THE CURRENT POLITICAL LANDSCAPE AND BIKO’S QUEST FOR TRUE HUMANITY
Steve Biko Memorial Lecture delivered at The University of KwaZulu-Natal by Pandelani Nefolovhodwe on 12 September 2018.
Allow me to start by quoting Nkwame Nkrumah who once said, “The passive sympathy of the masses must be converted into active participation in the struggle for freedom. There must also be created a widespread political consciousness and a sense of national self-respect. This can only be achieved when the mass of the people understand the issues. These are not days when people follow leaders blindly”. It is within this context that I will deal with the issues that come to the fore emanating from the topic “The current political landscape and Biko’s quest for true humanity. I will also return to the issue concerning the masses which Nkrumah talks about later in this presentation.
Every year on the 27 April, South Africans are called upon to celebrate what people refer to as freedom day. Most of these celebrations are held in urban areas. Thus far these celebrations are held by different political parties at different venues indicating that we are still a divided nation. To their credit, of late the ruling party unlike in the recent past is willing to include speakers of parties represented in parliament. Even at these so-called state celebrations, the majority of those who attend are members of the ruling party. The slogans and songs are those of the ruling party tradition. On the same day, other parties, including those outside parliament hold their own separate celebrations. I mention this from the onset because I want to draw your attention to the fact that we are far from achieving one of the fundamental goals of Steve Biko- ONE AZANIA ONE NATION. In fact the concept of a rainbow nation negates the whole notion of one nation celebrating freedom day at a national event or events organised on a non-sectarian manner. Those who care to observe these state celebrations will notice the following:
- Ruling party regalia and slogans feature prominently,
- Profiling of the ruling party achievements and programmes,
- Praising of the new dispensation and the new constitution,
- Very little is said about national unity and freedom,
Before I can delve into some of the issues that constitute the political landscape, let me start by telling you about what we inherited from the apartheid past in 1994. Some of you who were born and lived during the apartheid era would be aware of other issues that constitute what I refer to as inheritance, that is; things that have not disappeared. Like all inheritance, once one has accepted what one inherits, it becomes the duty of the inheritor to do away with some elements of the inheritance or just carry out the instructions as directed. The instructions given by those we inherit from become the guiding platform as to what must be done with the inheritance.
In our case, the South Africa we inherited is a product of the Kempton Park agreements which saw their way into and enshrined into the new constitution. In other words, we are constrained by the new constitution. Moving forward, we either change the constitution or the constraints remain to govern the inheritance.
Briefly, through the Kempton Park agreement we inherited a capitalist system based on race which we referred to as racial capitalism. We inherited a state with its different layers the army ,the police, the courts, the civil servants, systems of dispensing justice, some of the judges and the way we do things. We changed only those aspects that the new constitution allows because as I said earlier, we are bound by the terms of the inheritance enshrined in the new constitution. Some of us even take pride in praising the very constitution that has clauses that keep black people in bondage. By saying the present constitution keeps black people in bondage I should not be misunderstood to mean that everything enshrined in the constitution has not advanced the cause of black people. I will certainly be one of the first people to admit that some changes and modifications have occurred but to me these are not fundamental enough to change the lives of black people. Those amongst us who cannot see beyond the present dispensation say the following amongst other things:
- That the South African constitution is the best in the world despite it having sections that perpetuate inequality,
- The agreements reached at the negotiations in Kempton Park are a watershed that brought freedom,
These compatriots forget that a country constitution is not merely drafted in order to achieve an illusory form of freedom but in our case we know that our people do not eat the constitution, neither do they wear it to protect themselves against racists and white supremacists. However much our constitution can be praised, it has failed to advance the affairs of black people. The system has allowed whites to be in charge of economic activities with no entry point by black people. It is now over 24 years and black people have not entered the formal economy. At the same time the land question is still far from being resolved and the new constitution protects those who stole land from black people.
Utterances of the ruling elites in so far as it relate to the fundamental ills of our society namely, poverty, unemployment, inequality and capitalist exploitation are not helpful since all of them rely on the very constitution that impedes the resolution of these ills. For example, the youth of our country is encouraged to acquire education and yet there are no opportunities to practice what they have learned. Government continue to preach that education is the key to get out of poverty. To the government the formula is; educate people, make sure they acquire skills, then poverty, unemployment, racism and inequality will be resolved. This simplistic formula is far from the truth because for as long as instruments that enables a person to use his or her skills and knowledge profitably are not there the formula is meaningless.
In the Black Consciousness Movement, we are aware and understand the inherited system has always been responsible for poverty, inequality, unemployment, exploitation and white supremacy. Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement had no illusions about the system I am talking about. Let us now pause and listen to Steve Biko giving his thoughts on what black people must do to the system once they are in charge of the affairs of the country.
