Revolutionary Speaking – President’s Weekly Column – Volume 1 Issue 11

Vol 1: Issue 11
16 December 2022
“16 December” is the day of mixed political fortunes in the history of the Azanian Revolution.  On 16 December 1838, amaZulu warriors were overpowered by the superior gunpower of the Boers at the Battle of Ncome River, which was turned red with the blood of Afrikans.  The Boers “denamed” the river the “Bloedrivier” (Blood River) in celebration of their victory, and further celebrated “16 December” as a “Dingane’s Day” holiday.  In 1952 they changed their holiday to the “Day of the Covenant” and later to the “Day of the Vow” because they believed that their God answered their prayers.
Because the ANC’s military wing uMkhonto weSizwe was founded on 16 December 1961, the ANC-led government pleaded with the Boers to rename the “Day of the Vow” to “Day of Reconciliation”, which was first celebrated in 1995.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) held its first meeting on 16 December 1995.  However, 28 years into democracy, there is no “truth” nor “reconciliation” in South Africa – our Azania!
There was still some oxymoronic experience for Black people on 16 December 1972.  The Black People’s Convention (BPC) had been formed on 12 July 1972 with an interim National Executive Committee (NEC) comprising President Mashwabada Mayatula, Vice President Mthuli kaShezi, Kgalushe Drake Koka, Public Relations Officer Saths Cooper and National Organiser Aaron Dlamini.  The plan was to organise the Inaugural Congress on 16 December 1972 in Hammanskraal in the north of Tshwane.  However, there was one leader who was not present at the Congress.  He was Mthuli kaShezi.
Bokwe Mafuna recalls that he and kaShezi were from Durban where they attended a meeting.  In Alexander, kaShezi took a bus to Germiston to catch a train to Thembisa to give his mother some money to buy a sewing machine for herself.  On the other hand, Zithulele Cindi paints a rough picture of how Black people would sometimes sleep at the station for days with no ablution facilities while waiting to catch their mainline trains to far-flung destinations.  KaShezi spotted a white railway worker spraying some Black women with a hosepipe after accusing them of not washing and smelling.  His Black Consciousness (BC) rebelled in his soul and could not tolerate the sight of a white racist persecuting Black women.  He could have sent a word to his Comrades for reinforcements to deal with the situation.  He chose not to procrastinate.  Alone and unarmed, he sprang into action and confronted the racist.  In the ensuing altercation, kaShezi was pushed onto a moving train that was pulling off to Thembisa.  He was supposed to be on that train, which stopped when the commuters screamed.  The tragic news filtered into Congress that kaShezi was no more.  The BPC Inaugural Congress took place in the context of the tragic news of the falling of the Vice President.
Back to the beginning.  The South African Students’ Organisation (SASO), which was the Black Consciousness Movement’s (BCM) pioneer organisation, realised the revolutionary truth that students were nothing more than the torchbearers of the revolution.  As students, they were a mere “class in transition”.  Out of this correct political analysis, plans were hatched to form a vanguard political movement to lead the Azanian liberation struggle for land repossession.  On 4 May 1976, Bantu Biko was the defence witness at the SASO-BPC Trial where he was detailing events leading to the formation of the BPC.  In “The Testimony of Steve Biko”, Millard W Arnold (2017, 104-119) has published this court record with every word Biko spoke.  Biko traces the genesis of the formation of BPC from a SASO NEC meeting that was held in Gqeberha (then Port Elizabeth) at the beginning of 1971.  It was at this meeting that the resolution to form BPC was taken.  Biko says the objective was to deepen the “totality of involvement” of Black people in the liberation struggle.  Comrades like Biko, Barney Pityana, Nchaupe Mokoape and Lindelwa Mthuthuzeli Mabandla were appointed into a task team that was to travel the length and breadth of Azania consulting with other organisations on the idea to form BPC. 
This consultation was already in motion in the first few months of 1971.  Out of the consultations, it was decided that the Interdenominational African Ministers’ Association of South Africa (IDAMASA) would be the one to conduct further consultations and later convene a consultative conference of the organisations.  The first consultation was held in April 1971 in Mangaung (then Bloemfontein) where Pityana and Dr Vuyelwa Mashalaba represented SASO.  Consensus was reached “on the idea of a consultative organisation” that would be “supercultural”.  An Ad Hoc Committee was appointed to convene the “National Organising Conference” in August 1971 at the Edendale Ecumenical Centre in Mgungundlovu (then Pietermaritzburg) where the issues would find a deeper reflection and analysis.  It was at this gathering that Biko delivered his essay, “Some African Cultural Concepts”.  At the invitation of IDAMASA and the Association for the Economic and Cultural Advancement of African People (ASSECA), Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi also delivered a paper where he unsuccessfully persuaded the gathering to accept that those working inside and outside the apartheid system should work together as their roles were complementary.  As the respondent, Biko convinced the gathering to dismiss Buthelezi’s capitulationist line.  Biko stressed the point that Buthelezi was not invited by SASO.
