Tag Archives: Steve Biko

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..

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Great African Leaders, Revolutionaries, Steve Bantu Biko, Under The Spotlight

Sometimes, I write poetry…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Creative Writing, Poetry

Thoughts about my motherland


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Sankara 8

3 Comments

May 2, 2015 · 1:40 pm

Afrophobia or xenophobia is unAfrican!


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

“What’s in a name? That

which we call a rose

By any other name would

smell as sweet.”

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

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

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

“What’s in a name? That

which we call Afrophobia

By any other name would

still be inhumane.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motho ke motho ka batho (Sotho)

Munhu i munhu hi van’wana vanhu (Tsonga)

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

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

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

Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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

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

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

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

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

Afrophobia or xenophobia is unAfrican

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning from past tragedies

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Afrophobia?

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

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

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

It goes on to state:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Afrophobia Illusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What sparked these xenophobic attacks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divide and Rule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crazy looter 2

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

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

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

Consequences of Xenophobia

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

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

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

Picture of people fleeing violence by xenophobic mobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tackling the root causes of xenophobic violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture of Steve Biko with the quote,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light at the end of the tunnel

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

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

Picture of little children holding placards that read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

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.”

15 Comments

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.

3 Comments

December 1, 2014 · 11:34 pm

The Upright Man: Captain Thomas Sankara


image

Twenty-seven years ago, on October 15, during a staff meeting, a rogue military gang, either led or ordered by Blaise CompaoréThomas Sankara‘s close friend, ally and trusted comrade, assassinated the young Pan Africansist icon and anti-imperialism revolutionary, Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara.

He was was only 37 years old. His untimely murder marked the death of one of Africa’s last anti-imperialist revolutionaries.

His body was chopped, cut up and dismembered in macabre circumstances. He was buried unceremoniously and his ideas, memory and name erased from the public view. However, it remained in the personal memory of Africans worldwide. And this is why I choose to remember this icon to prevent us from forgetting, and keeping Thomas Sankara‘s ideas alive.

Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara is remembered fondly as the hope of Africa. Some compare his charm and political trajectory and the tragedy that robbed Africa of an inspirational leader to Che Guevera.

That does a disservice to him. He was unique. He was the spokesman of the poorest of the poor in Africa and an advocate of women worldwide. There are those who have a less romantic and idealistic perception of him: they depict him as an autocrat who came to power through a coup. They are entitled to their opinions.

Sankara was ahead of his time. It’s a cliché but it’s also a fact. It is undeniable.

However, one thing is unquestionable: his legacy to African political thought and inspirational leadership are unparalleled especially in the present. His popularity, then and now, remains as strong as ever. Once he came to power, he undertook the most ambitious and radical programme for socioeconomic change ever attempted on the African continent, then and now.

image He is remembered for the value he placed on discipline, plus his integrity and selflessness. He implemented radical reforms when he came to power. His ministers drove small cars and travelled economy class. Sankara, himself, rode a bicycle. Chauffeur driven Mercedes Benz and 1st class airline tickets were banned.

He reduced his own salary and that of his own government ministers and public servants. He left nothing in the way of the immediate and radical transformation of society which is a move that upset his opponents and the western powers.

They (France and her allies) feared his ideology of an independent Africa which was not dependent on the West for its survival. It threatened its hegemonic control over Burkina Faso and other west African colonies.

He was an advocate for good governance, sustainability and transparency.

He understood why women are so critical to Africa’s transformation and he implemented bodies and policies that addressed women’s rights long before it was popular.

Decades before Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was calling on African men to be feminists, he had already declared, “We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or out of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the revolution to triumph.” Thomas Sankara viewed the struggle of Burkina Faso’s women as “part of the worldwide struggle of all women”.

image

Sankara was a preeminent thinker. He was the first African leader to recruit women into the military and appoint them to major cabinet positions. He was a doer not just a talker.

He was not afraid of challenging culture and tradition. He risked the ire of Burkinabè men by banning forced marriages and encouraging women to work outside the home, plus implementing policies to retain girls at school when they fell pregnant.

He put an end on the pressure on women to marry.  He viewed the emancipation of women as central to dismantling the stranglehold of the feudal system on Burkina Faso.

He set a world record, launching a nationwide public health campaign vaccinating 2 1/2 million people in a week. He was an avid environmentalist planting over 10 million trees to arrest the desertification of the Sahel.

To promote local production, Thomas Sankara actively encouraged cotton production and made a decree for public servants to wear a traditional tunic sewn by Burkinabè tailors and woven using local cotton. Western style suits were discouraged. Sankara himself also wore clothes made by local tailors, when he was not in military fatigues, and advertised them at continental and international conferences.

He angered the feudal landlords by taking land from them and redistributing it directly to the peasants. Consequently, wheat production rose in just three years from 1700kg per hectare to 3800, making Burkina Faso self reliant, a feat nations like Zimbabwe, Nigeria, South Africa and other African nations with rich repositories of precious minerals and fossil fuels have failed miserably.

image

Thomas Sankara shunned foreign aid and famously called for aid that helped the aided to become self reliant. He began a rail and road building programme to link up the country’s infrastructure and improve market accessibility.

Instead of foreign aid, he relied on (national building exercises) the commitment and energy of the Burkinabè to lift Burkina Faso out of the economic doldrums.

His political education was simple: “Let us consume only what we ourselves control!” Be self sufficient. Be honest. Live simply. But above all, it was his main goal that resonated beyond Burkina Faso and the African continent: Sankara wanted a fairer, proud, independent Africa that was equipped to tackle its challenges and that is what ultimately cost him his life.

He famously said, “Where is imperialism?” Look at your plates when you eat. These imported grains of rice, corn, and millet – that is imperialism.”

His solution was self reliance through growing what they could consume.

Thomas Sankara was a political statesmen and a political thinker who merged theory with practise in the manner of great philosopher-Kings throughout human history. His dual approach places him in the exalted company of a few. image

What probably sets Sankara aside is his application of Marxist-Lenist ideology to drive structural change in an unequal society characterised by poverty and oppression by a tiny political minority.

His appeal to the majority of modern Africans, unlike the current crop of African leaders, is his undisguised dedication to the welfare and well being of his country and country-people.

Few African leaders today can match his extraordinary zeal to uplift Africa and its citizens. Today’s breed of African leaders come to power and do little or nothing to change the miserable conditions the masses find themselves in.

After independence, the people are left asking: what did we fight for. The only change in the post-independent state is the colour of the oppressor by a tiny wealthy minority.

There are no sweeping policy, structural or socioeconomic changes. There are a few aesthetic changes but the colonial structure and apparatus remain virtually intact and are used to maintain the status quo after independence.

Imperialism and neocolonialism emerge as the true winners and economic apartheid continues unchecked.

There is no need to emphasise that Thomas Sankara was a committed African nationalist. African nationalism is a broad based and flexible mode of thought which encompasses African Marxism, African populism and African socialism.

In addition, African nationalism isn’t a uniform ideology but it takes various forms. Some African nationalists embraced modernisation, capitalism and westernisation.

Then there were the early theorists like Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Sékou Touré and others who advocated for a unique blend of African socialism mixed with traditional African values and traditions together with elements of Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Captain Thomas Sankara in Harare flanked by the first prime minister of Zimbabwe Robert Gabriel Mugabe, and Zimbabwe's first president Canaan Sodindo Banana.

Captain Thomas Sankara in Harare flanked by the first prime minister of Zimbabwe Robert Gabriel Mugabe, and Zimbabwe’s first president Canaan Sodindo Banana.

