feat.

Agostinho Neto was born in 1922 at Icola e Bengo in Angola. He studied medicine in Lisbon and Coimbra in Portugal and returned to practice in Angola.

neto and machel

He joined a movement for the discovery of indigenous Angolan culture. In 1960, was elected president of the MPLA [Movimento Popular da Libertação de Angola – People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola] which was a militant anti-colonial organisation. That year he was arrested and taken to jail in Portugal but escaped two years later.

After a protracted guerrilla struggle, he helped to establish the independence of Angola. He became it’s first president but died in 1980.

He published poetry in several Portuguese and Angolan publications and a volume entitled A Sagrada Esperanca (Sacred Hope).

neto and castro

There was little in Neto’s earlier life that indicated the direction of his later life. He was born in a Methodist family. His father was a Methodist pastor. We can interpret through the trajectories of what is known about him that his conception of serving his people was strongly influenced by his father and his exposure to the teachings of Christianity.

It was only when he was in Lisbon [Portugal] that his political activism became marked. He became friends with other future political and iconic figures such as Amilcar Cabral who I have written about and would leave a lasting legacy in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. This also included Marcelino dos Santos from Mozambique.

Dos Santos and Neto seemed to have more than politics in common. Dos Santos was also a poet and a revolutionary. After Neto was arrested and his friend Eduardo Mondlane also from Mozambique and a fellow comrade from FRELIMO moved to the United States, dos Santos moved to Paris where lived with other artists and writers and became associated with the literary magazine Présence Africaine.

Their friendship seemed to be destiny because they had so much in common and as leading intellectuals of their time, it was inevitable. What we don’t know is what role they had in each other’s poetry and if they read and critiqued each other’s work.

Somehow, Neto managed to juggle both his academic life and covert political activities. However, he was soon to learn that mixing politics and medicine had its consequences.

Agostinho-Neto dr

That came in 1960 when he was arrested for campaigning against the colonial administration of Portugal in Angola. When his family, friends, patients, supporters and empathisers and others marched to protest his arrest, the police fired at them. Consequently, thirty people were killed and about two hundred others were injured.

He was later exiled to Cape Verde where he wrote his second poetry publication. It is not clear if he was able to link up with the likes of Cabral in Cape Verde. It is always a possibility and it is also possible that he learned firsthand about their struggle and used it to forward his own political development.

Like Lumumba and Cabral, he sought assistance from the Americans but as usual, the Americans let him down and he enlisted the help of the Soviet Union and Cuba.

Unfortunately, Neto’s rule was not marked by peace. It was riddled by a civil war that was sponsored by foreign agents that were sponsoring sectarian violence and trying to destabilise the country.

neto and castro 2

His country was flanked by hostile territories. On one side was the FNLA supported by the dictator, Belgian and American puppet Mobutu Sese Seko who got into power through assassinating Patrice Lumumba and given free reign to terrorise his own people.

On the other side was Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA movement which was supported by the racist Apartheid government of South Africa that had no wish in seeing a thriving majority ruled African country because this would make the Africans at home want the same.

One of Neto’s lasting legacies to Angola was his invitation to westerners to invest in the oil industry. To this day, it happens to be one of Angola’s largest export and brings in the largest revenues. However, as in most African countries, the proceeds or these great repositories of wealth rarely filter to the people. They are monopolised by the leadership who enjoy the wealth and treat it as their own.

I guess you can do more research and fill the holes in the life of this remarkable leader. I set out to share this little bit of knowledge about him and his accomplishments.

I will leave you with a poem he wrote in 1954 and entitled Bamako. You can interpret it for yourself, not that it needs it.

neto 1

Bamako

Bamako!                                                                                                                                           Where the truth dropping on the leaf’s sheen                                                                         unites with the freshness of men                                                                                               like strong roots under the warm surface of the soil                                                             and where grow love and future                                                                                               fertilised in the generosity of the Niger                                                                                     shaded by the immensity of the Congo                                                                                       to the shim of the African breeze of hearts

Bamako!                                                                                                                                           there life is born                                                                                                                             and grows                                                                                                                                       and develops in us important fires of goodness

Bamako!                                                                                                                                           there are our arms                                                                                                                         there sound our voices                                                                                                                   there the shining hope in our eyes                                                                                             transformed into an irreproachable force                                                                               of friendship                                                                                                                                     dry the tears shed over the centuries                                                                                         in the slave Africa of other days                                                                                                 vivified the nourishing juice of fruit                                                                                           the aroma of the earth                                                                                                                   of which the sun discovers gigantic kilimanjaros                                                                   under the blue sky of peace.

Bamako!                                                                                                                                           living fruit of the Africa                                                                                                                 of the future germinating in the living arteries of Africa                                                       There hope has become tree                                                                                                         and river and beast and land                                                                                                       there hope wins friendship                                                                                                           in the elegance of the palm and the black skin of men

Bamalko! there we vanquish death                                                                                     and the future grows – grows in us                                                                                           in the irresistible force of nature and life                                                                           with us alive in Bamako.

 

 

 

 

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July 4, 2017 · 4:32 pm

Arrest of Steve Bantu Biko: beginning of the end and martyrdom of a legacy


In the early hours of the 18th of August 1977, about an hour away from King William’s Town, on the Grahamstown – King William’s Town Road, Peter Jones and Steve Biko ran into a roadblock. They were both driven to the police station. They would both face torture, brutal interrogation and serve time. Biko never walked out alive again.

The arrest of Steve Bantu Biko was a turning point in his life: it marked the beginning of the end of his life and the martyrdom of his political legacy.

In a cruel twist of fate, his arrest fulfilled the prophecy and words he said in an interview conducted by an American businessman months before his death.

Image of Steve Biko dressed in a suit. The quote superimposed on the picture reads,

The extract, On Death, is ironically the last chapter in his collection of articles – I Write What I Like, was published in The New Republic on the 07th of January 1978.

Biko said then: “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 politicizing thing…

“So if you can overcome the personal fear for death, which is a highly irrational thing, you know, then you’re on your way,” he continued.

His words underpin the courage required to carry out the revolutionary work he was carrying out at the time. The reason he was driving around at that time of the day equally required a similar amount of courage and lack of fear.

