Revolutionary Speaking – President’s Weekly Column – Volume 1 Issue 18

Vol 1: Issue 18
3 February 2023
The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) is a liberation vehicle whose existence was necessitated by the concrete circumstances of Black people. Put differently, the BCM is an organic product of the experiences of Afrikans in Azania.
In that sense, the idea of the formation of the BCM was never the brainchild of white liberals or some instruments of the ruling class. That places the Movement of Biko in a position to articulate its revolutionary positions without sugarcoating them for the taste buds of the white settler-colonialists and imperialists.
Describing the originality of the philosophy of the BCM, in 1972 Bantu Biko proudly chanted:
 “The call for Black Consciousness is the most positive call to come from any group in the Black world for a long time. It is more than just a reactionary rejection of whites by Blacks. The quintessence of it is the realisation by the Blacks that, in order to feature well in this game of power politics, they have to use the concept of group power and to build a strong foundation for this. Being an historically, politically, socially and economically disinherited and dispossessed group, they have the strongest foundation from which to operate. The philosophy of Black Consciousness, therefore, expresses group pride and the determination by the Blacks to rise and attain the envisaged self”.
From Biko’s statement, we deduce that there may have been some “positive calls” in the Black world. However, Black Consciousness (BC) is the “most positive call” of them all. We also learn that there may have been other “calls” that may have had an alien origination outside the initiative of the Azanian masses. For some reason, Biko doesn’t identify these alien calls. He seems to have trusted that the readers of his time would know what he was talking about. For those that always seek to reduce both Biko and the BCM as nothing more than a pressure group, Biko makes it crystal clear that we are in this life and death undertaking for “power politics”. Our sacrifices are an exercise in futility if the endgame falls short of acquiring State power and implement our BC-inspired Political Programme. The acquisition of State power is not for its own sake. It is for the realisation of the “envisaged self”.
With that introduction of the BCM’s originality, we can now take a stroll and navigate the founding characteristics of the BCM. There is consensus by political activists and historians that the BCM was founded when the Azanian masses were in the political doldrums as a result of the banning of the older liberation organisations like the ANC and PAC in 1960. We depart from this point and identify at least three founding characteristics of the BCM. First, the BCM was founded primarily by Black university students. Second, the founding was first fermented in the wilderness of white liberalism. Third, the BCM was incubated in the domain of spirituality which had manifestations of some religiosity.
Despite the claims of underground activism, all indications pointed to the fact that Black people were organisationless, leaderless and directionless in the aftermath of the banning of the older liberation organisations by the white settler-colonial regime. There was some white liberal students’ organisation that escaped the banning. It was the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). The English students were more dominant and active in NUSAS. That gives some clue as to the liberalism of this students’ organisation. The subjects of the British Queen were not that excited with the rise of the Afrikaner to power and the implementation of their apartheid policies. That somehow brought the English students a distant closer to the Black students than they would be to their Afrikaner counterparts.
It is in NUSAS that Black students found their problems reduced to the footnote of the chapter of the problems of white students. Biko explains how difficult it was for Black students to operate within NUSAS. Language was a barrier, which caused Black students to sit back and watch others articulating their own problems. At the May 1976 SASO-BPC Trial where Biko was the defence witness, he tells the judge how NUSAS always complied with the apartheid policy of segregation without raising a finger. Black students had hoped the issue of segregated residences would be addressed at the 1967 NUSAS Conference at Rhodes University. It wasn’t. Biko moved a motion for the adjournment of Conference until a “non-racial venue” was found. The motion was debated from midnight until a vote defeating it was taken at 05:30 in the morning.
This experience was an eye-opener to many more Black students who began to see the futility of “non-racialism”. As a result of this, there were only a few Black students at the 1968 NUSAS Conference at the Wits University.
Deeper reflection by Black students prevailed. Addressing himself to the trial judge, Biko reasoned that:
“We cannot blame your White students for what they do – they have got their experiences in their homes. We have to look positively at what we have to do as Black students, and we began to feel at that time that perhaps there was a need for some kind of consultation amongst Black students which focused on their problems as Black students on the campuses, and which allowed NUSAS to continue as it did, but operated specifically for Black students ” (The Testimony of Steve Biko, 2017 edition, pages 35-43).
Perhaps SASO and AZAPO leader, Muntu ka Myeza, had this experience in mind when he later cautioned that, “if you forget that you’re black, the white man will remind you”. This NUSAS experience induced in the Black students important BC tenets of self-definition, self-reliance, self-initiative, self-assertiveness and self-determination. That was the beginning of the process of self-definition that got us to drop the term “non-white” in favour of “Black”, and South Africa in favour of Azania.
The pioneer BC organisation was formed in December 1968. Interestingly, that organisation, which was conceived in the womb of university life, was the South African Students Organisation (SASO). This explains the intellectual origins of the BCM, and why we prefer to distill thoughts in theorisation. This critical thinking is anchored in the adventurism that is associated with the students and young people in general. At that historical juncture, these Black students didn’t limit their historical role to being the torchbearers of the revolution, they went further to play the role of revolutionary catalysts. In that regard, they diversified SASO and formed many sectoral BC organisations like the BPC, NAYO, UBJ and many others.
I have just interwoven the BCM founding characteristics of being associated with Black students in the wilderness of white liberalism. Rather briefly, let me walk through the founding character that has a manifestation of religiosity.
Remember that we painted a Black picture of how Black students were at the end of their tether at the July 1967 NUSAS Conference at Rhodes where they continued to be subjected to racially segregated residences. We also stressed the point that the numbers of Black students dwindled to a few ones at the July 1968 NUSAS Conference as a result of the heightened awareness by the Black students that they were their own liberators. After this NUSAS Conference at Wits, there was a Conference of the University Christian Movement (UCM) taking place in Cumakala (Stutterheim) also in July. Even though the UCM Conference was also a “non-racial” setup, the Black students were for obvious reasons a majority at that function. Spirituality and Black people present an ontological inseparability. Being under the strain of suppression and suffocation Afrikan Spirituality found convenient, but sometimes limiting, foreign religious outlets like Christianity. However, a space was created for Black students to meet alone.
This is the impression Biko had about the UCM Conference:
“We felt that the platform had somewhat widened, and that we could talk more authentically to a group which was reasonably representative in the sense of a random sampling of students from several universities “.
The talking was about the idea of forming an exclusively Black students organisation, which would later be SASO. Apparently, a decision was taken at this UCM conference “to press upon our SRCs to meet at a conference in order to look specifically at this question “.
SASO was not oblivious to the limiting and compromising effects of Christianity if it was swallowed in its raw state. Accordingly, Christianity was progressively processed into the product that was called “Black Theology”, which is not the same thing as a narrow “Black Christianity”.
For some historical reason, the BCM doesn’t seem to have shed its affinity with the Black students, who tend to grasp with ease some of the philosophical and technical aspects of BC. AZAPO penetrates communities much easier when it does so through the students, who will in turn draw their parents and communities into AZAPO.