(I wrote this essay in 2012 as South Africa was witnessing a reemergence of social movements that all agitated for divergent ideologies, the essay was meant to emphasize the efficacy of Black Consciousness in Southern Africa.)
Black Consciousness Then, Now and In the Near Future: Getting the facts right
It seems like every year in Southern Africa, people keep asking whether Pan Africanism and Black Consciousness still hold any relevance today. The main reason for this paper is to offer some much-needed clarity concerning the development of the Idea of Black Consciousness, a way of thinking and acting that can be called a philosophy yet is clearly much more than that.
I have chosen to use many quotations from people who I consider to be among the most knowledgeable and experienced in the ‘field’.
Of course there are many more men and women who qualify to be in these pages, but aside from Steve Biko and a few others, I have also selected the views of ordinary people in order to emphasize the fact that Black Consciousness is still seen as a relevant and much needed liberating force among the masses of Black people.
South Africa is experiencing some serious challenges in the general leadership department, and while others are working at making a Revolution on the socio-political scene there are many who think that this status quo must be maintained, and that racism and structural poverty are a thing of the past.
Many among us give us the impression that we are living in a meritocracy, where everyone has an equal opportunity to rise out of poverty.
Of course, the adherents of Black Consciousness know that this is far from the truth and many of us are working towards making a revolution that should usher in a Black Socialist system and a put power back into people’s hands. The ideal is to restore the dignity of Afrikan people and elevate our collective living conditions. Listen to what the archbishop Tutu has said:
“Constantly, in the difficult days of our struggle against apartheid, I used to say that the Black Consciousness movement was surely of God. You see, the most awful aspect of oppression and justice was not the untold suffering it visited on its victim and survivors, ghastly as that turned out to be, as the testimonies we have been hearing attest. No, it was the fact that apartheid could, through its treatment of Gods children, make many of them doubt whether they were indeed God’s children. That I have described as the ultimate blasphemy.” – Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu
Judging by the words of this famous religious personality, oppression of one race by another is the grossest form of injustice. But dealing with it requires far more than a religious and emotional conviction. There are steps that need to be taken on a socio-political and psychological level.
1: The true beginnings of BC
“The surge towards Black Consciousness is a phenomenon that has manifested itself through the so called Third World. There is no doubt that discrimination against the black man the world over fetches its origin from the exploitative attitude of the white man. — It is true that the history of weaker nations is shaped by bigger nations, but nowhere in the world today do we see whites exploiting whites on a scale even remotely similar to what is happening in South Africa. Hence, one is forced to conclude that it is no coincidence that black people are exploited. It was a deliberate plan which has culminated in even so called black independent countries not attaining real independence.
It should therefore be accepted that an analysis of our situation in terms of one’s colour at once takes care of the greatest single determinant for political action – i.e. colour – while also validly describing the blacks as the only real workers in South Africa.
In terms of the Black Consciousness approach we recognise the existence of one major force in South Africa. This is White Racism.” – Steve Biko ( I Write What I Like, 1971)
“Black consciousness did not emerge in SA in the 1970’s – the meetings that gave birth to black consciousness in SA happened initially in 1966. The South African Students Organisation (SASO ) was formed, interestingly, in 1968 at Marian hill. It was launched the following year at the University of the North. – In other words, there was no SASM before “black consciousness emerged”: SASM was born out of the very melting pot of black consciousness.” – Mandla Selleoane
The BCM’s first political statement was contained in the SASO Policy Manifesto. That Manifesto did not, however, say much about the society the BCM envisaged. The first elaborate attempt to spell this out was a declaration in King William’s Town in 1975 called Towards a Free Azania – Projection: Future State. In this declaration the BPC committed itself to:
- Establish a democratic state
- Introduce a just legal system
- Build a strong, socialist, self reliant economy
- Ensure security and peace of the nation
- Safeguard social rights
- Develop culture, education and technology
- Adequately provide for the health and welfare of all
- Provide adequate housing
- Follow a foreign policy hat respects national independence and international friendship.