Biko prophetically highlighted the interconnectedness between tragedy and its possibilities within the South African political context.

His words not only referred to his own death, but to the death of many young students during the protests against apartheid education in June 1976, and the death of numerous colleagues of his in the Black Consciousness Movement such as his close friend and confidante Mapetla Mohapi.

This lack of fear of death would ultimately lead to his own murder by the security police, unleashing the political and social capital tragedy bestows on political and social movements.

At the time, Biko was serving a ban in King William’s Town and he had restrictions to adhere to.

The conditions of the ban meant he could not speak to more than one person at a time. He could not be quoted.

He was banned from publishing any writing material. He was closely monitored by the Security Police. He could also not leave King William’s Town without special permission.

When he was arrested, he was in breach of the latter. However, they had to be breached because if he didn’t, the system would have won, and that was the very reason the ban was placed on Biko to frustrate him and his work. Therefore, Biko was taking a huge gamble.

It is worth reminding ourselves why he took such a huge gamble. The arrest of Steve Biko is often overlooked.

Hence its significance is hugely glossed over and is often treated as mere footnotes to a much larger narrative.

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

There are different accounts that explain how Biko got arrested. Some claim, there were spies within the movement that sold him out.

Others claim the roadblock was routine, and others that the policemen were on the lookout for external agitators stoking the ire of the continuing student and youth boycotts in Port Elizabeth.

Those closest to him claimed there were rumours going around that the Boers were planning to assassinate Biko.

His older brother and others urged him to leave and go into exile but Biko refused to leave his movement behind.

His older brother Kaya Biko who got Steve involved with politics admits, “Rumours were doing the rounds in town that the Boers were intent on assassinating Steve”.

“I approached Steve together with my brother-in-law to ask him to leave the country. The man said to us, ‘What kind of a captain will I be if I leave the ship I’m steering, while I see there are faults and it’s going to sink? I’m not leaving the country’.

“There was nothing we could do. That was Steve.”

Whatever the truth is, we will never really know. Speculation is not the objective of this article. There is little doubt that there were some in the Afrikaner Broderbond that wanted Biko dead. He was growing too powerful and the ban on him was not working.

The events of June 1976 and the trial of the Black Consciousness Movement also known as the SASO/ BPC Trial [May 1976] had only added to Biko’s stature: they had unwittingly offered him the stage to project his ideas across the country and internationally, cementing his place as the head of the liberation movement in the absence of the leaders on Robben Island and others under house arrest.

Biko took the trial and transformed it into the Black Consciousness Movement’s version of the Treason Trial and made it what it was for the Congress Alliance in the 1950s.

It is important to understand what happened before Biko and Jones were arrested to clarify why they were on the road at such an early hour and contextualise the arrest and significance of their journey.

Biko traveled the country extensively from time to time, despite his ban, travelling far afield as Cape Town and Durban, and more than once to Johannesburg.

He was forced to travel to Cape Town this time to meet guys from the Western Cape chapter of the Black Consciousness Movement.

There was a rebellion brewing with hardliners criticising his decision to meet American Senator Dick Clark in December 1976.

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

Clark was in the region, Lesotho to be specific, to attend a meeting of the African Institute. He thought it was important to consult with Biko as an “elder statesmen” of the movement though he was still in his twenties.

The event itself was not unusual. Biko was consulted on a regular basis by representatives of countries far and wide because he was recognised as the leader of the liberation movement in the absence of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe and other senior members of the ANC or PAC who were serving time on Robben Island and were disconnected from politics and current affairs.

However, the militants were not satisfied. They argued that they had on matters of principle refused to meet members of the American government which they viewed as part of the oppressor camp.

They had even gone as far as rejecting a request from US Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young.

When the request was initiated, Biko had just been released from prison and had served a 101 day stretch. He consulted with his comrades who were still in prison.

The memorandum was smuggled in and out of prison by a warder who lived in Ginsberg. This memorandum was presented to Clark and was published in I Write What I Like. It appears under the heading American Policy towards Azania.

Biko was scathing in his criticism of the role of the United States in supporting the apartheid regime. He accused it of collusion in the oppression and exploitation of black people, and even went as far as encouraging it to boycott trading links with South Africa and reexamine its foreign policy.

There was also an additional problem. The hardliners in the Western Cape were not happy with the position papers the BCM had developed as proposals for the African National Congress [ANC] and Pan African Congress [PAC]. They did not think the proposals were radical enough.

They strongly opposed the concept of black communalism as the basis for future economic policy. They were pushing for a socialist/ communist vision for the country.

Steve Biko Christians

It is appropriate to clarify at this point that Biko was involved in clandestine negotiations with both the ANC and PAC to bring them together with the BCM and other black political movements to form a united front against apartheid.

The only parties who were not invited were the Bantustan leaders who were seen as sellouts and were complicit in the oppression and exploitation of black people because they had embraced the concept of separate development; therefore, facilitating a fragmentation of the resistance.

You can read more about why he regarded the Bantustan leaders as sellouts in his essay Let’s talk about Bantustans in I Write What I Like.

In this same book, Biko clarified his hopes about the unity of the liberation movement:

“I would like to see groups such as the ANC, PAC and Black Consciousness deciding to form one liberation group. It is only, I think, when black people are so dedicated and so united in their cause that we can affect the greatest results.”

This is why these papers were so important and needed to be sorted out but the chapter in the Western Cape were complicating matters, adding to what was already a complicated process, using intermediaries to negotiate with members like Oliver Tambo who was in exile, and Sobukwe who was on the periphery of the PAC and also politically restricted but still yielding a lot of influence.

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

The process was made even harder after Biko’s intermediary with Sobukwe – Mapetla Mohapi -was murdered by the Security Police in prison.

Biko was also in pursuit of unity talks with the Unity Movement in Cape Town. He wanted to meet with Alexander Neville who was the leading figure of the movement.

Alexander had just returned from Robben Island after serving a ten year stint in prison. He had set up a study group at his home which included members of his own movement and the BCM.

However, he was unhappy because his movement was unable to strike rapport with the Black community. Therefore, he requested his colleague, Nicki Westcott, who had strong connections with the Black Consciousness Movement in Cape Town to facilitate connections.

