Speech delivered by Cde Strike Thokoane, President of AZAPO at the Biennial National Congress of AZAPO, held at Daku Hall, Kwazakhele, Port Elizabeth, and 29 November – 1 December 2019

Molweni, Dumelang, Good morning, Sanibonani, Goeiemore, Lotshani, Avhusheni, Matshehare, Ashee!

A reflection of 50 years of Black Consciousness Movement

Our Biennial National Congress takes place at a crucial time in the history of our struggle. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of the formation that gave shape to our movement and ideology, The South African Students Organisation, SASO. To this end, our Congress marks 50 years of unrelenting, principled and valiant struggle by our movement, The Black Consciousness Movement.

It is a credit to the courage of  the many sons  and daughters of this land,  who despite the brutal killings, mass incarcerations, torture, detentions, arrests, banishments  and assassinations of our iconic leaders such as Steve Biko, Onkgopotse Tiro, Dr. Abubaker Asvat, Mapetla Mohapi, Mthuli ka Shezi, Makompo Kutumela and countless others,  we continued to challenge the might of  the  illegitimate racist regime of apartheid, and ultimately, brought it down on its knees through mass and democratic popular struggles.

We are gathered here today, at the Kwa Daku Hall, in Zwide, to reflect on the path of struggle we have travelled, and to map out a democratic and liberatory future for our land once gain.

To all our delegates, guests and observers that will participate in the deliberations, debates and policy discussions aimed at giving content and direction to the depressing socio-economic state in which many citizens of our country continue to endure, 25 years after so-called freedom.

We urge you to reflect on this core message of SASO, contained in the first principle of its Policy Manifesto:

 “SASO is a Black Student Organization working for the liberation of the Black man first from psychological oppression by themselves through  induced inferiority complex and secondly from physical oppression occurring out of living in a White racist society.”

Our movement, born out of resilience against the brutality of racism and oppression, the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), today still stands for this objective of both physical and psychological liberation of Black people.

This position, carved for us by SASO 50 years ago, affirms that there is no true liberation without the defeat of mental slavery, of lack of knowledge, of the reversal of ignorance and the psychological damage done by more than 300 years of colonialisms and 50 years of apartheid on Black people.

By gathering here as our forebears did on the 1st of July 1969, at the University of the North, to mount a formal resistance against apartheid by Black students, we give full and real meaning to our rallying call of struggle, “Aluta Continua” (our struggle continues).

Our struggle, the struggle of the Azanian People is to conscientize and to free Black people from the yoke of racism, from the historic dispossession of their land, from the subjugation of their culture and languages, from economic exploitation and political oppression. This remains a continuing objective and the core destination of our movement.

Towards this goal and commitment, AZAPO remains peerless. It has never abandoned this responsibility. It has never wavered. For more than 40 years, AZAPO kept hope alive and stoked the fires of freedom and liberation inside the country, when our people were leaderless and hope was waning.

51 years ago, not far from a place where we are meeting, a few brave Black students, among whom was Steve Biko, Sabelo Ntwasa, Harry Nengwenkhulu, Justice Moloto and others, walked out of a non-racial gathering of university students at Rhodes University.

A non-racial gathering by name, but whose essence and core was racist, in the way the conference was organised, the debates were conducted and resolutions were crafted.

These proud Black students resolved to call time on white liberalism and its tutelage of Black people on how to conduct and advance their liberation struggle against racism and white supremacy. This is how the Black Consciousness Movement was born. Black Consciousness was an act of resistance. It was an act of self-love and self-affirmation.

AZAPO exists today, to continue to spread this message of resistance, of self-love and to affirm the humanity of Black people.

AZAPO was not formed to win a parliamentary seat. AZAPO was not formed to be in government. Our movement was not formed for comrades to be councillors and members of parliament and Ministers in Government. AZAPO was founded first and foremost to liberate the masses of Black people who are oppressed and the Black working class that is exploited by capitalism and imperialism.