The BCM met the following year in Mafikeng and adopted the 16 – Point Programme, also known as the Mafikeng Manifesto. The tenets of the 16-Point Programme do not deviate much from those set above, save that it watered down the socialism component of the King Williamstown Declaration. Instead the BPC now adopted Black Communalism as its economic policy. The economic future as spelt out in the BPC’s commission on Black Communalism was that:
‘Principally the economic welfare of the country is … the responsibility of the state … It shall be incumbent on the state to be the initiator of industry and to use the factors and means of production, provided individuals may individually or corporately undertake such industry or production as they profitably undertake without initiating* (neglecting?) common welfare …While it will be the duty of the state to ensure opportunity for all its members to engage in productive efforts on their own behalf, it shall also be the duty of the state to see to it that everyone …shall have the necessary training ( so that) their productive abilities are topped …
This means that education and training shall be compulsory and free for the young and (for) adults according to the need for production and for their own development as people…’
2: Crucial Conflict
“Ben Mokoena recounts that after Steve Biko was killed in detention in 1977, the 1976 generation of activists in the ANC camp in Morogoro, Tanzania, wanted to hold a memorial service for him. The ANC leadership would not allow that, arguing that Biko was not an ANC member. The Youth promptly reminded the ANC leadership that they had come from the BC movement and that for them it was important to honour Biko. A revolt was looming as the ANC leadership would not budge on the matter. The revolt was averted, in the end, by Oliver Tambo sending Thabo Mbeki to Morogoro with the instruction that the commemoration must be allowed.” – Towards A National Dialogue: A Diagnosis by Mandla Seleoane
“But the real problem lies in the fact that – at the end of the day we have to accept that the programmes (The Unity/Truth Movements 10-Point Programme, the 1943 Bill of Rights and the Freedom Charter ) simply envisaged different societies. Therefore, if South Africa is not approaching certain destinations, ultimately, we would have to accept, once we have consensus on those destinations that, perhaps, those destinations were simply not on the agenda of some liberation organisations. But what must be absolutely clear is that we cannot blame others for not going where they never intended to go.” – M.S.
Franco Barchiesi, in his latest book Precarious Liberation: Workers, the State, and Contested Social Citizenship in Post apartheid South Africa makes a lot of valuable observations and uses much well researched information to highlight the plight of the black masses in this country. He also points out the stark contradictions and outright hypocrisies at play within the tri-partite alliance of the ANC-SACP and COSATU. On page 90 he offers this:
“By the end of the 1990’s, COSATU’s opposition to GEAR had strained its relations with the ANC, as the unions vowed to greet labour market flexibility with ‘blood on the streets’. The ANC’s response, contrary to its usual consensus-seeking aplomb, was equally blunt. At the 1998 congress of the SACP, Thabo Mbeki fulminated against
‘Those who consider themselves to be the very heart of the left that, in pursuit of an all-consuming desire to present themselves as the sole and authentic representative movement, seem so ready to use the hostile message of the right and thus join forces with the defenders of reaction to sustain an offensive against our movement. (Mbeki 1998)’
If left critics were now labelled as extremist and traitorous, unions failing to follow the government’s line became targets of overt threats. The ANC leadership has considerable leverage over COSATU officials as it provides a necessary link to resources and careers in the private sector or in government.”
What one finds here is the usual politicking and gymnastics that the tripartite alliance uses to publically toy with the minds of the masses. The truth of the matter is this is a country which does not determine its own destiny, partly due to the fact that the ANC has long been an anti-black and pro-capitalist movement, disguised as a liberation movement in power. The so-called allies such as the SACP, COSATU and various other institutions simply tow the party line and people such as Vavi only pay lip service to workers and social struggles. A friend of mine with whom we have argued endlessly about the efficacy of an ANC led liberation often states that Vavi is getting paid to call for a march each and every year without fail. The main question is, what are these marches really achieving, is there any one victory over the all-powerful ANC that VAVI and his COSATU ever won?
The answer is an unequivocal NO. Yes, we find the Mbeki’s and other so called communist critics making a noise about the ANC and its anti-black policies, yet come election time, these very same hypocrites become the loudest evangelists preaching the false gospel of the ANC, and at all times using the race card. Many people fall for this ruse as they are afraid of losing the country to the DA, meaning back to White power. But what people fail to see is that white privileges are still protected under the neo-liberal misrule of the ANC and black poverty is still ensured.