The two movements set out to forge an alliance through joint action. They had even gone as far as creating joint committees of the BCM, Unity Movement and the ANC to carry out collaborative projects such as the nationwide protest against the granting of independence to the Transkei on 26 October 1976.

ANC members such as Winnie Mandela and Joe Gqabi were involved in the collaboration.

The chapter in the Western Cape felt that the King William’s group had centralised the movement around its resources.

They believed the guys in King William’s Town were better paid because they were right at the heart of the funding.

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

It was against this backdrop that Biko was forced to travel to Cape Town to address these problems.

He didn’t believe he could address these concerns without physically meeting the Western Cape chapter even if that meant he had to violate his banning order.

The well being of the movement meant more to him than his physical safety because it threatened to curtail the struggle and to Biko that was unthinkable.

Biko as he often reiterated, “It is better to die for an idea that will live, than live for an idea that will die”.

The quote above encapsulates what the movement and struggle meant to Biko. He was prepared to die for it and sacrifice his life. Therefore, there was a lot at stake in this journey.

It was not a reckless game of cat and mouse that he was playing with the system. It was about taking the movement and struggle forwards and securing, ultimately, the liberation of Black people.

Before departing for Cape Town, Biko and Jones met with colleagues at the Zanempilo Clinic, one of the many black community projects founded by the BCM to serve the community, on the 16th of August 1977 to brief them about the meeting.

He left his car with one of the drivers to create the impression that he was around town.

They used a car belonging to Black Community Programmes executive member, Rams Ramokgopa, who was in town from Johannesburg with Hlaku Rachidi and Tom Manthata to discuss the programme of the unity of the liberation groups of South Africa: it had been passed at a resolution at an earlier conference of the movement.

As a result of that meeting, Steve and Peter Jones had to leave for Cape Town. At midnight, the pair slipped away under the cover of darkness.

Peter Jones, or PC as he was known, was a fellow activist from King William’s Town. He was also Steve’s friend.

On the 17th of August, at around 10 AM, they arrived in Cape Town. They went to Jones’ home in Strand, a town outside Cape Town. Biko took a nap while Jones went out to see the people they were supposed to meet.

The people were not aware the pair were in town. There were no mobile phones or pagers around during those days. Public phones were the only means of communication.

Whenever phones were used, the exchanges had to be coded because most were tapped by the Security Police.

Therefore, Biko and Jones mainly had to show up at people’s doors to nullify the security risk and eliminate the potential of spies leaking information about their presence in Cape Town.

Jones made contact with Ronnie Crotz and they went to fetch Johnny Issel who was a leader of the hardliners of the BCM chapter in the Western Cape.

Issel was not at home. Jones left a message with his wife and informed her that Steve was around. Jones proceeded to drop Crotz back at his home and fetched Biko to meet with Alexander.

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.

However, they had to link up with Fikile Bam who was an activist and later became a judge.

Bam, also known as Bra Fiks, had visited Biko at his home in Ginsberg in 1974 after spending a ten year spell on Robben Island and then was restricted to the Transkei.

He had requested Francis Wilson, his former colleague at the University of Cape Town,  and now a friend of Biko to pull strings to get him out of Transkei and Biko facilitated the escape.

It was at that ensuing meeting that Biko asked Bams to initiate a meeting with Alexander. So now that meeting was due to happen and Biko and Jones would catch up with the BCM guys later. The meeting with Alexander was a priority.

They were supposed to link up with a guy called Armien Abrams who was a manager of a community based factory set up by the BCM in Cape Town.

It fell under Jones jurisdiction. Both men were always in touch and Abrams was the perfect man to play the go in between.

However, there was confusion if Jones had communicated that they were coming over with Biko. Jones insisted that he did; Abrams denied it.

Bam was staying at a mansion in the suburb of Crawford. It belonged to Ismail Mohomed who was a mathematics professor at UCT. Abrams had been assigned the task of looking after it while he was away.

On the way to the mansion, Jones stopped to make a call to inform them he was on his way with Biko. Jones dropped Biko off at the mansion to ensure Alexander’s house was secure.

However, on Jones’ arrival, Alexander refused to see Biko. Although Biko and Jones had driven eleven hours to meet him, he would not meet them for a few minutes.

Jones had no choice but to return with the bad news. Bam was furious. He called Alexander and informed him he was coming over but couldn’t get into details over the phone.

He left with Biko. They parked at the back of the house. Bam entered and left Biko in his Volkswagen Beetle.  They argued for half an hour leaving Biko trapped and a sitting duck in the car.

Eventually, Bam stormed out without securing the vital meeting. Biko was disappointed. He had the highest regards of Alexander and had viewed him as a fearless revolutionary intellectual.

They returned back to the mansion where Jones and Abrams were. Biko insisted on returning immediately to King William’s Town because every minute they away the chances of been discovered increased.

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.”

In the early evening of the 17th of August, they hit the road and began the twelve hour journey back. They almost made it.

About an hour from home, the inevitable happened. Biko and Jones were stopped at a roadblock.

They were asked by the police to step out and open the boot. Jones attempted to open the boot but he couldn’t. The only person who could was Rams Ramokgopa and he was back at Zanempilo.

According to reports by Dr Xolela Mangcu and others, the car had been in an accident and there was a dent just above the left tail-light that caused the boot to jam.

Jones invited the cops to try but they also failed. Apparently, the cops were accusing Jones of been a terrorist who was on his way to see Steve Biko. Unbeknown to them, the man they were talking of was with them.

The senior officer – Colonel Alf Oosthuizen – gave orders to clear the roadblock and drive the two guys to the closest police station in Grahamstown.

The Colonel drove Rams’ car with Biko sitting beside him and Jones took a ride with the other officers.

At the police station the car was thoroughly searched. Not even the ashtray avoided close scrutiny. They found Jones’ wallet which had a few Rands and his identity document so they knew who he was.

To make the situation easy for Jones because Biko knew he would not talk on the basis of principle and would most likely be tortured to obtain the information, he admitted, “I am Bantu Steve Biko”.

The cops were shocked. It never crossed their mind that they were with the Biko they were talking about.