However, Thomas Sankara was a class apart from the types described above. He was an African populist like Steve Bantu Biko. They both embraced the tenets of African socialism but their emphasis was on structural change such as the transformation of their countries’ economies, policies and their societies for the benefit of their people.

Apart from their youth and charm, Biko and Sankara were doers, active participants in social transformation, contrary to the older brand of African socialists and nationalists who were theorists and merely played lip service to their political rhetoric.

They both came up with genuine and practical liberation ideologies.

Biko and Sankara, like Amilcar Cabral, believed in the intelligentsia committing class suicide to help uplift the masses because they believed that the gap between the black intelligentsia and the masses was a deterrent to development.

Two of Africa's finest sons and popular leaders: Captain Thomas Sankara and Samoa Machel (president of Mozambique)

Two of Africa’s finest sons and popular leaders: Captain Thomas Sankara and Samora Machel (president of Mozambique)

Thomas Sankara like Biko, Samora Machel, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba are African martyrs. They share a common thread that runs through their tragic narratives: they were murdered by agents of the Western powers.

Sankara’s murder eerily echoes that of Lumumba.

Sankara’s untimely death robbed both the Burkinabè and Africa of a young charismatic leader who was chartering a new course. However, he left behind a template of what an African leader can, could, must and should be.

Captain Thomas Sankara with Colonel Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi

Today, there are many committed Sankarists across the African continent, extending, into the Diaspora reinforcing Sankara’s thoughts: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas“.

The appeal of Sankara’s ideas is even stronger today because of the growing divide betweens the haves and have-nots, the oppressed and the oppressed, the western puppets and masses.

Thomas Sankara‘s radical four year rule in the early 1980s transforming Upper Volta, which he renamed Burkina Faso (the land of upright men), into a self reliant nation fired the imagination of Africans and Pan Africanists. His ideas not only found currency with the Burkinabè but they resonated elsewhere in Africa and the Diaspora.

Sankara’s ideology of African economic independence, self reliance, freedom from serfdom and slavery, education, literacy, women’s equality, addressing deforestation and wiping out corruption are ideas that are still poignant in the struggle for African liberation and the realisation of the envisioned self.

This is why Thomas Sankara is still as popular and relevant as ever. His ideology, memories and popularity have a longevity which continues to haunt those responsible for his murder. They assassinated him but they didn’t kill his ideas.

Sankara’s Revolution sent seismic shocks throughout the continent threatening the status quo of France’s unchallenged dominance of its ex-colonies in West Africa and the corrupt regimes (neocolonial elite or puppets) acting as gatekeepers of these neocolonialist states.

Thomas Sankara spoke in layman’ terms publicly and at forums such as the OAU (Organisation of African Unity), articulately diagnosing the raping and pillaging of Africa by the neocolonialist powers using proxy wars, Western finance and trade. He pinpointed the pitfalls of aid saying it simply and clearly, “he who feeds you, controls you”.

He also provided the remedy to his diagnosis.

He called for the formation of the Club of Addis Ababa to collectively confront the catastrophes and issues debt was causing in Africa. He reiterated the benefits of a united front of African nations to refuse to pay debt for many reasons such as if Africa paid, it would face a crisis.

He said, “It is our duty to create an Addis Adeba’s unified front against debt. That is the only way to assert that refusing to repay is not an aggressive move on our part, but a fraternal move to speak the truth.”

Best friends, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings (Ghana) and Captain Thomas Sankara

Best friends, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings (Ghana) and Captain Thomas Sankara

In addition, he argued that the current governments were not the ones who had run up the debts. It was their (neocolonialist powers) cousins. Therefore, it was not Africans’ responsibility to repay that debt.

Below is an excerpt of his speech against debt at the OAU in Addis Ababa in 1987:

“We think that debt has to be seen from the standpoint of its origins. Debt’s origins come from colonialism’s origins. Those who lend us money are those who had colonized us before. They are those who used to manage our states and economies. Colonizers are those who indebted Africa through their brothers and cousins who were the lenders. We had no connections with this debt. Therefore we cannot pay for it. Debt is neo-colonialism, in which colonizers transformed themselves into “technical assistants”.We should better say “technical assassins”.

They present us with financing, with financial backers. As if someone’s back could create development. We have been advised to go to these lenders. We have been proposed with nice financial set-ups. We have been indebted for fifty, sixty years and even more. That means we have been led to compromise our people for fifty years and more.

Under its current form, that is imperialism controlled, debt is a cleverly managed reconquest of Africa, aiming at subjugating its growth and development through foreign rules. Thus, each one of us becomes the financial slave, which is to say a true slave, of those who had been treacherous enough to put money in our countries with obligations for us to repay. We are told to repay, but it is not a moral issue. It is not about this so-called honour of repaying or not.”

You can read more at the following link: Thomas Sankara’s  Speech Against Foreign Aid at the OAU.

He was aware about the role of Western aid and equally clear on the role of debt in controlling Africa as he stated: “The root of the disease was political. The treatment could only be political. Of course, we encourage aid that aids us in doing away with aid. But in general, welfare and aid policies have only ended up disorganizing us, subjugating us, and robbing us of a sense of responsibility for our own economic, political, and cultural affairs. We chose to risk new paths to achieve greater well-being.”

Three months after this famous speech at the OAU, the angel of death closed in on Thomas Sankara because of his outspoken and uncompromising stance against neocolonialism and white supremacy.

He had prophesied at the OAU summit that, “If Burkina Faso alone were to refuse to pay the debt, I wouldn’t be at the next conference.”

Unfortunately, he was correct.

He was warned to take action but he refused because he chose to remain true to the ideals and spirit of the revolution.

Consequently, the dogs of imperialism in the Burkinabè leadership and another French puppet, Côte d’Ivoire president Félix Houphoet-Boigny, did the bidding of their masters and Africa’s brightest star was murdered.

image Thomas Sankara‘s  narrative has all the elements of a Shakespearean tragedy. It has betrayal, intrigue, friendship, loyalty, a hero, a villain; he is overthrown and murdered at the request of his best friend, ally and trusted comrade.

Most important of all, his case study is a must for those who preach about Black Consciousness and unity. It illustrates the selfless approach and self discipline required to practise what you preach especially if you are dedicated to African advancement and development.

If you want to find a solution to the problems afflicting Africa, Thomas Sankara‘s narrative provides the perfect case study. He is the antithesis to the current crop of neocolonialist puppets.

Africa’s leaders and political parties should borrow several pages out of his book, if not the whole book.

Thomas Sankara‘s character and ideology doesn’t fit in with the dominant narrative propagated in the west for decades. It is impossible to find a less corrupt, selfless or self-serving leader than Thomas Sankara. It is even more impossible to find a leader today with more integrity than Sankara.

He was a man among great men. This is why he is referred to as The Upright Man.

To understand why, watch the documentary about The Upright Man by following the highlighted link or copy and paste the following URL http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=J5USbA701SI#.

22 Comments

October 16, 2014 · 2:36 am

Exhibit B – Is This Racism Or Art?


image

William Blake once wrote that, “The foundation of Empire is art and science. Remove them or degrade them and the Empire is No more. Empire follows Art and not vice versa as Englishmen suppose.”

Fast-forward to 2014 and the question of what is art and what is not art is rearing its head again. Exhibit B or The Human Zoo directed by Brett Bailey which was supposed to be on show at the Barbican is the bone of contention. It has now been cancelled due to protests.