It is worth reminding ourselves of this noble and sacrosanct mission of our movement. In all our deliberations at this Congress therefore, let us always keep in mind this defining role that we must fulfil in our society.

National Developments

Our Biennial Congress also takes place at a time when our country is set on a perilous path due to misgovernance, corruption, theft and self-enrichment by those in power and their sponsors.  The downside of this is that, instead of freedom lifting many of our people out of poverty, our country is preoccupied with spending billions of money on Commission of Inquiry that lead to nowhere.

Instead of fulfilling the goals of the struggle to repossess the land;  rather than improve education, build more schools and universities, provide  proper health care and housing for our people, our country has been seized with almost two years of the Zondo Commission. After spending millions of rands on lawyers, not a single one of the Ministers or senior ruling party leaders and big business men and women, including international companies like McKinsey and Bain, have been charged for perpetuating so called State Capture and corruption.

Embarrassingly, we see many of those who have been implicated, forming political parties to clear their names. They continue to wear their bespoke suits and live in mansions bought with money that was stolen from the people.

KPMG, McKinsey, the lawyers and other accountants who aided this corruption and malfeasance continue to operate as normal and to do business with government, without any sanction or fear of arrest.

Corruption and theft in our dear country, very sadly, has become normalised.

While AZAPO supports the onerous task being performed by Judge Zondo, of uncovering this deep rot, many of our people are losing faith and patience with the judicial system, if 24 months since the Inquiry began, no action seems to have been taken by the National Prosecuting Authority and other arms of the law to bring the criminals and perpetrators to book.

AZAPO makes an urgent call to all the law enforcement agencies to act upon the findings of all the Commissions that have been conducted. This includes the Marikana Commission, the Arms Deal Commission, the Life Esidimeni Inquiry, and the Mokgoro Commission into the Public Investment Corporation, the Moerane Commission into Political Killings as well as the State Capture Commission of Inquiry, among many.

Unless this is done, our people will be right to conclude that, these commissions serve as mere cover-ups, and are just meant to delude the public into believing that something is being done. When in fact, the opposite is the case.

Justice delayed is justice denied. The delay in acting upon the findings of all these commissions proves that the rule of law is slowly being eroded in this country. AZAPO reiterates that nobody is above law. All are equal before the law. The NPA and the Hawks must not be allowed to drag their feet on cases, mainly because the perpetrators are executive members of government, or the ruling party or part of big business.

They must be arrested and charged as the law does when women who have nothing to feed their children, get arrested for taking baby formula from the big retail stores to feed their children.

If we expect citizens to respect our constitution and to uphold the law, we must demonstrate that the law applies equally to presidents, kings, legislators and business people. We must hold firm to our African indigenous knowledge adage: Molaya Kgosi o a itaya. He, who makes the law, must be the first to uphold the law. Let this value system inform our jurisprudence and legal system.

Socio economic conditions

As we meet at this National Congress, it is worth taking into account the following depressing national socio-economic scenarios. As reflected in the recent Inequality studies, inequalities between Black and white, 25 years into democracy remain staggeringly high and unabating.

The indicators of the perilous state of our underdevelopment and stagnant growth are revealed by the triple indicators of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

South is still the most unequal country in the world, with a Gini Coefficient of 0,68%, as of 2015. One of the highest in the world.

Official unemployment stands at 29% in the second quarter of 2019. Although with the expanded definition the actual numbers of people who are unemployed, is estimated to be in the region closer to 40%. This means that almost 15 million South Africans, who should be leading a productive life to develop the country and grow the economy, are not economically engaged.

This crisis of unemployment keeps getting worse. More and more youth join the ranks of the unemployed and more companies are retrenching, including public entities.

Of even more concern to our nation and our movement should be the fact that our youth unemployment rate is registered at an alarming 58%. This means that many of our young people are hopeless and face a bleak future, due to the economic mismanagement and corruption that leads to these destructive social outcomes.