“The inter-relationship between consciousness of the self and the emancipatory programme is of paramount importance. Blacks no longer seek to reform the system because by doing so it implies acceptance of the major points around which the system revolves. Blacks are out to completely transform the system and make it what they wish”
After listening to what Steve Biko says and knowing that the system we live under is an inherited one, we can then conclude that we have not even began to make it what we wish. What we know is that blacks are in charge of the political sphere of our country and have replaced whites but the system of racial capitalism remained. The framework on how we do things remains, the colonial educational system with its individualistic content remains, the legal frame work that is based on the Roman Dutch Laws remains, the white black divide remains. In short we have not done away with the capitalist form of state and its multiple effects on lives of black people. The ruling elites confuse doing away with the laws that legalised the practices of apartheid and doing away with the state itself and as a result they are busking in the glory of Mandela’s legacy of reconciliation and rainbow nation when in actual fact there is neither reconciliation nor rainbowism. They do not understand that they are just drivers of the political features of the South African state. This is because they do not understand that it is impossible to improve lives of black people within a system that was not meant to improve lives of black people. They do not understand that the social and economic fabric of the South African society is still been largely determined by the historic features of the inherited state.
The point I am making is that the fundamental point of departure when seeking to free black people and by implication freeing the South African society, should be the dismantling of the apartheid state and its capitalist mode of production. In this way we will be able to destroy white racism, white supremacy and white privileges.
Those who have been following political events will no doubt agree that the political landscape is at times confusing especially when it relates to how the country is governed on the one hand and the attitudes of the local capitalist class on the other. However, there is general consensus that the country is not in good shape. Corruption is deep in all spheres of our lives government and private sector included. The local private sector has stopped investing in job creating activities. In South Africa presently, where the capitalist class is dominant and controls the economy, there is no way jobs will be created unless there is a change of heart from the local capitalist sector.
Those of us who have been following the behaviour of the local capitalist sector will have noticed that they are refusing to invest in the local economy and prefer to invest in other countries thereby creating jobs outside the country. We are also aware that their refusal to invest in the local economy has nothing to do with the fact that they do not have the requisite capital, but it has everything to do with their strategy of twisting the hands of government in order to bargain for favourable benefits. No amount of government persuasions will get them to invest in job creation. It is of interest to note that during the apartheid era the local capitalist class continued to invest even when foreign investors where dis-investing.
This situation is worsened by the fact that black people in general have over centuries been relegated to being workers and consumers of goods. As a result, even pronouncements by government that they will be promoting job creation by way of supporting small enterprises cannot work since the majority of black people have of centuries of oppression been conditioned to see themselves as earners of wages and salaries. A simple example is that of black people who give away their spaza shops to foreign nationals instead of running them and therefore make more money to take care of themselves. The psychological mind-set is so devastating to the extent that it has paralysed all productive initiatives and capacity in black communities. In other words, apartheid capitalist oppression has destroyed black people capacity to be self-reliant.
What is more disturbing is that the ANC government throughout the 24 years of its rule, has inculcated dependency by introducing hand-outs where our people wait for everything to be delivered by government. No government in the world can be able to sustain this. The situation has developed into a mass psychological dependency syndrome where even young ladies now make money by giving birth to children in order to receive social grants. Because Black communities have no sense of self development and self- pride, the situation has developed into toy-toying for even mundane issues.
Opportunistic and reactionary political parties now survive on these mass protests. At the same time, some political parties entice the masses by various means including promising jobs and positions in order to get the masses votes. Whoever comes with the best promises, rhetoric and campaign against what they perceive as their enemy get their support since the masses tend to follow blindly thinking that the rhetoric corresponds with what they actually want to achieve. The “passive sympathy of the masses” observed by Nkrumah is what now prevails within the black communities.
The fact of the matter is, in the absence of any visible programme to educate the masses, their ideological orientation and knowledge will largely be obtained through practical experience by being confronted with the existential situation. However, in general their ideological understanding and interpretation do not go beyond the anti-this or anti- that type of struggle. The ruling party has never been in the habit of educating the masses for the simple reason that an educated electorate threatens their chance of being returned to power.
In summary the landscape is characterised by:
- A looted state through corruption,
- A non- growing economy with SARS not able to collect enough revenue,
- High unemployment standing at 26.7 % overall and 38% for the youth,
- Poverty levels reported to be 50.5%,
- Increase in incidents of social unrest,
- High levels of inequality unparalleled in the world,
- Inefficiency in some of the organs of state such as the NPA,some state owned enterprises as well as some government department.
BIKO’S QUEST FOR TRUE HUMANITY
To start with when Biko projected a stage where human beings will act and behave in a humane manner, he was aware of the universally accepted principle that all human beings are born equal and that there is one human race on earth. He was aware that the colonisation of Azania took the form of dispossession and that any settlement that ignores this fact will be a grave injustice to black people.
He was aware that during the colonial period the loss of land, the loss of political autonomy, the loss of history and culture, the loss of self- respect and identity, challenges of inferiority and psychological oppression where to be eradicated.
Biko was keenly aware that the wealth of Azania was deliberately kept in white hands and being aware that racial oppression was the pillar of white rule, he wrote extensively against racism and white supremacy. To this end, he projected and championed ideas for the creation of an egalitarian society where there will be no minority rights.
Let me end by quoting from one of the pieces he wrote viz, Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity.
‘’We have set out on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the distant horizon we can see the glittering price. Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strengths from our common plight and our brotherhood. In time we shall be in a position to bestow upon South Africa the greatest gift possible-a more human face”
In conclusion, I am convinced that the South Africa we live in today does not meet the requirements as contemplated by Biko’s egalitarian society.
the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO) Head Office Contacts
ONE AZANIA! ONE NATION !