Monday, May 10, 2010


Biko Speaks on Africans

Their Sufferings & Black Consciousness

Black Consciousness & Singularity of Purpose

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 black in Africa now know that the whites will not be conquerors forever.

I must emphasize the cultural depth of Black Consciousness. The recognition of the death of white invincibility forces blacks to ask the question: "Who am I? Who are we?" And the fundamental answer we give is this: "People are people!" so "black" Consciousness says: "Forget about the color!" But the reality we faced ten to fifteen years ago did not allow us to articulate this. After all, the continent was in a period of rapid decolonization, which implied a challenge to black inferiority all over Africa.

This challenge was shared by white liberals. So for quite some time the white liberals acted as the spokesmen for the blacks. But then some of us began to ask ourselves: "Can our liberal trustees put themselves in our place?" Our answer was twofold: "No! They cannot." And: "As long as the white liberals are our spokesmen, there will be no black spokesmen." It is not possible to have black spokesmen in a white context.

This was realized readily in many black countries outside of South Africa. But what did we have here? The society as a whole was divided into white and black groups. This forced division had to disappear, and many nonracist groups worked toward that end. But almost every nonracist group was still largely white, notably so in the student world. thus here we were confronted with the same shortcoming: the context of getting rid of white-black tensions was still a white context.

So we realize that blacks themselves had to speak out about the black predicament. We could no longer depend upon whites answering the question: "Who are we?" There had to be a singularity of purpose in that answer. the white trustees would always be mixed in purpose.

Black Consciousness & Western Christianity

I grew up in the Anglican church, so this matter is an important one for me. But it is a troublesome question, for in South Africa, Christianity for most people is purely a formal matter. We as blacks cannot forget the fact that Christianity in Africa is tied up with the entire colonial process. This meant that Christian came here with a form of culture which they called Christian but which in effect was Western, and which expressed itself as an imperial culture as far as Africa was concerned.

Here the missionaries did not make the proper distinctions. This important matter can easily be illustrated by relatively small things. Take the question of dress, for example. When an African became Christian, as a rule he or she was expected to drop traditional garb and dress like a Westerner. The same with many customs dear to blacks, which they were expected to drop for supposed "Christian" reasons while in effect they were only in conflict with certain Western mores.

Moreover, although the social hierarchy within the church was a white/black hierarchy, the sharing of responsibility for church affairs was exclusively white. This meant that the nature especially of the mainline churches was hardly influenced by black fact. It cannot be denied that in this situation many blacks, especially the young blacks, have begun to question Christianity. the question they ask is whether the necessary decolonization of Africa also requires the de-Christianization of Africa.

The most positive facet of this questioning is the development of "black" theology does not challenge Christianity itself but its Western package, in order to discover what the Christian faith means for our continent.

Black Consciousness & Black People's Convention

In the 1960s, the African Congress had been banned, so the main realities we were confronted with were the power of the police and the leftist noises of the white liberals. Faced with these realities, we had to solve the question of how a new consciousness could take hold of the people.

The government controlled the schools. There was a low output from the schools as far as Black Consciousness was concerned. We knew we had to seek for participation among the intelligentsia. But we also knew that the intelligentsia tend to look upon the masses as tools to be manipulated by them, so the change of consciousness among graduates of the black universities that we sought focused on an identification of intellectuals with the needs of the black community.

Here lies the origin of SASO--the South African Student Organization. It challenged the injustice of the existing structures, but it did this in a new way. As a matter of fact, since we stressed Black Consciousness and the relation of the intellectuals with the real needs of the black community, we were at first regarded as supporters of the System. The liberals criticized us and the conservatives supported us. But this did not last very long. It took the government four years to take measures against us. Even today we are still accused of racism. This is a mistake.

We know that all interracial groups in South Africa are relationships in which whites are superior, blacks inferior. So, as a prelude, 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.

Gradually this began to make sense. Black Consciousness gained momentum, but we were still faced with the practical issue that the people who were speaking were mainly students and graduates. There was no broad debate. For this reason we had to move from SASO to the organization of the Black People's Convention so that the masses could get involved in the development of a new consciousness.

The BPC was established in 1972. It was then that the government began to go into action. It banned individual leaders of the BPC. But today the BPC is getting wide support. the people are willing to sacrifice for it, with their money and with their time, as you can see from the packed courtrooms at trials of black leaders and inquests into their "mysterious" deaths in backrooms of police stations.

In a sense, the Black people's Convention is the most powerful organization among blacks, but this is hard to determine exactly, since the ANC and the PAC are banned as organizations, which means that they have a kind of generation-gap problem: there is a whole generation now that has not been influenced by the ANC and the PAC. In any case, the actual identification of people with the BPC is strong. When I put it this way, I do not want to give the impression that the relation between these organizations is one of competition. There will be one movement of revolt against the system of injustice. To be sure, there are the usual divisions due to background, but in terms of the revolution there is unity.

Communism or Communialism

We within the BPC have made up our minds that we must operate within the confines of the law or we will not operate at all. This means that the BPC is not and cannot be a communist organization. To some extent organizations can operate underground, but for our kind of organization it is much more effective to work openly aboveground. Moreover, an aboveground movement must have an element of compromise about it, and we look upon that as an advantage.

Further, a Communist in South Africa today will be an instrument of Moscow, not of the black people. Some Marxists are more pliable, more realistic. but then we have to know precisely about whom we are talking. While the BPC is nonviolent, it should not be forgotten that we are part of a movement which will be confronted with new situations that may require different strategies. We begin with the assumption that rapproachement is necessary. The BPC is not a third wing among the blacks, next to the ANC and the PAC.

* * *

The Black Consciousness movement does not want to accept the dilemma of capitalism versus communism. It opts for a socialist solution that is an authentic expression of black communialism. At the present stage of our struggle it is not easy to present details of this alternative, but it is a recognition of the fact that a change the system. In our search for a just system we know that the debate about economic policy cannot be "pure," completely separate from existing systems.

In our writings we at times speak of collective enterprises because we reject the individualistic and capitalist type of enterprises. But we are not taking over the Russian models. I must emphasize that in our search for new models we are necessarily affected by where we are today. For this reason also it is impossible to present details about the transition stage that will be here after the dissolution of white domination. It is far too early for that.


"God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own creative genius we make ourselves what we want to be. Follow always that great law." MARCUS GARVEY

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