This congress of AZAPO must deliberate on this, and propose ideas on how to stem this social wastage of human potential.

The number of chronically poor and vulnerable South Africans is 52%, and of that figure, a proportion of 95%  is made up of Black people.

6,8 Million South Africans still experience hunger every day. This means that almost 20% of South African households lack access to food or have inadequate food supply.

67,2% of our youth aged between 18-24 years do not attend any higher education institution. About 51 % of them assert that this is due to poverty and unaffordability. This spells a bleak future for our children and our society.

Inequality and poverty will continue to be reproduced, if we do not come up with policies to correct these social challenges.

Figure 1  Proportion of  Households By Social Class and  Population Group  of Household Head (2008 to 2017)

As we can note from the above figure and  the statistics it reveals, the dream of freedom is gradually fading. The  inequality and wealth divisions between Black and White are as wide as ever. Nothing is being done to reveres these structural  and social cleavages of apartheid. We can talk social cohesion all we want, but as long as the core economic and social divisions, Azania will remain a divided country.

Our social and economic fundamentals are constantly deteriorating and those who govern us seem clueless to arrest this decline.

For the past 25 years, all we have been subjected to is a rehashing of old concepts and theories, which have not produced any significant results by any measure.

The education of our children is perhaps the most depressing of all, with many still studying under trees and dying in pit latrines at mud and thatch schools in the rural areas of our country.

Michael Komape and Lumka Mkhethwa  are two of the names of our children who drowned in school pit latrines. They are a few of those names, which we recall, which have made the headlines. However, there are many more that die of hunger and disease in our schools and in our homes.

There are also many who drown and die while swimming across dangerous overflowing rivers in areas like Kwazulu Natal, which demonstrates our children’s hunger and desperation for education.

Our education system is failing our children. Many sit with degrees and certificates, which they cannot put to productive use to become worthy citizens. Most of the infrastructure in our schools has collapsed and as result, no effective education takes place. Criminality and lawlessness reign supreme in many of our Black township schools and this has caused dysfunctionality in the schooling system, where the Black working class children attend.

This AZAPO congress must come up with answers and solutions on how to address these and other challenges, so that we can save the education system in AZANIA.

When we emerge out of this congress, we must go back to our communities and seek to implement the resolutions and conclusions we would have reached in our diagnosis and treatment of the problems.

The same scenarios above replicate themselves in our health system, in our clinics and hospitals where there are regular stock-outs of medication, long queues and a shortage of patient beds.

Violence against women, patriarchy and crime

Our country is gripped by a crime wave. This ranges from violent crime, car hijackings, women trafficking, drug smuggling, gangsterism and violence.

As we meet in this congress today, we mourn the brutal killings of Precious Ramabulana, a student at Capricorn College in Limpopo, who was brutally stabbed 52 times before succumbing to her wounds.

About two months ago, our nation was once again revolted by the killing of young Uyinene Mrwetyana, a young University of Cape Town student, who hails from East London, not far away from where we are gathered. She was brutally raped and murdered after undertaking a routine visit to the post office.

Over the last two years, our newsreels have been inundated by a number of young women who have been attacked, trafficked, raped and murdered by criminals, drug lords and criminal syndicates.

All this proves that crime in South Africa is on the loose. Our country needs to nip this in the bud. The law needs to be strengthened. The police need to take their gloves off to fight these violent criminals and syndicates.

AZAPO supports the calls by many that stricter terms for bail and sentencing for violent crime, must be enforced to make women feel safer in the schools, higher education institutions and in our communities.

While the racial and spatial divides are of utmost importance to the articulation of our struggle, we must also focus on gender oppression and other inequalities.

Women represent approximately 51, 2% of the population in South Africa. Their share of household income and expenditure is significantly lower than that of their male counterparts. For instance, individuals living in female-headed households only had a 26, 0% share of total household expenditure and a 24, 6% share of the total household income in 2015.