There are two sides to every story. Firstly, there are the protestors, led by Sistar Sara Myers, a modern Queen Nzinga who opposed Exhibit B and called it RACIST. They object to the depiction of blacks in chains and various states of insubordination in human zoos as a desecration of the memory of Africans who were subjected to subhuman bondage during the African Holocaust.

In the opposing corner is the Barbican, a white South African Brett Bailey (the director), and various sections of the white community who object to the protests and claim Exhibit B is art and raises questions and issues surrounding racism. In addition, there are also black performers in the Barbicans’ camp who I will touch on therein.

I empathise with the protesters. I believe it is the moral duty of all decent and conscious human beings to protect the memory of those Africans and others who were held in subhuman bondage.

Exhibit B takes the piss and doesn’t restore these people with any dignity. Instead it treats them with contempt and continues to portray them as objects and not subjects with voices of their own. They are using their stories for profit and to satisfy their own perverted objectives. White people often brush off slavery and colonialism and tell black people to forget about it.

However, they are not so quick to brush off any profits or privileges that they accrue from the African Holocaust. As long as it benefits their ulterior objectives, it is fair game. However when it comes to reparations and land redistribution and affirmative action, they change their tune and say black people must get over it. It appears that they are prepared to claim what suits them from the colonial situation but write it off when blacks make their own claims based on that same subject.

Exhibit B continues to objectify and dehumanise Africans and serves the black community no purpose. It only reinforces negative and stereotypical representations of African people in the media and art. The history of black people is presented in white quarters as a long lamentation of repeated defeats. Nothing is said about the successful nation building attempts or their greatest achievements.

Nothing is said to relate the past to the present to demonstrate a historical evolution of the modern African. Nothing is said about their great stand in the struggle for freedom and the envisioned self. Rather, there are repeated attempts by the powers that be to project an arrested image of Africans, their culture, their progress and their subservience.

It only reinforces and continues colonial discourses. For centuries, art has been complicit in the colonial project. Edward Said in his phenomenal work, Orientalism, raised awareness about the representations of others or the Manichean opposite in Occidental literature, musical and visual arts.

Writers like Rupyard Kipling (Kim), Rider Haggard (She and King Solomon’s Mines), Conrad (Heart of Darkness) to name a few were actively involved in reinforcing stereotypes of Africans and Indians. Their literature constantly played on the racist notions of Africa or Asia arrested in time, or degenerating and inhabited by savages or the occasional noble savage.

Africa and Asia were constantly displayed as women that were to be penetrated, raped while the western metropolitan was always considered logical, civilised, ordered, etc. African writers like Chinua Achebe took on these colonial discourses and turned them on their heads exposing their racist perspective as illustrated in the pictures below.

image

Extract From a newspaper I stumbled on stuck in the middle of my book, Hopes and Impediments by Chinua Achebe.

Extract From a newspaper I stumbled on stuck in the middle of my book, Hopes and Impediments by Chinua Achebe.

It is clear that art and racism have always gone hand in hand. The minstrel shows featured white actors in blackface and other grotesque representations of blacks that often masqueraded as art. Famous celebrities like Judy Garland in Babes on Broadway and Bing Crosby in Dixie were not immune in featuring in these shows in blackface yet this was considered to be art. This was as recent as the 1940s.

The point is that these gross representations of blacks were produced for the consumption of white audiences. The same applies to the human zoos. Their

Sartjie Baartman also known as the Hottentot Venus was held in a human zoo and displayed as a freak of nature and abused by white audiences.

Sartjie Baartman also known as the Hottentot Venus was held in a human zoo and displayed as a freak of nature and abused by white audiences.

patrons were white also and had no compunction about patronising shows that dehumanised other human beings. The case of Sartjie Baartmaan is a typical example.

We must take stock of the nostalgia for empire, including the anger and resentment it ignites in those who were ruled or enslaved and had their way of lives destroyed by capitalists who behaved like nothing more than criminals in Africa and the colonies.

We must analyse the culture that nurtured the rationale, sentiment and imagination of empire. We must not lose sight of the hegemony of the imperial ideology which today has almost become embedded in the affairs of cultures whose less regrettable features we still celebrate.

We value freedom of speech and we respect and defend everyone’s right to free speech but object to dehumanization and contempt of others masquerading as freedom of speech. It is ironic that the enactment of black dehumanisation is depicted as art and protests against it considered censorship.

In this debate we cannot afford to lose sight of how colonialism and slavery, both crimes against humanity, utilized the disinterested movements’ such as philanthropy, religion, science and art to achieve its goals. The process of imperialism occurred beyond the level of economic laws and political decisions through the employment of recognizable cultural representations by continuing consolidation within education, literature and the visual and musical arts.

This was the point Blake was making about, “The Foundation of Empire is Art and Science”.

What is evident is that those who have the power [social, economical or political capital] or the victors control the narrative. In this case, the Barbican was imposing  a “discussion” on its own terms without prior consultation of the people it was most likely to offend. It set the parameters of the discussion which it claims it was trying to stimulate. This reminds me of the words of Noam Chomsky:

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

This is akin to kicking or whipping the black community and then informing them how they should react to the beating. It is hypocritical. It is not constructive. It is impossible to maintain a fair or rational debate with people who participate in their exclusive pool of privileges when the playing field is uneven.

There are those in the Barbican camp who have labelled the protesters as “illiberal” or “racist”. To deal with the first point. It is a waste of time trying to prove who is more liberal than who. That is the white liberals problem to assuage their guilty conscience.

There is nothing liberal about acting in complicity with your oppression, demonisation or objectification of your people simply for people to say you are a liberal or have received a liberal education so you are not like “them”. This is the classic argument of the racist, stratifying the “good” blacks from the “bad” blacks or in the words of Malcolm X – the house negro and field negro.

The liberals are simply indulging in mind games. They are claiming their monopoly on intelligence and moral judgement while treating blacks like perpetual under 16s who constantly need guidance from these liberals.

Secondly, racism is a question of power! Without the power to subjugate, one cannot be racist. This language about reverse racism is the favourite pastime of frustrated liberals who feel that their trusteeship is being rejected.

No matter what the protestors do or say, they are not going to strip the liberals of their white privilege or segregate them in white only ghettoes. Steve Biko succinctly captured the reaction of white liberals when they felt their monopoly on intelligence and moral judgement was been eroded and their guardianship rejected:

“These self appointed trustees of black interests boast of years of experience in their fight on behalf of blacks, and because of blacks. When the blacks announce that the time has come for them to do things for themselves and all by themselves all white liberals shout blue murder!”

The protestors don’t have the power to subjugate anyone, let alone whites in the UK, because they lack the institutional, political, judicial, military, and economical capital required to subjugate anyone.

The protestors are responding to a situation they find themselves in where their black skin is being used as a mark of subservience. They are merely responding to white racism. There is nothing wrong with the protestors. Racism is a white problem. Racism is a white construct. Therefore, if there is anyone with a problem, it is white society. This is not a blanket condemnation of white people. There are exceptions to the rule.

However, we are concerned with group attitudes and politics here, not the individual. The exception does not make a lie of the rule, rather, it reinforces it. The big challenge to the liberal is can he really denounce his white privilege?

The obvious response is that it is unrealistic. It might be true but it only serves to illustrate that no matter what a white person does, their white skin, their Mastercard to privilege means it is almost impossible to escape the oppressor’s camp.

Ultimately, this is why blacks speak with a greater sense of urgency than the liberals because they are tackling a situation that they can’t escape. On the other hand, if the heat becomes too much, the liberal can always take a break or walk away. Blacks don’t have that luxury. They don’t have that privilege.

