Virtually in every concern of our society we are experiencing what I term the ‘reincarnation’ of Steve Biko's ideas, not that they ever died, but the conversations around Black Consciousness can go by unnoticed. In my spare time I spend most of my time conversing to ordinary, sometimes fairly educated, ‘semi-elitist’ friends and acquaintances about this that and the other. Some of my friends are well vested academics and others part-time philosophers who speak about all manner of things that get me confused most of the time; however, I neither blame them nor myself for such tangled confusion. Just the other day I could not help but notice how emotive the subject of Black Consciousness is to them, and also to the South African public at large.
Without having to sound politically correct, I believe we ought to first understand what the concept of black consciousness is, its emergence and the movement’s evolution 38 years later after Steve Biko’s death - it founder in South Africa. As one of the key interventions in curbing the obscurity of the history of the struggle for responsible legacy and pedagogic purposes, there has to be a coveted effort to reliably interpret Biko’s credentials in the struggle against apartheid, his philosophical influences in the mass movement and his literatures accurately.
In an unambiguous disparity to all the rhetoric and rigid intentions with regard to describing the man’s background in furtherance of our own personal desire as does by Andile Mngxitama and his clique who wants to claim Biko’s philosophy as their own and cast those who celebrate his ideas without their approval with a bad spell; Steve Biko made it clear that ‘It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realize that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality’. It is a grave danger to narrowly assume that the Black Consciousness Movement can only be carried out by a handful individual who wants to achieve their own personal gains.
In the context of Biko’s outlook on the Black Consciousness Movement, the shared communal values were paramount and individual welfare were always situated within the setting of civic prosperity. This is evident in that Biko embodied the moral belief of communal sharing and kindness, collectively initiating effective community organisations that worked for the mental and physical health of the poor black people through organisations such as the black community programmes, Black People’s Convention, the Zimele Trust Fund, Impilo Community Health Clinic at Zinyoka outside King William’s Town and when he realised there was a need for black identity separate from any white or multiracial identity from the National Union of South African Students, he spearhead the formation of the South African Students’ Organisation 1968 December, at a conference held in Marianhill, Natal (now known as KwaZulu-Natal) and the organisation played a major role in the Black Consciousness Movement and succeeded in attracting large numbers of Black, Coloured, and Indian youths.
Many of my fellow black people who are left in the trenches of poverty are certainly finding their voices in the Black Consciousness Movement as lessons and life-sacrifices of Steve Biko, who was murdered on 12 September 1977 as per the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by apartheid operatives is starting to gain traction once again. Majority of my fellow blacks are influenced, shaped and moulded by leaders like Frantz Fanon, Chinua Achebe, Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela and other African philosophers who unwaveringly opposed the culture of inferiority and exploitation of black people as pathologically unreasonable and advocated that all black people must reclaim the purposefulness of life, so that the world can, in Biko’s words, understand 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 of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity”. In my view, the Black Consciousness Movement as envisioned by Steve Biko is a vehicle for black people’s conviction to cure our past societal affliction and conquer our collective ambitions.
Chumani Maxwele, a political activist, University of Cape Town student and #RhodesMustFall movement founder, will be joined by Dr Federico Settler, a well-known sociologist and academic from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) on 27 October 2015, at Durban’s Maharani Hotel to unpack in-depth this particular topical issue as part of the Democracy Development Program’s series of public forums on race relations in South Africa. Be part of the evolving narrative of the South African context and join the conversations.
For more information please contact the Democracy Development Program at 031 304 9305 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Thula Zondi, Communications Intern at DDP.