It is therefore imperative to us as activists and people fighting for equality, to understand how education and health outcomes, asset ownership, as well as access to basic services are distributed by gender in order to provide an analysis of how inequalities overlap and accentuate these vulnerabilities, especially on the part of Black women.

For if the truth must be told, it is mostly Black women and women from Black working class and poor households who suffer such violent atrocities.

This violence and oppression that women suffer is as a result of centuries of living in a patriarchal society dominated by males. Racism and capitalism have also produced these patriarchal outcomes in the labour market.

Women are less likely to participate in the labour market as compared to men. The participation rate in the labour market is 53, 6% for women and 66,1% for men according to 2017 statistics.

Women’s unemployment rates were higher  at 29,6% versus  25,7% for men in 2017. Their monthly real earnings remain around 70, 0% of that of men.

AZAPO and its formations must be conscious of patriarchy in our own ranks. We must actively engage in programs to combat it  within and in larger society.

We reiterate the profound words of our revolutionary icon, Thomas Sankara, when he said. “There can never be any true liberation of society, without the liberation of women.”

Let all of us activists and members, internalise the fight against women oppression and patriarchy by desisting from perpetuating violence and abuse of women.

Land repossession and redistribution

In 2018, Parliamentary Inquiries were held to change Section 25 of the constitution. Many of the citizens of our country agreed with AZAPO, that the land must be repossessed and redistributed to restore it back to the indigenous African majority.

AZAPO participated in that process, however reluctantly, because we were convinced that the parties in parliament were not committed to the repossession of land.

It is now apparent, that many of them were using the land issue to gain political mileage for the recently concluded national elections. The nebulous concept of Land Expropriation Without Compensation was laid bare for its shortcomings, as it is our belief that it presupposes that the current owners had legitimate title to land. Nothing can be further from the truth.

All land in white hands is illegally owned, and AZAPO does not recognise that title. Accordingly, our submission was informed by our historic position on land, which is that Black people were dispossessed of their land. That land must be wholly and fully restored to the state, and the state must in turn redistribute it equally and equitably across the population.

AZAPO reiterates its position on the land that the whole of AZANIA belongs to Black people and must be restored to their ownership.

Our national liberation was primarily based on the repossession of our land, and it is a betrayal of the goals of our struggle for the ruling party to waver on this question.

The recent remarks coming from government are disconcerting, as it appears that it lacks the courage to confront this fundamental issue of inequity and injustice,  which accounts for the weakness, poverty , disease and unemployment that is plaguing the Black community.

When we emerge from this congress, all our formations and structures must be galvanised to mount campaigns and support initiatives to repossess and free the land.

To this end, we support the valiant struggles of the people of Xolobeni, who have resisted the dispossession and destruction of their  land through toxic and environmentally destructive mining.

We commend this mass resistance. Our Eastern Cape structures and all our formations nationally must provide solidary, active and material support to the people of Xolobeni, in resisting the corrupt minerals department officials.  We must equally take the fight to the Australian mining company, the police and vigilantes who are in cahoots with the forces of darkness to  assassinate leaders of this resistance movement,  in a vain attempt to force the people of Xolobeni off their land.

Despite winning countless court cases for mining not to take place on their land, and suffering untold harassment, assassinations, arrest and persecution, the brave people of this area have stood frim. They have given inspiration to many other community struggles in Limpopo, Northern Cape and Northwest who have suffered evictions off their ancestral lands due to mining.

AZAPO stands with the people of Xolobeni. We also stand with the native people of Standing Rock in America, who are also resisting mining in their native and ancestral land.

Similarly, the indigenous people of the great amazon forests in Brazil are also our comrades and allies in this struggle.  Free the mind, Free land!

International struggles and solidarity

Our Azanian liberation struggle benefitted immensely from international human solidarity, when we were confronted  with one of the most  demonic and inhumane political system of the 20th century, apartheid.