Biko and Jones were separated. Biko was taken to Walmer Police Station in Port Elizabeth while Jones was also taken to a prison in the same city, Algoa Police Station, but 250 km apart.

It was the last time the two friends would see each other.

Jones would spend a few years locked up. In less than a month, Steve Biko would be murdered and denied the unity that he cherished and pursued even when he knew that it could result in a lengthy prison sentence or cost him his life.

What was his motivation? Biko like most true revolutionaries like Thomas Sankara and Che Guevara was guided by great feelings of love. Love for his fellow men. Love for his society. Love for his country. Love for freedom.

It was this love that drove Biko to sacrifice all he had, career and family, for the ultimate price. His mission: The Quest of a True Humanity, which you can check out on Sister Nadine’s WordPress page: Iamgoodhope, encapsulates Biko’s ultimate goal.

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.”

He wanted to restore the true humanity of those who had been oppressed and exploited because of the colour of their skin, and also those who were damaged, and had lost their humanity through, actively or passively, supporting the apartheid system.

Biko’s has often been portrayed as the romantic and fearless leader but rarely is there a mention of how he had actively committed class suicide a theory pushed by Amilcar Cabral.

Biko sacrificed his career and any privileges his class and education would have entitled him so that he could work with the poor and underprivileged.

Those who supported apartheid were rewarded; those who opposed were stripped of their rights, their jobs, their voices, the right to earn and a whole lot of other rewards.

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.”

By dedicating his time and life to developing projects like the Zanempilo Clinic and other community based projects run under the banner of Black Community Programmes, Biko had bridged the gap between the intelligentsia and the majority which he had diagnosed as a hindrance to the liberation struggle and accurately pointed out, “The separation of the black intelligentsia from the rest of the black society is a disadvantage to black people as a whole”.

Biko illustrated in this short analysis that he was a visionary and he understood that to bridge this gap, the black intelligentsia had to commit class suicide and work with the rest of the black people.

The failure of the current regime to bridge this gap has resulted in the rise of the technocrats and the big chief or big man syndrome which has resulted in high levels of corruption and the blurring between private and public interests.

Even at this early age, Biko displayed a level of maturity that all of our post independence presidents have lacked.

Picture of Steve Biko with the quote,

His organisational abilities were exceptional: he created organisations that were not reliant on him but were able to operate through having different people changing leadership on a regular basis.

The murder of Biko left a gaping hole in the body politic of South Africa. The liberation movement lost the one man who had the ability to unify black people in solidarity.

The years of political violence between the black liberation movements in the eighties illustrates how Biko’s leadership was sorely missed.

It was as if he had recognised, long before, that the fragmentation of the resistance would one day become violent and he had sought to unify the movement before the violence erupted.

More than that, South Africa lost a fearless revolutionary intellectual  who led by example, and who had a genuine liberation ideology – Black Consciousness – that sought to free the minds of the people.

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.”

That no other leader after Biko ever attempted to free the minds of the people, bears testament to the depth and greatness of Biko’s gift and style of leadership.

His greatest realisation was that “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”.

Picture of Steve Biko with the quote,

And it was through the decolonising of the mind that the people would ultimately be set free as he argues in his essay Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity.

Biko understood that tyrants are not going to hand over power because they have sudden pangs of guilt but they will only do it when black people exert pressure on them and force them to concede power through internal or external agitation [or both].

Hence his message reminds us today that we must continually stand against oppression as he often reminded us that, “We must accept that the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress”.

Biko’s words remind us that we are complicit in any situation where we find ourselves oppressed or exploited because most of us endure it sheepishly because we are too afraid to speak up and lose our rewards from the system.

Therefore, those who cherish freedom and liberation, like Biko and others who died in the liberation of South Africa, have to “overcome the personal fear for death”.

It is only when we are able to transcend the fear of death that we will find ourselves on the way.

It is not enough to be scholars of the Black Consciousness text, but we must embrace it’s spirit and live like Biko, following in his example and selfless sacrifice, and those other fearless revolutionary intellectuals who were prepared to commit class suicide and bridge the gap between the intelligentsia and the rest of the black people to move the goals of the struggle forward..

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Greeks’ Defiance an inspiration to other movements across the world


The Greeks have spoken and defied the sceptics and scaremongers from the EU and reactionaries within their own ranks plus the IMF. The people of Greece rejected the European Bailout Terms.

The No Campaign scored a resounding victory. With 61% voting NO, the Yes campaign had the wind knocked out of its stomach.

Image of Greek revellers partying and celebrating outside Parliament in Greece.

Greeks celebrate outside parliament once they heard news that the No Campaign had taken the lead and their were on route to a resounding victory.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French leader Francis Hollander  have their work cut out and they can’t ignore the results of the referendum.

The resounding message from the mandate laid out by the Greeks has strengthened the hand of the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras when he meets with the leaders of the EU and the IMF.

The EU is divided and the number of voices supporting Greece within the EU is also growing.

Thousands gathered outside Parliament on Monday, waving Greek flags and celebrating, holding up signs written OXI which means No!

History was written then. The Greeks pushed the ball back into the court of Greece’s international creditors.

It is now up to them to decide what to do but one thing is clear: their scaremongering and threats have not deterred the people of Greece from daring to dream and change the world.

One thing is certain: Greece decided to take its future into its own hands in a shocking result that astounded sceptics, pundits, reactionaries and international creditors.

It is a surprising result because the traditional major parties and the media; especially, private media and major businesses were in favour of austerity.

Their pro-austerity stance is shocking because austerity has never been proven to work.

Quite to the contrary, there is overwhelming evidence that austerity does not work. It only works for the rich people and the corporations but not the average person or the middle class.

There are numerous examples that austerity doesn’t work. For example, during the Great Depression, President Roosevelt initiated policies to put people back to work and pump money back into the economy; that worked.

Iceland is a recent example of a country that refused to pay its debts: it invested money in programs to put people back to work. They also put on trial some of the bankers that caused the problems.

This not only boosted the morale and confidence of the people but it also turned around their economic fortunes.

There are numerous examples in South America that prove austerity is a rich man’s bluff and doesn’t work. Austerity is nothing but a class war masquerading as a measure of good and sound governance. In reality, it is like a bomb made of paper, that silently devastates whole communities and nations. It’s impact and after-effects will be felt decades after it first hit just like the bombs dropped in Hiroshima are still affecting people today.