The protestors rallied together because of their unifying factor – their blackness. When members of Transport for London strike, no one accuses them of separatist tendencies. The same applies to firemen, teachers, nurses, etc. They are unified by their professions or industry to fight their own battles. However, when black people stand up for their rights, the liberal establishment detects an anomaly.

Ironically, it is a counter-anomaly. The anomaly was there right from the moment the liberals were presumptuous enough to think that it was their responsibility to use their privilege to speak on behalf of or fight the battle for the blacks.

The Aftermath
In the aftermath of the cancellation, the fallout has begun. Various sections of the mainstream media have attacked the protesters. The attack on the protesters is counter productive. It is interesting to note the tactics being employed in the offensive against the protestors. The black performers are being used to lambast them and this does no one a favour. They only sound like they have been paid thirty pieces of silver to sell their souls out.

It also conjures up the words of Dr. Khalid Muhammad when he was describing the tactics of the right wing when they can’t beat a black man or woman. He said:

“When white folks can’t defeat you they’ll always find some Negro – some boot-licking, butt-licking, buck-dancing, bamboozled, half-baked, half-fried… punkified, pasteurized, homogenised nigger — that they can trot out in front of you.”

The use of black performers to attack the genuine concerns of the protestors also draws up questions about who represents the genuine aspirations, dreams and concerns of the black community. It is unrealistic that a handful of black performers can be the true representatives of the black people.

image

Therefore, they are not in a position to counter the voice and concerns of 23000 black voices. They are no different from Judas Iscariot, an extension of the enemy into the black ranks. They sold their souls for thirty pieces of silver. At least Judas Iscariot had the decency to kill himself when he realised the gravity of his betrayal. The protesters are not doing what they are doing for money or fame. Their integrity or moral stance was never up for sale by the highest bidder like the performers.

It is evident the black performers would do anything for fame and fortune. In that respect, they are no different from the multitudes of black entertainers who say and do whatever their handlers tell them to do even if that includes insulting their parents, elders, fighting their siblings or generally disrespecting the black community. They are no different to the multitude of black leaders in Africa, America and the West who come to power and do little or nothing to uplift their own people.

While these performers have every right to have their own opinions and engage in any financial transaction of their choosing but they must also respect the objections of the black community’s concerns about the way they are represented, how their story is told and who tells it.

It reminds me of another of Biko’s thoughts about real black people, “Black people -real black people – are those who can manage to hold their heads high in defiance than willingly surrender their souls to the white man.”

I listened to one of the performers on the Wright Stuff. She was awarded plenty of air time to air her views without anyone representing the other camp to challenge her. The predominantly white audience lapped up her shameful performance. That alone illustrates how the story is one sided. Sara Myers was provided a few minutes via a telephone link to put in one liners but not enough time to put her views across as this black performer.

When a question was put to this black performer, how she was censored, she was unable to provide a coherent answer. It was excruciating to watch. She went on to explain her role in the exhibition. She said she was playing a black woman in South Africa with a white mother and black father. She went on to say that if she had lived in South Africa in 1994, she would have been taken from her mother and thrown in a black area.

Her account is misleading. There was nothing like that in South Africa in 1994. As the product of a mixed race union in the 60s to about early 80s when the Immorality Laws were active, she would not have been classified as BLACK. She would have been COLOURED which was a strata above black people in South Africa with privileges black people were denied.

She would live in a coloured only area with better amenities than segregated black townships. By virtue of her white blood, she would enjoy some privileges denied black people as people who provided a buffer layer between black and white.

It is ironic this actress was ignorant of the history of the role she was playing yet she had the audacity to call Sara Myers ignorant. She had no idea about the role she was playing; therefore, she was not consciously informed to speak about whether the show was racist or not let alone condemn the protesters, many of whom are more informed about the African situation first hand.

The other disturbing aspect of the fallout is the language employed by some sections of the media. The diction is extreme and used to demonise the protestors. This language is no different to language used to demean, ridicule, undermine those who oppose power but don’t have the voices to reply. This mudslinging dehumanises the people it is aimed at and justifies attacks on them.

There are those in the press who claim the protestors censored the show. The Wright Stuff was drawing comparisons drawing between Hitler and Mussolini with the protestors. This is highly emotive stuff.

One has to remember that the former were heads of state and had the state apparatus, militias and the constitution to back them plus the army to enforce their decrees. Therefore, censorship like racism is a question of power and without it, you cannot censor anyone no matter how much noise or protests you make.

Therefore, it is highly irresponsible for people to draw up such mischievous comparisons which are not compatible. It is obvious those who make such decisions understand the least about censorship and power.

Censorship is not just a question of silencing what you disagree with. Power is what makes censorship possible. It is endorsed by the system and the constitution. In the art industry, there are the guardians of the industry. They decide who is exhibited, where they are exhibited and the likes.

They have the power to veto any form of artwork that doesn’t fit in with their values or criticises their ethics or moral stance. Therefore, the protestors had nothing to do with censoring the show as some mischievous quarters would like to suggest. The Barbican pulled the plug on the show.

According to reports, 25 000 people watched the show in Europe. However, the protestors raised a petition with 23 000 signatures and surely that number of people can’t be wrong. That is only 2000 people less than the audiences that watched Exhibit B in Europe.

There are more contemporary issues which the Barbican and people like Brett Bailey skirt. They would like to concentrate on the past providing a diversion from current issues such as the question of white privilege, equal access to resources, employment, education, reparations, institutional racism, equal justice and human rights.

Today, there are millions of black men and women locked up in human zoos called the prison industrial complex and detention centres yet no one raises discussions about the overrepresentation of blacks in these human zoos.

The question of racism is relevant today and it needs to be dealt with sensitivity and tact. Society can have a reasonable debate about feminism but when racism is involved, all decorum goes flying out of the window and there are heated exchanges and insults flying from both sides of the spectrum.

No one human being is perfect. That applies to institutions too. Brett Bailey and the Barbican should not be ashamed to admit they got it wrong. It is human. They might have got previous exhibitions and shows right but it is possible they got this one wrong and they can learn a lot from their mistakes rather than blame the protestors for their own undoing. When you court controversy, you should expect the backlash. You can’t always be right and everyone else wrong.

The furore surrounding Exhibit B raised a lot of questions. Probably one of the most poignant questions that was missed is: who has the right to tell which story? This is a question that is asked repeatedly in Postcolonial and Feminism Studies.

It is very difficult to assume that the critic (especially one from a privileged background) can ever speak on behalf of anybody, because the position of the critic and their object is never securely fixed. Their superior theory and enlightened compassion are inadequate as Sekou Toure reminds us:

To take part in the African revolution, it is not enough to write a revolutionary song. You must fashion the revolution with the people. And if you fashion it with the people, the songs will come by themselves.
In order to achieve real action you must yourself be a living part of Africa and of her thought; you must be an element of that popular energy which is entirely called forth for the freeing, the progress and happiness of Africa. There is no place outside that fight for the artist or for the intellectual who is not himself concerned with, and completely at one with the people in the great battle of Africa and of suffering humanity
.

2 Comments

Filed under Under The Spotlight

BIKO: A LIFE BY XOLELA MANGCU – BIOGRAPHY REVIEW


He was young, gifted and black. He was born to lead. Like most gifted people with a mission to accomplish, he died young. In his short life, Stephen Bantu Biko achieved what many people never achieve in a lifetime. Biko: A Life, recounts this iconic anti-apartheid activist and intellectual revolutionary’s life. This biography comes 36 years after his premature death in 1977; it’s the first in-depth examination of his life.