During public or even family debates about the state of the nation (or country since we can’t really be called a nation yet), I have become used to hearing ANC sympathisers saying that 19 years is too little time for people like myself to expect real changes to the black condition, that we must give our leaders a chance – I am also no longer surprised to hear even young people saying that there is no need for any talk of radical change or Revolution since the ANC has provided us with adequate and democratic platforms where we can all air our views and frustrations. What irks me is that this is even said by people who are languishing in poverty and tolerating all the lack of proper services.
This apathy and turning of the other cheek would totally drive me insane if I did not appreciate the fact that we are a people who have been through many years of mental slavery, yet I think that conditions are so bad in our country that it is high time we throw all the caution to the winds of change and earnestly take back power as a people.
The smugness and nonchalance of the leading party’s ministers as they sometimes admit to the embarrassing backlogs in delivery and acknowledge some failures is what really frustrates me. During this years State of the Nation address, the ever so disarmingly charming JG Zuma simply admitted that the willing buyer, willing seller policy had failed, but did not elaborate on what would replace it. The point here is that Black people are being psychologically insulted by our so-called leaders who clearly do not see themselves as public servants, but as somehow superior beings who are actually doing their best. Here is what Aggrey Mahanjana, Group Managing Director as NERPO has to say:
“A policy of transferring hectares from whites to blacks …cannot be done by willing buyer, willing seller. We must not destabilise the industry. We do not want to go to zero production and then it takes 10 – 20 years for black people to get going in farming. They identify people to receive farms who are not farmers: someone who has no knowledge, no resources … The government will buy tractors, they will not buy diesel … They will set you up this year, and then not come around until next year … To intervene successfully, you need a holistic approach.” – (Page 25, The Africa Report, Issue 39, April 2012) – Its stated that a total amount of land restituted is = 5% of the 24,9m ha target.
It is really shocking to know that the majority of Black people still wear ANC t-shirts and vow to die for their leaders while the statistics against them are so blatantly showing their failure. Patience, comrade, you’ll soon get yours! Is what the cadres tell one another?
Moeletsi Mbeki, Deputy Chairman of the SAIIA Think Tank adds his own well know criticism to the debacle:
“The ideology of the African National Congress is that blacks were excluded from consumption, and now it is their turn …If you are directing resources towards consumption, it means that you cannot create jobs. We see huge salaries for senior public sector managers and more social welfare. Government spending was 20% of GDP in 1994; now it is 32%. Private consumption is 70% of GDP; in China its 35%. China is a job creating economy.”
As if reacting directly to President Zuma’s state of the nation triumphant statement about infrastructure investment, Mbeki adds “You can build infrastructure, If there is no production, what is it carrying?
There is so much borrowing. There are no new industries to fund all the infrastructure. We are pretending for the ratings agencies that we agree with the Washington Consensus. The real game is BLACK CONSUMPTION.”
Need I say more? The former president’s own brother and author of the Architects of Poverty has put it in economic terms, clearly.
3: The All-Important Matter of Land
“In fact we have all but departed from the liberation programmes insofar as land rights are concerned, and embraced instead the willing-seller-willing-buyer approach, which many have warned might land us in a situation not dissimilar from the land-grab approach that has come to characterise Zimbabwe in latter years. What is remarkable in this area of our political life is the extent to which we have resisted the lessons of history. On the 19th of May 1906 Lenin wrote a pamphlet titled The Land Question and the Fight for Freedom, where he argues, inter alia:
‘…[No] matter how this compensation is arranged, no matter how “fair” a price may be fixed for the land, compensation will be an easier matter for the well-to-do peasants and will fall as a heavy burden upon the poor peasantry. No matter what regulations may be drawn up on paper providing for the purchase by the village community, etc., the land will in practice remain inevitably in the hands of those who are able to pay for it…’
One does not have to embrace Leninism in order to appreciate the point argued here, and to see that by and large the argument has been vindicated by history in various parts of Africa. Our own handling of land claims has moved at a snails pace that has discredited the entire notion. Part of our failure in this regard is evidenced by the appearance of the landless people’s movement.” – Mandla Seleoane, Towards a National Dialogue: a Diagnosis, 20 June 2009
In the Manifesto of the Azanian People: ‘The National Forum, which was a coalition of various political, religious, educational and youth organisations – adopted the Manifesto of the Azanian People in 1983, and demanded :
- The land and all that belongs to it shall be wholly owned and controlled by the Azanian people.