Business tends to be very reactive in situations like this. It ignores the fact that austerity serves nobody’s interest in the long term because the middle class is the market.

If the middle class declines business will pay the ultimate price. They won’t have any business in the long run to buy their products.

The message by the people of Greece to stand up strengthened their prime minister’s position because he was appearing to be very vulnerable.

A hand is held up in front of a blue and white Greek flack in the background and a night sky. The inside of the palm is written in black in OXi which means NO!

This has rejuvenated his negotiating power because he is backed by the mandate handed to him by the nation.

Tsipras and the people of Greece are in a difficult situation. They are been held hostage and issued with threats to honour debts they had nothing to do with. They are been blamed for a situation they never created.

All the blame rests on the financial community and traditional political parties that encouraged Greece to go down the austerity route.

This route has not paid any dividends and it has hurt the Greek economy, the middle class and those who are worse off at the bottom end of the economic and social ladder.

Those people who were been blamed for the mistakes made by their leaders who were in cahoots with big banks and international monetary corporations illustrated that the power in any nation lies with the poor people and the middle class. They are the true revolutionary force in any society.

If the people stand united, international creditors, IMF and business cannot force them to act against their own interests regardless of the scaremongering and threats.

They cannot be terrorised to tow the line and burden themselves with unnecessary debt which will reduce them to slaves.

image of a woman with red hair, wearing dark sunglasses, waving a Greek white and blue flag and punching the air with a clenched fist.

There is little doubt that Greece like many other countries was targeted by the economic hitmen and presented with fancy financial set-ups to take on debts that would hurt their economy.

These debts were never received by the people of Greece but now they are being asked to foot a tab they never ran up which is absurd.

This is how these financial creditors work. They lend countries money but the middle class and the average person never physically see that money.

The financial creditors use the money which goes back to their corporations to enrich themselves, but leave the middle class and the poor with debts that will take generations to pay off if that is even possible.

This video below briefly explains how the game is played and it is worth taking two minutes to watch this short animated clip.

The insistence by the financial creditors for Greece to adopt policies dictated by them to enable them to pay the debt makes a mockery of democracy.

This obligation removes the people’s duty to make their own decisions because they are forced to do as the creditor’s demand because that puts the corporations in charge.

True democracy was illustrated in the decision made by the people; i.e. refusing the terms of the bailout tabled by the EU.

It is a different scenario from the African “democratic” model which is an illusion because the people in Africa have no say in how their counties are run because the countries are actually run by the IMF.

The IMF determines where their money is going to spend, how much is going to spent on social welfare, how much will be spent on maintaining or building infrastructure, etc. No one group in Africa has more say on spending than the IMF does.

In fact, debt is used as a tool to control Africa and keep it underdeveloped.

If Greece are kicked out of the EU, it might hurt in the short term. However, the benefits long term are beneficial. It puts them back in charge of their destiny.

They can focus on building up the middle class, sorting out employment issues to generate a disposable income for the average person which is the lifeline of a viable economy.

What does this result mean for countries in the same boat?

They can learn that it is not impossible to stand up to the financial creditors and say no to austerity because it does not develop an economy. Africa in particular can take a leaf out of the Greek’s strategy.

Countries can take their destiny back into their own hands and decide which route works best for them. It might not be easy but it is possible because there is hope in despair.

Other countries and movements in similar circumstances will be watching to see what lessons can be learnt from the Greek decision.

A nation united in the face of enormous challenges can overcome all the scaremongering, threats and propaganda thrown at them to act against their own interests.

You can dare to dream and change the world.

Africa can learn that new and younger leadership is well equipped to face the challenges brought on by an ever changing world.

The new guard is the antidote to the old order. They are prepared to take risks and challenge the old order.

Youthful leaders are the real revolutionaries and they have the right spirit and mentality to face the challenges their generation is faced with.

The old guard tends to be more conservative to protect their entrenched positions and the status quo hence their pay lip service to socialism while lapping up the trappings of capitalism.

I think the result from Greece illustrates that the middle class and the average person are the real revolutionary forces in any society, and united they can charter a truly revolutionary path. One cannot do without the other.

They are the real power brokers in society but they are unaware of the power they yield. They let a small unholy trinity or cabal of politicians and corporations control them like a circus elephant is controlled by a string.

If the people said enough is enough, they would end the circus, pull the whole charade down, trample the circus underfoot and run that political cabal out of town before sundown.

In conclusion, if the vanguard party acts with clarity and trusts the people and communicates clearly to the people, the people will support it in all its endeavours.

There is still a lot more to learn from Greece because they still have a lot of challenges to overcome.

One thing is certain: they have made history and they will be remembered by generations to come.

Their decision will become a case study that will be referenced by scholars, intellectuals and many others for years to come.

A friend I was chatting to earlier said, “The big issue domestically is actually not the EU but what Alexis is going to do about capital controls”. That is the biggest challenge for the Greeks right now. But there is no doubt that they are an inspiration to all the small movements out there fighting the big boys for their dignity and make this world a more humane place for everyone. They can see that you can take the big boys on and win.

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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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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

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.”

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January 19, 2015 · 3:14 am

America wins legal battle but loses moral war: #Blacklivesmatter


Michael-Brown graffiti

Days before Michael Brown was executed without due process by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, he would never have guessed the significance his face and name would assume posthumously.

He didn’t know his name would be chanted all over the world. He didn’t know that he was going to become the symbol that would inspire many young men and women to stand up and protest worldwide for justice.

His untimely demise at the hands of a trigger happy cop faced by the bogeyman of white society has reinforced the injustice of the American injustice system. The decision by a predominantly white jury not to indict Darren Wilson simply repeated an established recurring pattern in American society.

That singular decision has polarised a nation. That singular decision led to wide spread riots and protests across America. That singular decision sent out a message to the world: there is no justice for the Black man or woman in America.

Police brutality

All across the world from Australia to Zimbabwe, many people have stood in solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson and all across America. They are reiterating the same message – #Blacklivesmatter.

iamge of Protesters surround Charring Cross police station in London

Protesters supporting Michael Brown and the Ferguson protesters surround Charring Cross police station in London.