BikoXolela Mangcu the author was eleven at the time. Like most people who were around in the 1970s, he remembers where he was when the news of Biko’s death broke. He recalls the events of that fateful day; the backlash and ripples that spread internationally, exposing the brutality of apartheid .

Mangcu grew up in the same neighbourhood as Biko in Ginsberg [King William’s Town] and often accompanied him to the Black Community Projects [BCP] such as Zanemplio Health Clinic, Biko ran with Dr. Mamphele Ramphele, Barney Pityana and others.

Biko: A Life, is a timely account that examines the life of Steve in a way no other work has done before. It invokes the philosophies and theories of leading intellectuals and scholars. It interweaves personal testimony with academic and historical texts, letters, newspaper reports, interviews and journal excerpts. Steve’s associates, colleagues, family, friends, community members, political leaders and anti-apartheid activists who were privileged to meet and work with Steve share their memories and insights.

This multifaceted approach provides insight into Steve Biko’s character and life from different perspectives. These fragmented perspectives offer a fuller and rounded picture of a committed, gifted, humble, intelligent and unique individual.

Mangcu’s narrative provides a brief history of South Africa starting with the early San and Khoi Khoi wars of resistance in the 18th and 19th century. He traces the invisible lineages of Xhosa chiefs like Ndlambe and Ngqika, and prophet intellectuals like Nxele and Ntsikana [who followed after the defeat of the Khoi Khoi  and San ] played in the development of Biko’s consciousness.

Mangcu examines Biko’s emergence after the banning of the PAC and ANC, and imprisonment of their leaders such as Robert Sobukwe [founder of the PAC] and Nelson Mandela and others on Robben Island. The framing of the Biko VIInarrative in this manner illustrates the events and individuals that moulded Biko’s growth and political awareness; it also places the struggle against white domination into context.

Although Mangcu was very close to Steve Biko and had a great impact on his life, he steers clear of hero worship. Steve’s flaws and warts are exposed. Mangcu examines his escapades with the cops during his banishment, partying, messy love life, divorce, womanising, heavy drinking caused by the banishment, imprisonment and murder of the friends Biko brought into the various organisations he formed.

However, this doesn’t taint his character. It humanises him and contrasts his flaws with his strengths. A young man with a unique gift of leadership emerges as Father Aelred Stubbs recalled:

 Whereas other leaders tend almost insensibly to become Leaders with a  

  capital L, I never saw any sign at all of this happening with Steve. He 

remained to the end on all fours with us, an example of what we could all 

be, above and beyond us only in his vision, and in the depths of his 

commitment as his death in detention showed.

His wife Ntiski added:

 Steve was, I think, just a gifted person. I always say even the name he 

was given by his parents, Bantu – meaning people – was apt… He was

able to mingle with different ages… So that was his gift, I think, he got it 

from God, so he would be able to work with all sorts of people. 

This gift of his was undeniable then. It is undeniable today. It is everlasting and continues to radiate from beyond the grave as Mangcu illustrates through his thorough analysis of the aftermaths of his legacy in post-apartheid South Biko VAfrica in the final chapters of Biko: A Life.

Mangcu illustrates Biko’s leadership skills didn’t develop in isolation. He examines in depth the esoteric details that inspired Biko to grow in response to his oppressive environment. For example, in April 1963, Lovedale was hit by a student boycott of classes. Khaya Biko, Steve’s older brother, was identified as a ringleader.

The police also uncovered his PAC political activities in Ginsberg and he was consequently charged for being a member of an unlawful organisation POQO [the armed wing of the PAC]. Steve was caught up in the crossfire and expelled for no reason. He later ran away from home to hide at his friend’s house to escape the police. His brother had tried unsuccessfully to get Steve involved in politics. However, the expulsion was the motivation Steve required as Khaya spelt out, “This time the great giant was awakened.”

The biography provides more esoteric details about Steve Biko’s life that were previously unknown. The examination of his early life at school illustrates he was a child prodigy and a prankster. It also shows that Biko came from a relatively poor family and he could hardly afford things like uniforms.

However, that didn’t seem to affect him; he often helped older students than himself who weren’t academically gifted. He was only able to attend school because the people of Ginsberg sent him there; later on in life, he set up the Ginsberg Education Fund in 1975 when he was banned to help students who couldn’t afford to attend university.

The biography provides an insight into the characters that were around Biko while he was growing up. His alumni include Thabo Mbeki, Chris Hani, and Zola Skwekiya who attended Lovedale High School around the same time. By the time Biko left St. Francis College, Mariannhill in Natal, he had developed debating skills and emerged as one of the top political thinkers.

Mangcu chronologically follows this line of enquiry examining Biko’s rise to prominence during his time at the Durban Medical School at the University of Natal Non European Section in 1966. He carries out a detailed analysis of Biko’s involvement in the NUSAS [National Union of South African Students] and the incidents and ideologies that forced Biko to ask questions about non racialism within that structure.

Consequently, Biko and his colleagues eventually created the blacks only SASO [South African Students Organisation]. The biography highlights it was not out of choice but necessity they formed a non white organisation although coloureds and Indians were included in SASO.

Mangcu provides more esoteric details such as the involvement of the church in the creation of SASO; the irony of Biko’s non racial politics but non racial attitude when it came to hitting on white women.

Later on in the narrative, Mangcu conducts a detailed analysis of the events leading to the development of the Black Biko XIIPeople’s Convention [BPC] which was formed to bridge the gap between the black intelligentsia and the rest of the black society: the isolation was a disadvantage to black people as a whole.

Mangcu shows Steve’s role and ability to delegate leadership responsibilities of the various organisations he formed such as the BPC while he worked as the head of publications for SASO. In that role, he penned a regular and influential column under the pseudonym Frank Talk. These essays were later collected under the title I Write What I Like: it remains the most authoritative collection on Black Consciousness.

The biography offers a unique insight into Steve’s life providing an in-depth understanding. For example, Biko was expelled from the University of Natal in 1972 on academic grounds: six years into his studies, he was repeating his third year. This seems to contradict Biko’s academic brilliance as a child prodigy.

However, the biography illustrates Biko’s political activities left him with very little time to concentrate on his studies. His studies in Law during his banishment also suffered the same fate. It reflects his selfless nature: he put others in front of his needs as his wife Ntsiki recalls:

 I married a guy not knowing he was a leader, he was just like any man to

me. But I could see that there was something driving him to want to work

with and for the people. So much that, most of the time, you would find 

that even the family was not coming first… when he got banned in 1973

people would come with problems. There’s money problems or family 

problems. Somebody would come and say “I don’t have money to send 

my child to school”, or “I don’t have food at home”. You know what he 

used to do? He would take our bags and actually empty our bags so

that he gets whatever he wants to help that person. So he was always

wanting to do something for people.

Biko’s commitment to helping people is a recurring refrain in this biography. The biography also unearths some lesser known details about the circumstances that led to Biko’s death. Mangcu examines the events that led to his death such as his ill fated trip and provides several theories about what actually happened.

He also investigates Biko’s elusive quest to unite the ANC, PAC and the BPC into one liberation movement to take on the apartheid  regime. Robert Sobukwe, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela provide interesting insights into Steve’s elusive quest. In Tribute To Stephen Bantu Biko, Mandela alludes to this episode: “He was quietly preparing for a clandestine meeting he was due to hold with Oliver Tambo, the president of the ANC. Mandela continued:

 It now appears certain that the apartheid regime got wind of this. Whether

his death came from an accidental blow or not, they had to kill him to 

prolong the life of apartheid. The very thought of a link up between the 

ANC and the Black Consciousness Movement was unthinkable to the 

apartheid government.