We therefore have a duty as a liberated people and a country, to afford solidarity to other communities that area oppressed and exploited as we were. We must especially do this for communities that are subjected to the same racist treatment and political discrimination that we had to endure.

Towards this end, the suffering and persecution of the people of Western Sahara, at the hands of the undemocratic and occupying Moroccan regime, must be a concern of us all.

Similarly, the struggle of the Palestinian people at the hands of the apartheid Israeli regime, which pursues a similar agenda of land dispossession, racial discrimination and wanton violence against the Palestinian people, should be condemned by all.

The  unfolding genocide  against the people of West Papua, for freedom and self-determination from Indonesia is yet another struggle, which our movement must support and extend solidarity to.

We call upon the Indonesian government to grant the people of West Papua their independence and freedom. AZAPO also impresses upon the United States of America, Holland and Australia, to condemn the genocide that Indonesia is committing against the people of West Papua.

The ascendancy of Donald Trump to the American presidency, it is  very clear has emboldened racist right wing groups in America and many countries throughout the world. An ideological movement based on white identitarian politics is on the rise, and many Black and left wing progressive  blocks have not offered any  comprehensive response or resistance to this ugly and dangerous phenomenon.

Black Consciousness has been founded as an ideological antidote to racism. It is precisely now, when racism seems to be in the ascendancy in our country and the world, through outfits like Solidariteit and Afriforum, who are unapologetic about championing white supremacy and white interest,  that we must mount a more determined and cogent conscientization and resistance programme.

Organising the Azanian Revolution

The primary task of a revolutionary movement such as AZAPO is to organise the masses to make revolution in order to liberate themselves. To this end, this is the most important criterion we must use to evaluate whether our movement and the leadership collective has been up to the challenge.

In 2017, we elected the current leadership and assigned it certain responsibilities and task to advance our revolutionary goals. This Biennial Congress therefore, serves as a midterm review for our delegates, observes and members to undertake that performance review.

Without pre-empting that process, it gives me great pleasure to present the full complement of the leadership that was elected at the Congress, and a number of comrades who were appointed to fill certain portfolios, as was mandated by the Congress at Meadowlands, in Soweto, in line with our constitution.

Overall this has been a cohesive and coherent leadership, save for some of the challenges and other structural and dynamic issues that are  an inherent feature of organising a revolution and leading a mass organisation such as AZAPO.

The Composite Report by the Secretary General will provide details on many of the programmatic and administrative issues we have undertaken, where we have succeeded and where we met up with challenges.

However, our presence here and the attendance, is indicative to our members and supporters that AZAPO is alive and in better shape than when we convened 2 years ago.

We are still on the march to achieve the goals of a free, democratic and egalitarian society in Azania. It does not matter how long the night, the depth of the valley, the length of the destination or the steepness of the mountain;  our movement will never waver nor abandon the course of true liberation.

I have that commitment  form this leadership collective, and we have experienced that support from many of our members in the past two years.

There are still some pockets of weakness in terms of structural organisation, but we are glad that we are convening this congress with many of our Provincial Structures now meeting  this  strict constitutional test. We continue to work on the few that remain and are lagging behind.

The greatest challenges lie with our political formations, especially the youth and the student wings.

AZAPO has traditionally benefited from the vibrancy, active partition and solid organisation of these formations since the days of SASO and SASM; throughout the heydays of AZASO, AZASM, AZAYO and AZASCO over many decades.

Sadly, over the last decade, we have witnessed a decline in the numbers and the quality of leadership of these structures. Our leadership is giving this priority attention, and we hope that when this Congress rises, we would be in a better position to mount the revival of our youth formations.

This congress must also assist our movement to link up with the Black working class and their trade union formations as well as social movements. If we assert that our organisation stands for socialism and the Black working class, we must demonstrate through our activities and programmes.