#Blacklivesmatter has become as popular or even more popular than popular brands such as Apple. It is trending on social media. It is one of the most popular campaigns ever and Michael Brown has become its face. He has become the symbol of a new social movement resisting the violent excesses of an unjust system.

#Blacklivesmatter was formed in 2012 after the summary execution of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman without due process. The movement’s activities to raise awareness about the silent genocide of Black people were rejuvenated by the death of Michael Brown and and helped #Blacklivesmatter win the heart and minds of the world.

Ironically, Brown has gained social and political capital that he never had while he was still alive. Thanks to the various social movements and dissident intellectuals raising awareness and exposing the rotten elements in the American injustice system.

His untimely demise spurred on other social movements such as #ShutItDown to block major highways and intersections; #BlackoutBlackFriday to boycott Black Friday; #HandsUpWalkOut a call for students across campuses across America to walk out to demonstrate the decision not to indict Wilson.

ADDITION Raiders Rams Football

Before the shooting, he was just another black teenager doing normal things teenagers his age do. Today, he has achieved posthumous fame as the face that exposed the hypocrisy and injustice of the American injustice system.

This is not to say that he started it all. He didn’t. The signs were there for a long time. The sparks were evident when Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman. The flames were there when Oscar Grant was shot down and cut down in the prime of his life.

However, this goes further back. We have to look at the brutal murder of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers. It was there at the assassination of Fred Hampton and goes back to the Ku Klux Klan lynchings famously documented by James Baldwin in the short story Going to Meet the Man published in a collection of short stories in the same name.

Michael Brown and Medgar Evers’ stories share similar parallels.

Evers was an African American civil rights activist. He was involved in efforts to overturn the segregation at the University of Mississippi.

However, he was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith who was a member of the White Citizens’ Council. His murder and the resulting trials sparked civil rights protests, including numerous works of art, film and music.

Meme of Medgar Evers

Evers was shot in his driveway after returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers on the morning of 12th June 1963. This was just hours after President John F. Kennedy made a speech on national television supporting civil rights.

Evers emerged from his car carrying a stack of T-shirts written “Jim Crow Must Go”. He was shot in the back with a bullet from an Enfield 1917 rifle. The bullet ripped through his heart. He staggered for nine meters before he fell.

His murderer was prosecuted but juries mainly composed of white men reached a deadlock twice that year and Beckwith walked free for thirty years. He was finally convicted of murder three decades later on the 5th of February 1994 after new evidence was presented at a new trial.

For decades, there has been a systematic and systemic campaign to shoot Black people and the perpetrators walk without justice for the victims. America has a  history of white men  summarily executing black men and women with impunity, not even children have being immune, and walking free knowing the system grants them immunity from prosecution.

These decisions serve as a reminder that America was built on laws created for the dehumanisation, destruction and distress of black people and other minorities.

This injustice is reflected in the infamous decision rendered by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (1777 – 1864). He declared blacks were “regarded  as beings of an inferior order” with “no rights which the White Man was bound to respect”.

It is worth remembering then that many states in the country accepted free blacks as taxpayers and citizens at the time when the Constitution was adopted.

However, by the reasoning of Taney, no white man was bound to respect their rights because they were “unfit to associate with the White race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior that they had no rights which the White Man was bound to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit”.

It seems little has changed since that decision in America besides the highly convoluted words in the Declaration of Independence which hardly recognized the freedom of Black people in the spirit of the law though it boldly announced:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It appears that even today White men still have no need to respect Black people’s human rights to life and protection of the law.

However, it seems that these young Black men and women executed without due process have been denied their basic human rights as set out under Article 1 – 8 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What is happening on the streets of America to Black people is repeated on others abroad as illustrated in a essay by Noam Chomsky entitled The Ideology of the Polyarchy. In it he refers to the adoption of the “docrine of resort to force at will”.

In it, Chomsky noted the shift to the use of force [military might at will] to “eliminate any preceived challenge to US hegemony”, i.e. white supremacy. This threat could be local or foreign based. The only threat to US hegemony is the “other”. That means non white.

The Black man and woman constitute the “other” in America that can successfully challenge “US hegemony” on home turf if they were able to unite and use their group numbers to change local or foreign policy. They have the economic might to force the corporations that form the polyarchy to pay attention and come to the negotiating table.

This is why any groups that talk about Black Power are treated like terrorist organisations. However, it is absurd. The term Black Power means the evry same thing as two words the British are fond and proud of using. That is – SELF DETERMINATION.

When the British seek to decide their own destiny it is seen as a virtue and there is no problem with it. It is admired and seen as an enduring quality of the British character. In contrast, Black people seeking SELF DETERMINATION are seen as a potential threat and ungrateful bastards. They are demonised by the politicians and the media and ostracised from society.

However, Black People seeking SELF DETERMINATION are a formidable challenge to the “US HEGEMONY” quoted below.

Therefore, the only way to keep them in check is by reminding them who is in power through random acts of violence and surveillence through covert programs like COINTELPRO to disrupt and destroy Black political organisations.

If you will bear with me while I take the liberty to impose this long quote on you from that essay by Noam Chomsky.

In September 2002 the Bush administration announced its National Security Strategy, which declared the right to resort to force to eliminate any perceived challenge to US global hegemony, which is to be permanent. The new grand strategy aroused deep concern worldwide, even within the foreign policy elite at home. Also in September, a propaganda campaign was launched to depict Saddam Hussein as an imminent threat to the United States and to insinuate that he was responsible for the 9-11 atrocities and was planning others. The campaign, timed to the onset of the midterm congressional elections, was highly successful in shifting attitudes. It soon drove American public opinion off the global spectrum and helped the administration achieve electoral aims and establish Iraq as a proper test case for the newly announced doctrine of resort to force at will. [http://www.chomsky.info/books/survival01.htm]

It demonstrates the hypocrisy of America. It preaches about democracy and human rights to other nations. It invades weaker nations it accuses of not respecting the human rights of their own citizens and it removes the leaders of these countries through violent means and replaces them with ones, puppets, who are sympathetic to the American cause.