Mangcu quoted Steve’s thoughts taken from I Write What I Like, “I would like to see groups such as the ANC, PAC and Black Consciousness deciding to form one liberation group… I think, when black people are so dedicated and so united in their cause that we can affect the greatest results”.

No one else since Biko ever tried such an audacious undertaking, not even Mandela himself. It was this elusive quest for the unity of the liberation movements that led to Biko’s murder. The security police killed a revolutionary but while his flesh died, his ideas multiplied.

The biography features ten succulent chapters which are supplemented by A Tribute To Stephen Bantu Biko written Biko IVby Nelson Mandela, a preface and an epilogue. It not only provides you with amazing insights into Biko’s life and the circumstances that shaped him, but Mangcu also provides a reflection of post apartheid South Africa and how Biko’s leadership helped shaped current South Africa and the continuing impact of his legacy.

Biko’s wife, Ntsiki, provides an insight into that legacy, “He produced mayors and some of them are working in government”. Mangcu admits, “Outside my family, no single individual shaped my life in the way that Steve Biko did”.

Others like Thoko Mbaniswa went on to become the commissioner at the Independent Electoral Commission; Mtobhi who received help from the Ginsberg Education Fund set up by Biko became the first director general of sport in Mandela’s government  and a senior executive at Vodacom. Another recipient of that fund was Sipheto Mlonyeni who studied at Fort Hare and is now a practising attorney.

The list is endless. Today, many youths within South Africa, Africa and across the world claim validity for their ideas by proclaiming a lineage to Biko or cite him as their inspiration. This partly explains why his image today is as iconic as that of late revolutionaries like Malcolm X; Captain Thomas Sankara’, Che Guevara, Amilcar Cabral and Patrice Lumumba.

His image is awash on social media such as Facebook and Twitter proving his legacy is accruing currency to a new generation who were not yet born when he died but find his Black Consciousness philosophy still relevant today.

Mangcu elaborates this point which kind of explains why the youth today look to their past and Biko and his Black Consciousness philosophy in the same manner Steve Biko looked to the past for his inspiration to fight the struggle against racism and apartheid:

 Steve believed that it was primarily because of the institutionalisation

of these privileges that white people were unlikely to listen to moral 

suasion. I have elsewhere argued that although Nelson Mandela 

played a pivotal role in ensuring our transition to democracy, he

nonetheless left us with the unfinished business of racism. Biko’s 

challenge of the psychological freedom from racism was therefore

left unaddressed by even the greatest political icon of the 20th 

century.

Mandela noted Biko’s message of psychological emancipation in his tribute:

 Living, he was a spark that lit a veld fire across South Africa. His

message to the youth and students was simple and clear: Black is

Beautiful! Be proud of your blackness! And with that he inspired our

youth to shed themselves of the sense of inferiority they were born

into as a result of more than three centuries of white rule. Assert

yourselves and be self reliant! With that he ignited a passion in the 

youth and they walked tall.

No other leader in Africa has inspired the youth with a philosophy of psychological emancipation. The relevance of Biko’s teaching partly explains why his collection of essays – I Write What I Like – remains a best seller today, 36 years after his demise.

Biko: A Life, is an inspired biography because it comes at a pivotal moment when Africans are looking for inspirational leadership within Africa. It also provides a detailed and intimate examination into Stephen Bantu Biko’s life, providing a greater understanding of this intellectual revolutionary and pivotal figure.

Not only is it an important historical document, but it is the perfect study aid for emerging leaders, politicians, revolutionaries and thinkers of the future.

The resurgence of Biko’s Black Consciousness philosophy among the youth reinforces Thomas Sankara’s words, “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”

The nation lost a great leader who would have been a formidable force in post apartheid South Africa which is inflicted with the Big Chief and Technocratic Syndrome today and facing a crisis in leadership. Steve Biko’s leadership is missed today. That is the greatest tragedy and this biography does an excellent job illustrating that point.

Biko XNelson Mandela’s Tribute to Stephen Bantu Biko which opens the biography reinforces Biko’s relevance and greatness, “Steve lives on in the galaxy of brave and courageous leaders who helped shape democratic South Africa. May we never cease celebrating Steve Biko.”

Biko: A Life, restores Steve in the publics’ consciousness. It is a celebration of this brave and courageous leader. It is so good it leaves you wanting to know more about this legendary and charming figure. This is a collector’s item for Black Consciousness scholars, emerging leaders and those who want to know more about Steve Biko. It will transform your understanding and perspective of this monumental figure.

Biko: A Life by Xolela Mangcu is a brilliant biography. Order your copy now from www.ibtauris.com or Amazon.

3 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews

Stephen Bantu Biko: Remembering An Intellectual Revolutionary


It is 36 years since Steve Biko left us. The 18th of December would have been his 67th birthday. The secret police who murdered him martyred him. When his body was laid in the soil of King William’s Town, his body contained a seed that would spring from a bond with the soil, giving birth to a movement that would develop many branches. The branches would produce fruits in abundance and they would develop more seeds and more Biko’s would spring forth from those seeds. His memory is now as synonymous to Africa as a baobab tree.

Biko was an exceptional and inspirational leader and an important figure in South African history; he is one of the few leaders who came up with a genuine liberation ideology, Black Consciousness, that was aimed at liberating the minds of black people. It is unfortunate that his incisive mind is no longer with us to help us make sense of the events of the last few weeks. Would he condemn the booing of Jacob Zuma? What would he say of the fake sign language interpreter at Mandela’s funeral? We can only speculate about how he would have reacted.

ImageThis pivotal moment in history provides us with an opportunity to celebrate a colossus whose Black Consciousness ideology continues to resonate today as illustrated by the resurgence of the struggle for black liberation. Biko seems to have had a premonition about what was to come with the independence and the historic compromise made by the late Nelson Mandela and ANC with the Afrikaner Broderbond. 36  years ago Biko proclaimed:

“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 as of yesterday. So for meaningful change to appear there needs to be an attempt at reorganising the whole economic pattern and policies within this particular country”.

23 years after Mandela walked out of prison that is exactly what happened. Reconciliation succeeded in changing the colour of those in governing positions while retaining numerous white faces from Biko Ithe Apartheid regime. The majority of blacks are still poor and trapped in Economic Apartheid. We have seen a few blacks filtering through the “so-called bourgeoisie”. The majority of these happen to be members of the ANC or those who are somehow connected to the ruling party. They have used their struggle credentials as a passport to wealth accumulation.

A minute political elite have benefitted from the Black Economic Empowerment programmes designed to provide previously disadvantaged groups with economic privileges that they were denied under Apartheid. Patrice Motsepe is one of those who benefitted from this programme: at 51 years of age, he is the third richest person in South Africa whose worth was pegged at about $2.7 billion as of 2013. He is one of the privileged few who have benefitted from playing the black ham in the white sandwich or fronting as the black face for white owned companies. Another benefactor in this regard, is none other than Cyril Ramaphosa who was the MC at Mandela’s funeral: his net worth as of 2013 was $700 million; that was a leap of almost $450 million from 2012.