- The usage of the land and all that accrues to it shall be aimed at ending all forms and means of exploitation.
- Reintegration of the ‘bantustan’ human dumping grounds into a unitary Azania.
Whilst making these demands ( and more), the Manifesto of the Azanian People points out poignantly that “Our struggle for national liberation is directed against the historically evolved system of racism and capitalism which holds the people of Azania in bondage for the benefit of the small minority of the population, i.e. the capitalists and their allies, the white workers and the reactionary sections of the middle classes. The struggle against apartheid, therefore, is no more than the point of departure for our liberatory efforts.” – Towards a National Dialogue.
3: Yesterdays Voices Today
I am a part of an online discussion group, wherein we write to each other about various topics which mostly revolve around the African/Black identity, International news, the state of the nation and various other political oriented issues. One of the conversations involved our analysis of a speech delivered by Dr Mamphela Ramphele at UNISA* ( I can’t recall which campus ), Mothepa posted these fragments and so we went on to discuss them:
“We have a fundamental psychological problem as South Africans in that we haven’t yet taken ownership of our citizenship. My conclusion is that South Africans – black and white – still behave as subjects. Instead of looking at government leaders as servants, which they are public servants – we treat them like kings, queens, and viceroys. We forget that we employ them, not the other way around. Our collective mindset has not changed since apartheid. There’s a functional problem behind our tolerance of incompetence at many levels and I believe the psychology of oppression is at the very heart of the underperformance of our society…”
She goes on to say “Don’t look around for great leadership. You are the leader you’ve been waiting for. The Lord created you with enormous potential for greatness…There are three things I want you to do: firstly, promise me that from today you won’t allow anybody to treat you as a subject. Secondly, when you see somebody being treated as a subject, stand up and say ‘no’. Thirdly, each time our public servants step out of line, hold them accountable. If each one of us does this every day, this country will be able to reach its destiny. And that destiny is greatness.”
As lovely as the above words were and as inspiring as they may sound, I found myself pondering what it really meant to be a subject, to be a people who find themselves subjected to neo-colonialism despite them-selves. It is simplistic to find oneself reacting emotionally to such speeches, while they may go some way into inducing a sense of responsibility to young students, they simply sound like a mothers good advice to her child in the ears of an adult citizen of a country which languishes under covert racial injustice.
This is what one of the groups most insightful and intuitive members had to say (I quote Fuzi ):
“On the Dr Rampele speech: I think one of the greatest dangers in this life is to speak with knowledge on something that one feels one is knowledgeable about when that knowledge is not based on TRUTH. I have a fundamental issue with what the good doctor says below. Hayi kabi – I feel like she feels like she knows what she’s talking about, and I believe that her intentions are good, but I think it’s misleading to dissuade people from understanding that they are subjects when they call themselves South Africans. The fact that there is even such a thing as a South Africa is BECAUSE the people of that nation were and are still subjected to those manmade “boundaries” that assist in the creation of a South Africa. And preserving South Africa is preserving the basis on which South Africa was “founded”.
Which is a subjective way of life. South Africa is not a choice of the people living there – it is a consequence thereof…
So yes – for a s long as we are to accept a South Africa, then we are to accept the subjectivity of the occupation, and the people of that South Africa are its subjects. Unless we want to do like the so-called African-Americans who like to say that they have taken the power out of the word nigger by saying nigga.”
Here is what one of our most recent participants had to say on this topic ( I quote Kingdom Williams):
“There is one thing I do understand though; that the answers and truth we seek are all before us. Africans and I mean all Africans should be self critical and ask themselves thought-provoking questions that will bring about effectiveness and efficiency in the social practice of life. It all starts with realising that greatness is in ordinary people. The socially elite do not represent the truth and they way for any populace as everything do must fit into a socially acceptable construct from a higher order not visible for ordinary eyes. All the media in the world is owned by two companies…he first thing for Africa to realise is that when someone gives you freedom they can also take it away. So I guess we will pay the price for using other peoples intellectual property ranging from roads to cars, borders etc. Glitz and glamour are hypnotic tools…All Africans are told what nation they are and have never stopped to ask the relevance and implication for generational progress.”