America lectures to other nations it perceives as underdeveloped and oppressive and undemocratic. It lectures to them about human rights and threatens to deliver democracy through the barrel of a gun if they don’t change. The greatest irony is that America is not even a democracy but a polyarchy: i.e. power is held by a few people who control the wealth in society.

Alternatively, America uses aid or sanctions as a means to force other nations to “respect” the human rights of their citizens. However, it has a history of supporting dictators and totalitarian regimes in Egypt, South Africa, Iraq, Iran, South America, Nicaragua, etc.

America doesn’t practice what it preaches. One is tempted to remind it to remove the splinter of wood in its own eye before it attempts to remove the log out of the eyes of other nations.

America is in no position to lecture anyone on the question of human rights when it violates the human rights of millions of its Black citizens. America has no moral high ground or divine right to play the defender of human rights when it has been at the forefront of setting up leaders like Patrice Lumumba to be murdered and replaced by dictators like Mobutu Sese Soko.

America’s moral capital is in  decline. Unfortunately, it cannot print more notes as tit did with the U.S. dollar during the recession to shore up the depreciating value of their moral capital.

America’s injustice system has constantly and repeatedly shown that it is biased against Black people. However, the death of Michael Brown has magnified the flaws within the system and broadcast to the world what it means to be Black in America.

The roll call of Black men, children or women shot down or killed by white policemen without due process is growing longer by the day. Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Yvette Johnson, Renisha McBride are other names on that list denied justice.

It seems like everyday there is an outcry of another black person executed without due process. Take the case of a black man recently shot down while taking dinner back to his family at home. It creates the perception that there is a nationwide epidemic of police brutality.

No Black person in America can safely say that they feel safe in the face of the people who have a duty to protect and serve them.

The  Michael Brown story echoes the death of Steve Biko at the hands of the Apartheid police. The government didn’t give a damn what happened to him. He wasn’t the only one to die in such circumstances but he became a lasting symbol of the horrors of apartheid and white brutality.

The Most Powerful Weapon

Likewise, Michael Brown has become an enduring symbol of white police brutality. We will never know what kind of potential Brown had. We will never know if he would have more impact dead or alive.

But dead or alive, there is no doubt that he is at the center of an awakening, sparking riots and protests across America that are reminiscent of the Civil Rights era.

His death is hotter than the sparks that flamed the Watts Riots and the Los Angeles Riots in 1965. Brown’s death was obviously not in vain. It is the inciting incident that brought racial tensions to the fore.

It is the inciting incident that ripped the blackface of Obama off the body politic of white oppression.

Forget all the fancy rhetoric of change promised by Obama. This is the real America. Nothing has changed. Not even Obama is immune from racism. Racism is still alive and thriving in America in the 21st century.

It still feels like America is still stuck in the 1960s or even further back before the Declaration of Independence.

It seems the ku klax klan has simply removed their white sheets and donned uniforms of police brutality to continue their campaign of publicly lynching Black people in public. They replaced the cross with the badge and continued with their business of lynching Black people to remind them of their station in society.

After all the intellectuals have said their sound bytes on TV using black on black crime as mitigating circumstances for Brown’s death, or demonised him as a criminal who deserved to be shot; the truth is that the method of Brown’s death is a politicising factor.

He is playing a pivotal role in exposing the nasty face of America. He may never have dreamed about how his life would come to symbolise something greater than himself.

He may never have dreamed that he would one day become a global icon of justice inspiring a social movement of the 21st century kind accompanied with billboards, songs, T-shirts, protest banners and news headlines – all emblazoned with the words #BlackLivesMatter.

He may never have dreamed that his face would one day become a politicising symbol.

Many people didn’t see the recent events happening but those who were paying attention would have seen this coming because Black lives matter. Black bodies are political. Black people are not going to remain silent forever while they keep killing our brothers and sisters everywhere.

The time will come and it is coming when we shall say no – it is enough! Then we shall say give me liberty or give me death.

Images of Penn State students staging a die-in

Penn State students protest the Ferguson decision in the HUB-Robeson Center by participating in a “die-in – in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Brown’s death reminds me of the prophetic words of Steve Biko shortly before his death at the hands of white policemen in Apartheid South Africa. He wrote in an essay in his collection of articles, I Write What I Like:

“You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and your method of death can itself be a politicising thing. So if you can overcome the fear of death, which is irrational, you’re on your way.”

Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and others, too numerous to mention, are on their way. Their stories remind us of the malignant fictions created by the state to maintain the status quo in their attempt to blame the victims for their deaths.

The late Nigerian writer and social activist Chinua Achebe reminded us of the dangers of these malignant fictions. He published A Man of the People in 1966.  The novel ends with a coup in the fictional country Achebe based his story.

Coincidentally, the novel was published two days after Nigeria’s first military coup. A theory then developed during the civil war, Biafran War, that Achebe was one of the planners of the military coup.

In fact, the military regime of Nigeria bombed his home and attempted to kill him on numerous occasions because they believed he was one of the plotters of the coup.

I take the liberty to impose on you a lengthy quote from his work entitled The Truth of Fiction in which he addresses these malignant fictions.

“I have direct experience of how easy it is for us to short-circuit the power of our imagination by our own act of will. For when a desperate man wishes to believe something however bizarre or stupid nobody can stop him. He will discover in his imagination a willing and enthusiastic accomplice. Together they will weave the necessary fiction which will then bind him securely to his cherished intention.”

It is these malignant fictions that the protesters in the front-lines have refused to suspend their beliefs to entertain. They have showed their humane side. They are not indifferent to suffering.

Imaginative identification is the opposite of indifference; it is human connectedness at its most intimate. It is one step closer to the golden adage “Do unto others…”

The late Hannah Arendt showed this incredible perception when she entitled her study of the psychology of totalitarianism The Banality of Evil. I guess that sums up this article.

In conclusion, it appears that America won the legal battle but lost the moral war. Legality doesn’t confer morality. They are different entities. The Holocaust was legal but it was inhuman and immoral. Slavery was legal but it was inhuman and immoral.

The same can be said about Apartheid. Legal or state institutions are inhuman by nature. They have no heart. Therefore, they have no sense of morality. The true moral agents are the people, especially the oppressed. America is suffering from an acute illness known as anomie.