Biko with his son Samora

Ramaphosa was a close ally of Mandela during the Apartheid struggle but he has since had his fingers in a lot of pies and worn a number of contradictory titles such as union buster, union leader, a beneficiary of black economic empowerment , part owner of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s South African enterprises to name a few. He is being primed as presidential material and expected to be a prominent player in the 2017 race. He is set to cement Mandela’s promises to the international business community that nothing will change in South Africa and that the economy is safe from radicals like Julius Malema and Andile Mngxitama from the EFF who want to nationalise the mines, expropriate businesses and land Zimbabwean style.

If Biko was alive today, I can’t imagine him joining the technocrats and bourgeoisie in the shameful accumulation of wealth while the proletarians feed on the scabs of their wounds. I want to believe that if Biko was Biko IIIalive, he would remain at the forefront of the people’s struggle calling for meaningful change. I remember the Biko who was clamouring for a reorganisation of the “whole economic pattern and policies” within South Africa. I would like to believe that Biko would have been enraged that the South African Reserve Bank is at the mercy of shareholders and the financial structure and banking institutions are not fully harnessed to the national development today. Was it possible that Biko saw this coming?

Considering his comments above, he had a premonition of what was to pass. Biko was aware that Apartheid like Jim Crow and other systems of oppression were not merely based on racial discrimination but they were economical systems. Black South Africans were oppressed because they were sitting on one of the greatest repositories of wealth, probably only second to that of the Democratic Republic of Congo. These minerals included diamonds, platinum, gold and other valuable minerals that are important to the capitalist system. Hence, human exploitation of both humans beings and the minerals went hand in hand. This system of exploitation was justified by the creation of an Apartheid State in 1948 by the Afrikaner National Party to undergo the systematic and systemic exploitation of South Africans. This Afrikaner National Party transformed into the African National Congress in Black Face at independence. Even the likes of De Klerk are now honorary ANC members.

This strategy was carefully crafted by Mandela when he created a Government of National Unity in 1994 which included the Inkatha Freedom Party and National Party to boost the ANC’s votes to secure two-thirds of the vote to bolster investor confidence. Buthelezi was consequently rewarded with a home affairs ministry for his complicity Biko IXand De Klerk was made deputy president. The National Party quietly disappeared from the government in 1996 and by 2006 all traces of it were gone, merged into the ANC by Marthinus van Schalkwyk who was De Klerk’s successor. The majority of the ANC failed to see the transformation of the Black Skins White Masks as they were blinded by the Madiba Magic, a phrase like the Rainbow Nation that sound like token phrases coined by South Africa’s white advertising agencies. All these empty phrases didn’t transform into concrete or tangible transformations for the majority black population. Only the nasty face of institutional racism such as arbitrary arrests, police brutality and white only and black only signs disappeared.

This systematic and systemic economic exploitation of South Africans was supported by the British, Americans, Germans and other nations in the West. The World Bank and IMF also played their traditional role of cementing the historical compromise by offering neoliberal policies in an effort to sugarcoat Economic Apartheid. This same neoliberal sugarcoating resulted in the ostracization, silent genocide of the indigenous inhabitants of Australia and the pillaging of their land and national resources by settlers who reduced them to refugees in their own country. The majority of the aforementioned nations had representatives at Mandela’s funeral to pay respects to the man who had helped to give their unholy alliance a respectable face.

Of course, Mandela the hero helped to do away with the more sordid and blatant facets of Apartheid such as segregation laws, police brutality, blatant discrimination and the likes which were haemorrhaging business and unsettling investors; however, the economic structures that oppressed the people still remain in power supported by that same unholy alliance. However; there is little difference in the use of police brutality at Sharpeville and 1976 with the murder of striking miners at Marikana. Today, police brutality is endemic and insidious in suppressing legitimate protests in South Africa today whether they are residents, teachers, miners, etc. as illustrated in the following link:

Mandela’s historic compromise provided white South Africans with the ability to travel the world without the stench of the Apartheid stigma following them around and they were also allowed to keep the land and wealth while the black people were left empty handed and feeling like they were robbed.

I would like to think Biko would have stuck to his principles and would have been disgusted at the talks of reconciliation and the flag flying independence without transformation and having nothing tangible to show for the struggle. I would like to believe Biko would still be in the frontline today if he was alive defying the odds and reminding the “black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression – the blackness of their skin – and to operate as a group to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.This was what Black Consciousness represented.

I don’t believe Biko would have changed his principles to settle for a compromise without addressing the economical question. Biko was a different man. He was his own man. He was a thinking man. It is often often overlooked that Biko was only 23 years old when he sharpened his own thinking and created his own ideas about Black Consciousness. He was fired up by the Pan Africanist zeal of Kwame ImageNkrumah, African Nationalist teachings of the legendary Jomo Kenyatta, critical writings of Frantz Fanon and Walter Rodney and black nationalistis struggles in America. He was also acquainted with West African schools of thought such as Leopold Sadar Senghor, Aime Ceasaire and the philosophical works of Jean Paul Satre and Marxism.

Biko was acquainted with the racial dichotomy that drove South Africa. He knew it was a tale of two worlds that hinged on white domination and black subjugation which inevitably made South Africa a white supremacist society. He understood better than a lot of white liberals how white privilege operated and knew that as beneficiaries to an unjust system, they were too blind to see it let alone understand it; hence, his call for white liberals to step aside and let the black man or woman to take the centre stage in his or her  struggles as encapsulated in the Black Consciousness philosophy. His recognition of the status quo was famously captured in his remark, “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”. Therefore, he wanted to free the minds of the people because he knew that the freedom of the body would follow if the mind was mentally decolonized.

The oppressed in the world today are forced to reconcile to the blatant vagaries of capitalism and imperialism. They have resigned themselves to accept that there is no alternative to globalisation and there is nothing they can do to change the international Western super structure. Black South Africans on the surface seem to have settled for the subservient role; however, underneath the skin, there seems to be a seething anger and Biko captured that kind of man in his famous remarks in his collection of writings I Write What I Like:

“But the type of black man we have today has lost his manhood. Reduced to an obliging shell, he looks with awe at the white power structure and accepts what he regards as the inevitable position. Deep inside his anger mounts at Biko Vthe accumulating insult, but he vents it in the wrong direction – on his fellow man in the township, on the property of black people. No longer does he trust leadership… All in all the black man has become a shell, a shadow of man, completely defeated, drowning in his own misery, a slave, an ox bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity.”

It seems that Biko had his stethoscope of the patient’s chest and correctly diagnosed the ailment. The distrust of that leadership was confirmed in the booing of Zuma by members of his own party the ANC who are unhappy with the corruption, E-Toll, his leadership style. It is no wonder that a petition for Zuma to resign is circulating social networking sites. The anger referred to by Biko above appears to be the main driver of the high levels of violence in the townships and areas of deprivation where high concentrations of black people are found.

Question Time hosted by David Dimbleby and filmed in Cape Town two weeks ago captured the anger of the people in the studio. Lindiwe Zulu who was representing the ANC and Zuma repeatedly illustrated that she was out of touch with the masses. Her language was deceptive, arrogant, and she couldn’t connect with the audience. This is significant as most leaders, not only in South Africa, have become so wealthy, they have lost touch with the reality of the common people they claim to represent. One of the most poignant moments of that Question Time programme was a young man openly declaring to Peter Hain [former Labour MP], the young people would quadruple Mugabe’s programme of land redistribution. You can watch the programme on the link below.