As part of the Ad Hoc Committee, Mokoape, with Biko’s assistance, ended up drafting the constitution and the general political line of the envisaged organisation.  This happened as a matter of convenience because some members were in Johannesburg, while others were in Durban.  Biko says they had a difficulty because the majority of the Ad Hoc Committee members were pushing for some coordinating cultural organisation, while the SASO position for a vanguard political movement was in the minority.  The document was called the “Central Bureau for African Development” (CENBAD).  CENBAD projected an organisation that would operate as a secretariat structure with some experts conducting research on the various aspects of lives of the Black people, while also fundraising for member organisations.  Biko reveals that he initially aligned himself with the radical line of the vanguard political movement, but he had to toe the line of his Ad Hoc Committee after being “convinced” by the persuasive debate.
The CENBAD document was presented at a follow-up December 1971 meeting at the DOCC in Orlando East, Soweto.  It was at this meeting that the SASO delegation walked out not happy about how “apologetic” the political line of the working document was.  Led by Ranwedzi Nengwekhulu, the SASO delegation included Mokoape, kaShezi and David Madiba.   While they were out, the meeting had dumped the name CENBAD for “Organisation for African Development”.  The SASO delegation returned to move a motion for the review of the “apologetic” preamble of the document.  Motlalepula Kgware was also at this meeting and argued strongly in favour of the SASO line to establish a radical political movement.
Of interest is that Biko had been swayed towards the CENBAD moderate line.  Even at the Soweto meeting, he stuck to this moderate line.  However, he voted with SASO in the end.  Your attention is drawn to the intellectual courage of Comrades like Nengwekhulu, kaShezi and Mokoape who stood their political ground despite Biko’s straying.  Also, note that Mokoape, assisted by Biko, was the one who drafted the CENBAD document based on the consensus of that gathering.  Yet Mokoape did not hesitate to dump the moderate line in favour of the radical line.
These political events were the harbingers of the birth of the BPC, whose Inaugural Congress elected into the NEC President Motlalepula Kgware, Vice President Madibeng Chris Mokoditoa, Secretary General Sipho Buthelezi, National Organiser Mosibudi Mangena and Public Relations Officer Saths Cooper. 
SASO had such political and ideological clarity that they knew that students were not the agents of change. They were nothing more than the torchbearers of the Azanian Revolution. The Black working class, imbued with BC and socialism, was identified as the agents of revolutionary change. Having been instrumental in the formation of a vanguard political movement, SASO moved with speed to play a pivotal role in the re-invention of the Salesmen and Allied Workers Union into the Black Allied Workers Union (BAWU) on 27 August 1972.  Koka was the leading figure of this trade union.  BAWU believed in the principle of the paramountcy of the workers’ interests.  The functionality of this principle found expression in the building of an independent trade union that is free from bourgeois influence.
Indeed, the 1972 General Strike consolidated under the leadership of BAWU.  Black Review, BCM’s publication under Biko’s drive, extensively published the sweeping strikes in the country. On 3 June the PUTCO bus strike spread to depots, except Pretoria. On 23 October, 2000 Durban dock workers withdrew their labour thus forcing about 20 ships to stand idle. On 25 October the 142 workers of the Sover Diamond Mine downed their tools. The Soweto doctors were not to be left out. 10 Black doctors employed by the Johannesburg City Council staged a walkout during the same October.  They were earning R1.30 an hour, while their white counterparts were scooping R4.98.  On 5 December about 200 bus drivers of the African Bus Services went on strike. The strike spread to a number of their depots.
The BCM was on the streets and shaking the foundations of settler-colonialism and white supremacy. In no time, sectoral organisations were formed to cater for the various social groups. National Youth Organisation (NAYO), Union of Black Journalists (UBJ), South African Students’ Movement (SASM) and many others were formed.  The fearlessness that underpinned this work made more political sense considering that the BCM reawakened the liberation struggle from a political lull of about a decade after the banning of the ANC and PAC.
By 1973 the BCM, under the BPC leadership, had decided to actualise the principle of self-reliance. Black people could not fight the enemy, and still be dependent on the same enemy. The Black Community Programs (BCP) was formed to implement self-help projects in the Black communities. The Zanempilo clinic was implemented under this initiative.
With this volcanic radicalism, it came as no surprise that there would be a mass banning of the BCM leaders. Biko, Pityana and many others were affected by the 1973 mass banning.
Nothing spurred the BCM on like adversity. On 25 September 1974, the BC warriors changed to a higher gear with the staging of the rebellious Viva Frelimo Rallies in celebration of the political independence of Mozambique. Not even the banning of the events deterred the BCM.  Mass arrests of our leaders followed from around 25 September right through to October leading to what came to be known as the SASO-BPC Trial.
All these defiant activities were fermenting the June 16 Uprising in 1976. The Uprising spread all over the country and helped revive the military wings of the exiled organisations with the thousands of recruits.  Under the leadership of Hlako Kenny Rachidi, BPC is the BC organisation that provided overall political leadership and direction during the Uprising.  With BPC’s banning alongside other BC organisations and some newspapers on 19 October 1977, AZAPO rose from those ashes on 28 April 1978 as the institutional reincarnation of the banned organisations and quickly multiplied and intensified the liberation struggle.
Today we raise our Black Power Salute sky-high as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of a political organisation that made history in being led by a woman at the height of patriarchy.  As the enduring embodiment of the banned BC organisations, AZAPO is out to ensure that it builds on the proud legacy of the 54 years of the dynamic existence and productive contributions of the Movement of Biko.  Notwithstanding the arduous journey on the rough, twisting and turning road of the liberation struggle, the children of Biko commit to march on and drive the liberation struggle to its logical conclusion, which is the repossession of the land, total liberation and socialism.