In the words of Noam Chomsky, “States are not moral agents, people are, and can impose moral standards on powerful institutions”. Therefore, it is the people who have the ability to restore morality into the American injustice system.

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December 1, 2014 · 11:34 pm

Victory for The Upright Men: Triumph of the people’s will over a tyrant


Burkina Faso

Over the past few weeks I have observed keenly the events unfolding in Burkina Faso. I have written a number of articles documenting what has been taking place.

As I am writing now, there is a meeting in progress, which started at 18:00pm, where the leading men and women in Burkina Faso are in the process of picking a civilian leader.

Maybe before I publish this article, the new civilian leader in charge of leading the country through a transition period for a year will have been announced.

By then, this article will be old news but still good news. Maybe I might have to edit it and update it. Whatever the case is, the facts remain unchanged.

After Lt Col Issac Zida stepped down, the path to a new era was laid. He did the honourable thing and handed over power gracefully. He became an intergral link to history when he signed the transition charter. He duly got a standing ovation for playing his part in the smooth transition of power.

Image of Lt Col Zida

Lt Col Zida handing over the transition charter paving the way for civilian rule.

It could have been a bloody conflict which would leave behind residues of hate and plant seeds for sectarian violence as we have witnessed recent events in Syria, Iraq, Libya, etc. where these nations have descended into anarchy and wave after wave of sectarian violence.

Thanks to the African Union for remaining on top of the situation. It is a good sign to see Africans resolving African issues in peace without the need for external intervention which mainly believes that total destruction is the only solution.

Therefore, it is no longer a question of if a civilian leader will be handed power but more a question of who and when.

The latter question is hanging in the balance for a few hours but the more pertinent question most of us want to know is who will have the honour of making history.

Whoever is chosen will be sworn in on Friday. The transitional president will choose a prime minister who will appoint a 25 member government. They will not be allowed to participate at the elections. The first government sitting will be on Saturday.

A committee of 23 compromising members of the army, religious and traditional groups, political opposition and civil society have the difficult task to select the chosen one. They have four to five candidates to choose from. These range from a priest, two journalists, a socioligist and a retired diplomat.

image

However, it appears that the church may have retracted the priests nomination citing that political power and priesthood were incompatible.

Therefore, you are witnessing history in the making. It may not be as dramatic as the fall of the Berlin Wall or the moment Nelson Mandela walked out of prison with Winnie Madikizela Mandela on his arm, waving to people who came to witness the end of an era and beginning of another.

However, it is still a historic moment, especially, for the Burkinabe who made this moment possible. In the words of the late Thomas Sankara, they dared to invent the future. This is the future they have invented.

For the Burkinabe, it will be the first time in 31 years that they will have a civilian leader. For many young people under the age of 28, it will be the first time they will have seen a new leader apart from Blaise Compaore who ruled for 27 years after he overthrew the late Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara in a military coup on the 15th of October 1987.

Thomas Sankara

The fall of the strong man might herald a new era for Africa. I have to resist the temptation of waxing lyrical and romanticise the situation. Change is stubborn. Change is difficult. It is resisted by many for various reasons even if it is in their best interests.

Simply changing from what people know or are comfortable with may be be too much for some people because it forces them to change too. Sometimes it’s the fear of the unknown that forces people to hold onto situations that are not conducive for their personal, political and social growth and development.

Change is not apocalyptic. It is a protracted process over time. It requires compromise. It calls for political maturity and interested parties to work together for the common good of the people and the country.

There will be conflict in bringing change to the country because different parties or factions will have different ideologies or methodologies that they believe work best.

The greatest challenge to change is having people who have the political will and honesty to implement the policy and ideas they propose. However, I believe that Burkina Faso has taken a mature step towards building a future compatible with their aspirations and will.

The events of the 31st October took many by surprise. Few foresaw how a sitting president of a stable country in Africa could be unseated by a popular uprising. It is rare. There are few precedents.

Lassina Sawadogo face to face with two soldiers

However, a number of presidents in Africa who have been in power for decades will have observed what happened in Burkina Faso and they will know it can happen to them too.

Anytime they see or hear of a protest, the events of the 31st of October 2014 will be at the back of their minds. It remains to be seen whether the cries of the Burkinabe youth “Enough is enough” will find resonance elsewhere on the continent.

Burkinabe protesters

People power: Burkinabe protesters gather in Ougadougou to protest against Blaise Compoare attempts to extend his rotten shelf life.

Gone are the days when the national media could censor events happening across the continent or all over the world. The advent of social media and various smart phone apps where ideas and knowledge can be shared without state censorship has weakened those who would want to keep ideas of uprisings at bay.

This continual flow of subversive ideas through technology, enlightenment through formal or informal education is a cause for major headaches for tyrants and rogues who keeping clinging to power amid the clamouring calls for change by the youth.

Those who refuse to respect the will of the people may regret their decisions when their empires come crumbling down and masonry and steel structures from the castles they build in the sky rain on their heads.

For a long time, Blaise Compoare like many African leaders, presided over a democracy in name only but not in substance or practise. He did so many things to transform his image to appear like a moderate leader and a respected consummate statesman who had his fingers on the pulse of what was happening in Africa.

He was a strong ally of the western powers in their fight against Muslim militants in the region but not even his powerful connections could save him when the time came.

However, the company he kept revealed more about his nefarious activities and his Jekyll and Hyde character. You can polish a turd and spray perfume on it but you can’t hide the stink. The Burkinabe smelt the shit and when it’s stench became unbearable duly flushed it down the toilet and consigned it the political sewer where it belongs.

The final act by Lt Col Zida to sign the transition charter to pave way for a civilian leader to head the government for a year marks a triumph of the people’s will over tyranny.

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November 16, 2014 · 9:41 pm

12 Lessons From the 31st October Burkinabe Revolution


Once people overcome their fear of death or the system, they are unstoppable

via 12 Lessons From the 31st October Burkinabe Revolution.

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Burkina Faso Sanctions Threat


The struggle for the Burkinabe continues. I believe they deserve our support in every way in their ongoing struggle against tyrants and rogues.

via Burkina Faso Sanctions Threat.

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November 9, 2014 · 3:27 pm