REMEMBERING BIKO’S 76TH BIRTHDAY
This past Sunday, December 18, was the birthday of our founding father Bantu Stephen Biko who was born in 1946 in Tarkastad in the Eastern Cape. His family moved to eQonce where the young Biko grew up.
On the occasion of his 76th anniversary of his birthday, perhaps it is prudent to take a closer look at the essence of Biko’s teachings. Biko is credited as the father of the Black Consciousness ideology in South Africa, our Azania. As we remember the birthday of the man who was brutally murdered in police custody by the apartheid security forces, we should unpack his greatest gift to humanity, the development of BC.
Black Consciousness ideology has been described as the state of mind and the way of life. The ideology evolved from the experience of Black people who were a subject of racial oppression by the white tribe. Black Consciousness is a response to a system, to a global system, of white supremacy and institutionalised racism. Throughout history white people have considered themselves to be a superior race and believed that Black people were inferior. It is that belief that white people from Europe and North America engaged in slave trade, hunting down Afrikans as animals, capturing them and sending them to work in the plantations of their countries.
It is this theory of white supremacy that was behind the colonial project. People from European countries such as England, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Germany went to Afrika to colonise Afrikan countries and impose colonial rule. The common feature among the colonisers were that they were white. And the common feature among the colonised Afrikan people was that they were Black.
In the colonies, the colonial powers would plunder the wealth of the colonised countries and export to their mother countries. Where necessary, they would also extract labour from the colonised people for exploitation in their countries. Afrikan people in the colonised countries were treated as sub-humans. They were robbed of the land. Forcefully removed from the fertile land and forced to live in semi desert areas. Their livestock was taken away from them and they were forced to work for their colonial masters. The indigenous Afrikan people were not only reduced to second class citizens but were actually less than citizens in that they were denied the most basic right of any citizen, the right to vote.
Realising that our country, Azania, was well endowed with precious minerals such as diamond, gold, platinum and copper, the Dutch and English settlers who had colonised our country, opted for permanent settlement. While some of them carried two passports, the majority decided to settle in our country, giving rise to what is now known as settler-colonialism.
The settler-colonial regime in our country perfected institutionalised racism which they called apartheid, a system of separate development. The apartheid regime, under the architect of this inhume policy Hendrick Verwoerd, divided the 13 percent of the land that was allocated to Black people into bantustans where Afrikans can live, but still they could not own the land. Only white people were allowed to own the land.
Because Black people had been robbed of their land, they were forced to work on the mines and other industrial sites that were owned by whites. As Verwoerd had envisaged, in order for Blacks to be better tools in the hands of white people, they were given limited education. They were denied real ownership in the economy.
Whites ensured that everything in the country was segregated and that the service for white people was of better quality compared to the service offered to Black people. Whites lived in upmarket suburbs with all the services such water and electricity while Black people lived in shanty ghettoes with poor or no service at all. White schools were well resourced while Blacks had to learn under trees.
Over generations of inequality, where whites enjoyed superior services, Black people began to associate quality with whites and inferior services with themselves. They began to believe that they were in fact inferior and that the “superior” white race had a right to rule over them. They had accepted as God ordained fate that they will never be equal to whites. And when Black people had accepted their fate, then emerged Biko and his comrades in the Black Consciousness Movement. Biko reminded Black people that they have a rich history in science and that they are not inferior to any other race. He emphasised that the first step towards real liberation was to liberate the mind from the shackles of mental oppression. For as long as Black people believed that they were inferior to white people, they would not challenge their oppression and fight for its end.
Biko revived confidence of Black people and helped them to develop pride in being Black. That is why in the mid 1970’s Black people had stopped using products that bleached Black skin. That is why Black people were proud to grow their big afro hair.
But Biko’s message did not end there. Once Black people’s sense of dignity was restored, they knew that they should not be subjected to political oppression, or economic exploitation by white people. They knew that they should determine their own destiny. This is why the Biko-inspired youth of 1976 braved the heavily armed security forces to push for an end to Bantu education and an end to oppression in general.
Critics may ask, what is the relevance of BC today? In the Biko era, whites were in control of the political and economic system but today it is Black people who run the State. So, what is the relevance of BC? At the core of BC message, is an appeal to the conscience of Black people to first of all love themselves and respect themselves. If those who run the State loved and respected themselves, they will treat other Black people with dignity. They will be embarrassed that poverty has a Black face. They will be ashamed that millions of Black people live in shacks with no water, toilets and electricity. They will not steal money meant to alleviate the suffering of Black people. They will be ashamed that Black children can only get quality education if it is offered by members of the white tribe. They will ensure that public hospitals offer quality health care.
Politicians who are baptized in BC will not perceive white people as their economic saviours. They will not be obsessed with forcing white people to share their businesses with Black people. They will rather create their own businesses and ensure that they use their numerical strength to gain economic power. Conscious Black politicians will not just complain about racism but will fight to eradicate it.
Biko was BC to the end. Even in custody, when police tried to humiliate him and assault him, he fought back.
And as we remember his birthday, we should use the tool that he gave us – the BC ideology – to fight for the restoration of the dignity of Black people which is under threat throughout the globe.