Many of our members and formations are detached from mass activity and community development projects. This reflects a weak grasp of our ideological positions and political values.

From its inception, AZAPO has always attracted the Black intelligentsia and Black Professionals to its ranks. We continue to do so today, and it should be welcomed.

However, in the same way as lawyers like Advocate Chris Mokoditoa, social workers like Mapetla Mohapi, and health practitioners such as Dr Abu Asvat had done by committing their services and skills to our people, especially those who find themselves in dire social and economic circumstances. Our Black intelligentsia of today must be oriented to an ethic of commitment and service to community. That is the true internalisation of Black Consciousness.

We must make a clarion a call at this Congress for our people to embrace self-reliance and to initiate their own development. Dependence on government and on benevolence from exploitative corporate organsisation or human solidarity from those who have oppressed us will not address the acute problems of hunger, poverty and squalor that we find in many of our communities.

While we continue to struggle on the ground and to lobby for progressive political policies and alternative, we must also undertake self-generated solution such as cooperatives, matsema, mutual savings schemes and masibambisane programmes.

Dependence on others will weaken us further and it will make them to have influence, control and dominion over us.

AZAPO youth, students and professionals must fan out in our townships and rural areas  to conduct economic literacy and social development programme  in order to catalyse social development,  and to stem the tide of decay and hopelessness in our communities.

As the vanguard of the revolution and liberation, activists must be on the forefront of sowing hope for change.

Black Consciousness gave hope in the 60’s to our people, when many thought that apartheid was invincible. It took the BCM youth on June 16th 1976, led by among others Tsietsi Mashinini, Khotso Seatlholo and Sibongile Mkhabela, to show our people that no oppressor is powerful enough to withstand the resolve of a people  when they are organised.

Let us marshal that same spirit to address our governance and development challenges, and  to save our country from this perilous path of bad governance and corruption.

Let us not despair to continue organising our people’s revolution to end racist oppression and capitalist exploitation by imperialists on our land.

The Place of Elections in our Political Programme

In 1994, after the Shareworld Congress, our organsisation resolved to take part in Elections after the overwhelming participation by our people  during the first elections in 1994.

This was after our movement had rejected participation in the April 27 1994 elections, as we had correctly stated then, that the Kempton Park Settlement would birth the true democratic outcomes that our struggle has always been anchored upon.

We resolved to participate in elections not because we believed that our 1994 positions had been proven wrong. AZAPO participated in these elections, because our movement does not exist for its own sake, but it is truly a representative vehicle of the masses.

AZAPO did not perform satisfactorily during these elections mainly because these are bourgeois elections whose outcomes are mainly determined by the huge amount of money to buy votes. This in itself is political corruption.

AZAPO will continue to take part in elections as  we view them as another, not the only, terrain of struggle to advance the aspirations of our people. We also do so because many of our members and supporters believe that AZAPO is an important voice that must always be present to advance the ideals of liberation.

The recent setback must not deter our members. All it means is that we must organise better, and work harder for the coming local government elections, which are most critical for as they are much closer to our communities and that is where real delivery and development must occur.

We therefore urge all of provinces, regions and branches and formations to embark on planning and preparation for the coming local elections post this Biennial Congress.

In conclusion

Let me enjoin  all of us at this National Congress to recall the timeless words of our founding leader, Bantu Stephen Biko, when he defined the noble mission and vision of liberation that our movement, The Black Consciousness Movement is all about :

“We have set out on a quest for 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 [and sisterhood]. In time we shall be in a position to bestow upon South Africa the greatest gift possible–a more human face”.

That my comrades, is the essence of what AZAPO is about, bestowing upon this beautiful land of our forebears “ A True Humanity”, a more humane face. A place where the  human dignity  of the Black person is restored and respected. A place where all of our citizens live in peace and harmony and their full ham potential is realized. We can only achieve that in truly free and equal Azania. Black Consciousness is the vehicle towards that destination.


One Azania! One Nation!

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