Revolutionary Speaking – President’s Weekly Column – Volume 1 Issue 4

Vol 1: Issue 4
28 October 2022
It must be out of spiritual fate that the last President of the Black People’s Convention (BPC) chose to depart in October – the month in which the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) organisations were banned by the settler-colonial regime in 1977.  Cde Hlaku Kenny Rachidi (78) had served as the BPC President from 1975 to 1977, which means that the June 16 Uprising erupted under his overall leadership and direction.
Cde Rachidi was a man of few words.  He chose to speak more through his actions.  You could think he was not in the meeting until he raised his hand to make a direction-giving input through his soft voice and calm demeanour.  Thoughtless speech and Cde Rachidi were miles apart.  He had such abundant compassion, which was reflected in his built-in smile that was permanently perched on his face.
His trait of speaking when it was necessary was extended to his positive habit of availing himself to lead when it was necessary, so to speak.  You see this personal characteristic throughout his leadership episodes in the BCM.  It was when others were either in prison or killed when Cde Rachidi raised his hand to hold the fort.  On the contrary, times of crises like this are when many cowards and charlatans chicken out.  It is a courageous and selfless person like Cde Rachidi who advances and takes the bull by the horns.
The apartheid regime imposed a mass banning of the BCM leaders in 1973.  The BPC Secretary General and Vice Chairperson were among those banned.  That was when Cde Rachidi marched forward and became the National Vice Chairperson to ensure that he raised the banner of the liberation struggle even higher.  After the nationwide 1974 Pro-Frelimo Rallies to celebrate the independence of Mozambique, there were further mass arrests of the BCM leaders.  Cde Rachidi surged forward and assumed the position of Secretary General despite the arrests and the killings.
It was as the Secretary General that Cde Rachidi was instrumental in the organising of the December 1975 BPC Congress in Ginsberg.  Pay attention to the fact that Cde Rachidi took the Congress to the banned Cde Steve Biko.  This is the Congress where the BPC Manifesto that was co-written by Biko was first discussed before it was adopted at the Mafikeng Symposium in 1976.  Cde Mpotseng Kgokong who attended the Ginsberg Congress relates that one commission on Black Consciousness and its Tenets was held at Biko’s home so that he could facilitate that commission. Cde Kgokong was in that commission.
It was at the 1975 Ginsberg Congress that it became clear that Cde Rachidi was second to no one in leading the BPC as its President.  As a demonstration of his magnanimous spirit and political maturity, the first move to iconise Biko took place under Cde Rachidi’s leadership as BPC President.  It was at the February 1977 BPC Congress that the position of BPC Honorary President was bestowed upon Biko.  This was done to frustrate the banning and shackling of Biko out of the struggle by the regime.  This being seven months before Biko’s martyrdom, Cde Rachidi was there to make sure Biko did not die without being associated with the BPC at a presidential level.  He was not done.  He went further to lead the organising of Biko’s funeral, which was the biggest mass funeral of its time at 20 000 mourners with thousands more turned away by the racist police.
Biko’s coffin was the first of its kind with his face carved on the coffin’s lid.  The coffin was placed in an oxen-drawn donkey cart.  While we know the Biblical symbolism of the donkey, but the cultural and economic importance of cattle in an Afrikan way of life cannot be overemphasised.  That is why the deceased is often wrapped with the hide of a slaughtered ox.  Under Cde Rachidi’s leadership, both the Biko family and BPC were making strong political statements with this imagery.
To appreciate the magnitude of Cde Rachidi’s task, we need to understand that the BPC was the umbrella body of all BCM organisations.  In that regard, his dynamic and productive leadership was not limited to the BPC.  Despite the pushing of Cde Mthuli ka Shezi in front of an oncoming train; the blowing of a parcel bomb on Cde Onkgopotse Tiro’s face; the hanging to death of Cde Mapetla Mohapi; the massacre of the black students during the June 16 Uprising, Cde Rachidi remained firm and unshaken from the mission to repossess the land and liberate the Azanian people.  The public statements he made about the Uprising landed him in detention without trial at the Modderbee Prison from October 1977 to October 1978. Yet he joined AZAPO on his release and was elected the Vice President-Transvaal at the 1984 Congress.
This extraordinary man of political milestones did not join the BCM.  He founded it.  It is as a member of both the University Christian Movement (UCM) that the black students could not tolerate the racism and patronising attitude of the white liberal NUSAS, of which Cde Rachidi and Biko were also members.  The 1967 NUSAS conference had a crisis of a racially segregated accommodation and catering facilities.  The white and black Comrades could only deliberate together during Conference plenary but could not eat or sleep together.  Black students were angered by how the NUSAS leadership proposed a mechanism to tolerate the racial segregation, instead of fighting it.
It was at the 1968 Stutterheim Conference of the UCM that Cde Rachidi and his Comrades found political space to further discuss the possibility of forming a black students’ political organisation in that same year.  That was how the South African Students Organisation (SASO) was conceived.  SASO being the pioneer organisation of the BCM, the pivotal involvement of Cde Rachidi in SASO’s formation situates him as one of the founders of the BCM.
Cde Rachidi breathed his last in the evening of the past Sunday.  He seemed to have succumbed to the complications of the stroke he suffered last year.  It is difficult to resist the temptation to point an accusing finger at the apartheid regime for the torture and scars he lived with all his life.
If the South African flag had conscience, it would bow to Cde Rachidi and fly half-mast in honour of a fearless revolutionary who tremendously contributed to the fight for democracy in our country.