Biko once remarked that, “To expect justice from them at any stage is naive”. It is chilling how Biko’s perceptions more than 36 years ago still resonate not only with the younger generation but elders in the community who accuse the ANC of constantly talking about writing policies but they are just eating the cake alone and the people are not even receiving the crumbs that fall from the table. This is evident in the increasing militancy of the younger black Biko VIIleaders who know that the people are behind them and more importantly, the whole of Africa is behind them and so are other blacks in the Diaspora. Donald Woods a white friend of Steve Biko and former editor of the Daily Dispatch noted in his acclaimed work Biko that, “They [Blacks] also want a significant redistribution of the land and a fair sharing of the wealth of the land”. Those remarks written back in 1978 are still as valid today as they were when he wrote them.

Andile Mngxitama is one of the young, black radical leaders of the EFF who still endorse the teachings of Black Consciousness; his party is demanding genuine transformation and the Economic Freedom Fighters are gaining momentum at rate that is alarming the white community in South Africa and far beyond its borders. The PAC is also clamouring for more change. This partly explains why the Apartheid Regime was so afraid of Steve Biko that they had to eliminate him.

Biko XBiko was aware that for any form of meaningful change to happen, a political amalgamation of blacks had to work on enlightening the masses to rid them of their inferiority complexes and gain the confidence of the youth to challenge Apartheid in ways that the older generation failed. He made the corridors of power shiver with fear through remarks such as:

“Blacks are going to move out of the townships into white suburbs, destroying and burning there. It’s going to happen, it’s inevitable… a faceless army which destroys overnight will introduce far greater feelings of insecurity (among whites) than an organised military force on the border”. [I Write What I Like]

Not surprisingly, a lot of questions the international press focussed on what would happen after the death of Mandela. This uneasy peace reinforces the fear Biko instilled in the white community and establishment. Most people remain unaware of the political acumen and power that he possessed at such a tender age.

He was attempting to do something that the older generation had never done before. Little is known about his efforts shortly before his murder to unite the ANC and the PAC behind the scenes. The leader of the PAC Robert Sobukwe confirmed to Donald Woods and his wife in 1977 that Biko was a potentially strong unifying factor in the Biko XIInational scene. “Steve could bring us all together where we belong,” Sobukwe said. Oliver Tambo the ANC President-General also confirmed that Biko had been in touch with the ANC leadership in Lusaka, Zambia planning a secret visit to their headquarters for extended talks. Steve Biko wrote in I Write What I Like confirming his intentions:

“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 effect the greatest results.”

His vision and manoeuvres were the last thing the Apartheid Regime wanted to see happening. Biko hoped to use his charisma and influence to bring these giants of the struggle against Apartheid together to fight the common enemy. He was conducting talks with the ANC through Griffiths Mxenge. Harry Nengwekhulu who had skipped the country after he was banned in 1973 was tasked with the missoin to secure a meeting between Steve Biko and Oliver Tambo and the ANC. At the same time, he was also having talks with Sobukwe; they met in King Williams Town on Biko’s way to his mothers funeral in the Transkei. Further talks were facilitated through Malusi Mpumlwana and Mapetla Mohapi. However, fate struck and Mapetla was murdered by the Security Police before the dream became a reality.

During his interrogation in detention, Biko confirmed to Donald Woods that the Apartheid Government and the security forces feared his unifying influence among the senior liberation movements; his interrogators kept Biko VIreturning to this line of questioning about uniting the ANC and PAC. Biko was no mere talker. He was an intellectual revolutionary who also acted on his words. An intellectual revolutionary is a person who comes from the people and has the capability of intellectualising and at the same time doing things to uplift his community or his people. Biko and members of the Black Conscious Movement not only spoke about doing things for themselves in their community but they did it.

One of these projects was the Zanempilo Clinic which he founded with Dr. Mamphela Ramphele who is now the leader of AGANG. She is the one standing with him in the picture to the right. That community health centre was a dream they shared while they were both medical students. However, Steve was never able to finish his studies because he was banned by the Apartheid Regime and placed under house arrest.

There were other projects they established such as a creche which they founded under the auspices of the Black Community Program. Biko had also worked with other students to create other Black Conscious groups such as the South African Students Organisation and various all-black sports bodies and established trust funds for the maintenance of families of political prisoners. He also worked hard at establishing various other community projects. This captured the essence of what Black Consciousness represented. His wife Ntsiki described the impact of his activities in Ginsberg in a biography of Biko:

“His main concern was that in Ginsberg at that time there was only one graduate; that was a certain Mr Mangcu, who happens to be the brother to Dr Mangcu [the author of this book]. So he was the only graduate here, and that Biko VIIIwas worrying Steve a lot, so he raised money and established the Ginsberg Educational Trust fund. From that Trust, I am glad to say, most of the people who got bursaries are well-off now in that they are well educated. He produced mayors and some of them are working in government now.” [Biko A Life]

She also described how Biko used to help people out in Ginsberg when they brought their family or money problems to him during his ban. He would provide them with money to send their children to school or if they didn’t have any food, he would empty their [Biko’s] bags to help the people who needed food. He was a young selfless person who put others in front of himself as true leaders would do. He ultimately paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom with his life.

Steve Biko had an ambitious dream to free the minds of black people and get them to do things for themselves. He wanted us to unite and work as a group to rid ourselves of economical subjugation and reliance on others. It was also his wish that we would get to enjoy our slice of the economical cake. He understood that division would weaken our struggle; therefore, his noble attempt to unite the ANC and PAC. His noble actions remind us that we need each other more than ever and we need to rediscover Black Consciousness and take up where Biko left off and see to it that genuine transformation happens in our lifetime.

It is our time to regroup and organise and protect our own interests as a group as Steve Biko encouraged; that is Biko XIwhat Steve would have wanted us to do as he said in his own words, “Organisational development among blacks has only been low because we have allowed it to be”. All other groups are protecting their interests except the blacks. It is high time we rally together around the cause of our oppression – our black skin, not our religion, tribe, political affiliation but our black skin. This intellectual revolutionary left us a template of liberation. Let’s follow the plan. He may be gone but not forgotten.

Although many in the white media and community misunderstood Biko and misconstrued him as a racist because he called for blacks to rally together and solve their own problems without help of white liberals. Like Mandela, he envisioned a non racial society after independence as he said in his own words, “Blacks have had enough experiences as objects of racism not to wish to turn the tables”. He went on to say, “And in the same way that they’ve always lived in a racially divided society, they’ve got to live in a non-racial society”.

In conclusion, Mandela best summed up Steve Biko’s relevance to South Africa in a tribute in which he wrote:

“Whether his death came from an accidental blow or not, they had to kill him to prolong the life of apartheid. The very thought of a link up between the ANC and the Black Conscious Movement was unthinkable to the Apartheid Government. Today there are those who claim validity for their ideas by claiming a lineage to Steve Biko. To live with Steve’s ideas they need to seek out this singular ability of Steve, to adapt and grow and display the courage that belongs to leadership. Steve lives on in the galaxy of brave and courageous leaders who helped shape democratic South Africa. May we never cease celebrating Steve Biko.”

I belong to a generation that never got to meet Steve Bantu Biko but he left an indelible footprint in our hearts and minds. He is like a lost uncle I never got to meet. He ignited a flame in us that allowed us to walk tall and proud. And in my own little way, I remember an intellectual revolutionary who continues to inspire many like me with his slogan “Black is Beautiful. Be proud of your Blackness”. I salute him!

There is a new biography called Biko A Life written by Dr Xolela Mangcu which is hot off the press and comes at a very crucial moment in our history. It provides an in-depth analysis of the life of this Intellectual Revolutionary. Go to this website to grab a copy www.ibtauris.com. Look out for my review of this book in the New Year. Have a Blessed festive season and an equally splendid New Year.

Biko IV

10 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized