I am against the superior-inferior white- black stratification that makes the white a perpetual teacher and the black a perpetual pupil (and a poor one at that). I am against the intellectual arrogance of white people that makes them believe that white leadership is a sine qua non in this country and that whites are the divinely appointed pace- setters in progress. I am against the fact that a settler minority should impose an entire system of values on an indigenous people.” “Our attitude is here is that you cannot in pursuing the aspirations of black people achieve them from a platform that is meant for the oppression of black people.” -Bantu Biko “…it became a sine qua non that before you even started entering the arena of politics and fighting for social change you must be a non-racialist. And this explains why in fact it became necessary for SASO to mount such a heavy attack on liberals.
They did a quick and good job. In one year, I think the campuses obliterated any strong trace of liberalism. And in the larger society, now going out of campus, blacks began to see that in fact it was a fallacy to think that before you fight you need to have a white man next to you, for the sake of depicting a non-racial society.” -Bantu Biko. “It’s not a question of whether people are ready or not. It’s a question of whether people should be made ready or not. You see when you talk of people being ready, I’m looking at it from a different sense. Are people ready for the final action, you, see? Now the political party that is formed may not necessarily be the final form that we need to take, but it is some kind of measure, right? It needs to be there anyway to promote us towards the final step. So that whether people were ready or not is irrelevant. The point is what’s happening right or wrong. If it’s wrong, then we need some kind of platform that’s going to tell us what is right. And what to do in order to get towards that right. This is our justification for the existence of a political party…We want to come in at a stage when people have not been so thoroughly affected by the system and its little cocoons of racialism and oppression as to make them believe that in fact our solution lies in that system. If the silence is continued any longer this is inevitable. It has become a big problem already. So, this justifies the need for the emergence, the creation of a political party at this stage, as a constant reminder to the people that there’s something wrong in this system…” -Bantu Biko “I think there is no running away from the fact that 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 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.” -Bantu Biko Today, the Black world comes to a complete halt to mark the 77th birthday of one of the greatest Black men to ever walk the earth- uBaba uBantu Biko. 46 years after his brutal murder in detention, Biko’s ideas remain irrepressible and continue to shape our understanding of what it means to be human in a world that is violently anti-black. *BIKO’S INTELLECTUAL CONTRIBUTION* Between the years 1967 and 1977, the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) in South AfriKKKa produced an unparalleled volume of Black literature and critical thought. Biko was central to this intellectual and ideological project. Through his pen name *’Frank Talk’*, Biko helped produce an insightful array of piercing essays that critiqued various aspects of Black existence in the European colony referred to as South AfriKKKa. These essays span the period 1970 to 1976 and were later compiled into his seminal work *’I Write What I Like’*.One of his first essays, written in 1970, was *’Black Souls in White Skins?’.*
In it, he meticulously exposes the treachery of white liberals in Black politics. How white liberals have captured Black people cognitively in South AfriKKKa and have relegated them to “spectators in a game they are supposed to be playing” in his words. Like Jean Jacques Dessalines, Marcus Garvey, Muziwakhe Lembede and Aime Cesaire before him, Biko obliterates the false believe that Europeans are divinely appointed to be “the natural pace setters or leaders of all non-Europeans.” Even though Biko had only lived for three decades and had been politically active for about ten years, he built an enduring and monumental legacy. He helped found a national Black revolutionary movement, helped create a coherent ideological framework and was instrumental in the setting up of several Black self-help projects and over 20 Black sectoral organisations. One of the organisations he helped set up and deserves greater study in my view, was the Black Women’s Federation (BWF) in 1975. The BWF sought to build unity and self-reliance among Black women and Black women’s organisations. One of the policy positions of the BWF was not to work with white women’s groups like Black Sash. What I find particularly fascinating is how the BWF understood the role of race in black-white relations in South AfriKKKa and unlike other Black women’s movements, did not sidestep the issue of race or pretend it was not a factor in black-white relations. The BWF was banned within 21 months of its founding. Biko shaped an epoch in the evolution of Black political thought and activism in South AfriKKKa. Something akin to the impact of the Harlem Renaissance movement in AmeriKKKa. *BIKO’S MAGNANIMITY* When we examine the political phenomenon that is Biko, we predominantly focus on his razor-sharp intellect, eloquence, and organisational genius. We rarely take a close look at his depth of Biko’s leadership character. When Biko and the BCM came onto the political scene after the banning of the ANC and the PAC, as founding leader, Biko could have easily chosen to be haughty. He could have easily projected himself or the BCM as the sole representatives of Black political aspirations in South AfriKKKa (as some black political movements tend to do). Instead, Biko chose to be magnanimous and unfortunately, his magnanimity and largeness of mind was not always reciprocated. Even when he was no longer the primary leader of SASO/BPC, Biko did his utmost to show the leaders of the older organisations African National Congress (ANC), Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), New Unity Movement (NEUM), the necessary respect. Biko stated “Who are the leaders of the black world then if they are not to be found in the apartheid institution? Clearly, black people know their leaders are those people who are either now in Robben Island or in banishment or in exile- voluntary or otherwise. People like Mandela, Sobukwe, Kathrada, M.D,Naidoo and many others will always have a special place of honour in our minds as the true leaders of our people. They may have been brande communists, saboteurs or similar names-in fact they may have been convicted of similar offences in law courts, but this doesn’t subtract from the real essence of their worth. These were people who acted with a dedication unparalleled in modern times. Their concern with our plight as black people made them gain the natural support of the mass of black people. We may disagree with some things they did but know that they spoke the language of the people.” In fact, Biko went further. He openly campaigned for the release from jail of the senior leadership of the ANC, PAC and SWAPO. When Biko learned that the AmeriKKKan Senator, Dirk Clark will be visiting South AfriKKKa, in December 1976, he wrote to him. In his letter to Clark, Biko wrote “America must insist on South Africa recognising the need for legitimate non- government- initiated platforms like the Black People’s Convention. Equally organisations banned in the past like the African National Congress should be re-allowed to operate in the country. 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 the things to come.” Even more important, at the time of his assassination, Biko was on a mission to talk to the senior leadership of the ANC, PAC and NEUM, with the view to persuade them to form a united black front. In expressing his desire for a united black front, Biko stated “I personally would like to see fewer groups. I would like to see groups likes ANC, PAC and the Black Consciousness Movement 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.” Biko was in his late twenties when he did most of this. He did this even though some of the leaders of these movements often dismissed him and the BCM as ‘immatured’, ‘lacking experience’ etc. And of course, the most unfortunate, he would later be branded a ‘CIA agent’ by some of the leaders of the very movements, for whose unbanning, he was campaign. *BIKO’S GLOBAL APPEAL* Just like other parts of the black world, Brazil has a strong and vibrant black consciousness movement and it is also one of the country’s that have honoured Biko. On the 20 November each year, Black people in Brazil commemorate what is called *Black Consciousness Day* or *Zumbi Day* in Brazil. Black Consciousness Day has been commemorated since the 1960s in Brazil. It was originally commemorated on the 13 May to mark the moment when slavery was formally abolished in Brazil. It was later changed to November 20 to honour the great anti-slavery Warrior, *Zumbi dos Palmares*. At age six, Zumbi was abducted by the Portuguese and enslaved. After nine years, he escaped and returned to Palmares, where he was born. Upon his return, he immediately organised Black people into an army. He used his army to launch a gallant anti-slavery resistance against the Portuguese slave owners. Zumbi’s resistance enabled Black people in Brazil to do a number of important things. One of them was the creation settlements for run-away slaves and other minorities who were subjected to oppression. They called these settlements Quilombos. They were essentially independent territories that were under the control of former Black slavers. In this sense, with his Quilombos Zumbi created what Jean Jacques Desaillines and other Haitian revolutionaries were able to create when they created a free and sovereign Black state of Haiti. Because of his bravery, Zumbi developed mythical status among the Black people of Brazil. Some even believed he was immortal. Zumbi’s growing stature and influence threatened the Portuguese slave owners so much that they organised themselves with the view of capturing and killing him. After numerous failed attempts, the Portuguese were able to infiltrate Zumbi’s inner circle and were able to get one of his own to betray him. This led to him being captured by the Portuguese on November 20, 1695. The Portuguese didn’t waste time, they beheaded Zumbi immediately. The Portuguese then put his head on a stick and displayed it around the Quilombos as a warning to other Black people. This was a common practice among many of Europe’s slave trading nations. While *Black Consciousness Day* is primarily meant to honour Zumbi, our Black Brazilian kin also use this day to conduct black consciousness education in the form of rallies, educational and cultural events. Black Consciousness Day is also used to celebrate the contributions of Black people to human civilisation and to reflect on anti-black racism in Brazil and the other social, political, economic, cultural struggles facing Black people in Brazil. Brazil’s Black Consciousness Day also has a lot in common with *Black history Month, Nigeria’s annual Felabration or the annual Melanesian Arts and Culture Festival* in the south pacific. Brazil is also home to the Steve Biko Institute in Bahia, Salvador. This Institute was founded on July 31, 1992 and is a product of discussions between black students and teachers at the Federal University of Bahia. After much discussion, the Black teachers and students agreed on the need for the development of an anti-racist curriculum and to draw from the struggles of other oppressed peoples of the world. They also recognised the need to bring Black radicality into the learning space. Naturally, the Institute drew heavily from Steve Biko’s ideas. This is why they decided to name it *The Cultural Institute Beneficent Steve Biko*, who they describe as one of the “… fiercest fighters against the apartheid regime of racial segregation.” *THE SOUTH AFRIKKKAN CONTEXT TODAY* Post Biko’s murder, we have seen an exciting proliferation of black consciousness movements, projects and initiatives in South AfriKKKa, especially in the arts. However, there is something is that is acutely absent in today’s South AfriKKKa and that is a unifying national political programme, inspired by black consciousness. The need for a unifying political programme inspired by black consciousness in South AfriKKKa, is not just a logical implication of black consciousness, but it is extremely urgent. Today, Black people in South AfriKKKa are more fragmented and powerless than ever before. In fact, in a number of respects, Black people in South AfriKKKa are leaderless and politically despondent. Even more disturbing is the growing devaluation of Black life in South AfriKKKa after 1994 and a political consolidation of the forces of white capital. In my view, all this raises the urgent need for all the authentic Black political forces to coalesce around a well thought-out and coherent national black radical agenda. As things stand, there is no clearly defined agenda on the condition and future of Black people in South AfriKKKa.This for me is one of the most urgent tasks facing all those movements or individuals, who share in Biko’s vision for our land. *Veli Mbele ka-Sompisi is an essayist and cofounder of Mutapa Afrocentric Dialogues*
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