RECONCILIATION DAY — A MIRAGE
Last Friday was a holiday marked as Reconciliation Day. There was a time that some amongst us were obsessed with the concept of national reconciliation that they would allow anything in the name of what they termed reconciliation, especially between the white minority tribe and the Black majority.
For the record, AZAPO Voice believes that all the people in our country should live in harmony and should enjoy equal rights and protection before the law. But we also believe that real reconciliation can never be a product of a decree that states: let there be national reconciliation.
In order to fully appreciate the concept reconciliation, we need to first understand what gave rise to the dispute between Black people and the white minority who are descendants of the European settlers. The dispute was caused by the invasion by white settlers into our shores. Through the roaring of the European guns, whites conquered the Black people, robbed them of their land and instituted a political system that oppressed the indigenous people and also implemented an economic system that ensured that Blacks were “hewers of wood and drawers of water.”
In order to repossess their land, our forefathers waged wars against the settler-colonialists for centuries. When the liberation armies such as the Azanian National Liberation Army (AZANLA), the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) and Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) took up arms against the settler-colonial regime, they were continuing the struggle that had been waged by the warriors who came before us.
Following negotiations between the apartheid regime and a section of the liberation movement, the armed struggle was suspended and in April 1994, the country held the first all-race elections. Although there was an agreement that the war should stop and that electoral politics should be given a chance, the negotiators were more concerned about the attainment of peace at the expense of justice and the objectives of the liberation struggle which were the repossession of the land and the ownership of the economy.
In fact, in the run-up to the April 1994 election, the apartheid regime and its surrogates launched a low intensity war on the people, especially in the Black townships in Gauteng and certain parts of Kwa-Zulu-Natal. The violence was so intense and brutal that people were yearning for peace at all costs. It was as if the ultimate objective of the liberation struggle, waged over centuries, was the attainment of peace. We were tricked. We were told that we should forgive each other and reconcile in order to move forward.
Almost three decades later, the country has never been more divided along racial lines. The reason for the persistent racial stratification is because the national reconciliation project was built on a faulty foundation. How can there be reconciliation between a land thief and landowner who lost land through theft. For true reconciliation to occur, the thief must first atone for his crime by returning the stolen property and asking for forgiveness afterwards. But in our case, we want the victim of the land theft to forgive despite the thief retaining the stolen loot. We even discourage the victim from talking about his loss and urge him to move on and let bygones be bygones.
Black people are still labourers on white-owned farms, earning peanuts. They still are the blue-collar workers in the factories and mines that are owned by whites. Blacks are the only ones who live in poor townships with no service and high unemployment. How can there be any real healing and reconciliation under those circumstances. What is common between a farmer and labourer that can unite them? For as long as the issues that gave rise between the land thieves and those robbed of their land, between the propertied class and those without any property, the so-called reconciliation of the rainbow nation will remain a flickering mirage, never to be attained.
BUILDING AZAPO BRICK BY BRICK
This past weekend members of AZAPO went to Thembisa Township to clean and paint the tombstone of one of our foremost leaders Mthuli ka Shezi. kaShezi was killed after he was pushed towards an oncoming train by a white police officer.
At the time of his death, kaShezi was the Deputy President of the Black People’s Convention (BPC), the organisation that was replaced by AZAPO after its banning in October 1977.
While some AZAPO members were busy cleaning and painting the Shezi tombstone, others were scattered throughout the country, giving motorists pamphlets, urging them to arrive alive during this festive season. The campaign has been launched to translate the slogan that says AZAPO Cares into action.
AZAPO may not be hogging the headlines and dominating the mainstream media but it is an organisation in action and it is growing. Just two weeks ago, AZAPO launched its region in Vhembe. The regional congress held in Nzhelele elected the following leaders:
Chairperson: Khathutshelo Tharaga
Deputy chairperson: Jacky Mokoena
Secretary: Elekanyani Munyaliwa
Treasurer: Kate Tshipepele
Organiser: Derick Ramabulana
Political commissar: Mbedzi Thiufhati
Project co-ordinator: Azwimmbavhi Madzivhandila
Additional members: Takalani Mashapu, Selina Mulaudzi and Thomas Mashavha.
Virtually every weekend, AZAPO is launching a branch. This is part of the marching orders given by AZAPO President Nelvis Qekema who urged members to relionise AZAPO. The reason AZAPO needs to be strong is that it should be an effective tool at the disposal of Black people to champion their interests.
The current political crisis in the country requires a visionary leadership by those who were in the trenches for our national liberation to ensure that the country does not slide into anarchy and become a failed State. As a country, we have sacrificed too much to attain the current political dispensation of democracy and peace. Those who were in the forefront of the political transition, which AZAPO had shunned, traded justice for peace. They traded economic freedom for peace. They believed that it was more important to end the war and attain peace and democracy. They believed that once there was peace and political freedom, the other questions of economic justice can be attained through economic growth.
We now have a democratic dispensation. There is no need to revert to political instability. There is no need to revert to violent conflict. We can and should use the open and free political space to chart a new path for the people of our country. We need to restore the hope of the people in the political system. In the last election, only less than 30 percent of the people who could vote voted. This means that ordinary people are losing confidence in the political system. AZAPO should work hard to rebuild itself so that it can restore the confidence of the people in their power to determine the future of the country. The future is in our hands.