Following the murder of Steve Bantu Biko in detention in 1977, the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), like the legendary phoenix, emerged from the ashes and cinders of the Black People’s Convention (B.P.C.), South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) and Black Community Programmes (B.C.P.) – some of the black consciousness organisations forming the Black Consciousness Movement – that were banned on Wednesday, 19th October 1977 for their role in the liberation struggle and the June 16, 1976 uprisings.
Formed in April 1978, as a direct successor to the BPC and the founding organisation of the Black Consciousness Movement SASO, AZAPO continued and escalated the mission of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) by propagating Black Consciousness and organising Black people to be a fighting force for their liberation.
Inspired by the principles of the Black Consciousness and organised by AZAPO, Black people increasingly regained their resolve to fight for their rights and formed trade unions and civic organisations that drew the blue print for the conduct of struggles by civil society.
Through AZAPO, Black people in South Africa regained their collective dignity and self-pride. We in AZAPO believe that people that take pride in themselves are likely to make a meaningful contribution to a quest for true humanity.
To intensify the struggle further, the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania (BCMA) was formed in London on 12 April 1980. The BCMA operated as a sister organisation to AZAPO in exile and grew to establish chapters and offices in Botswana, where Onkgopotse Tiro was assassinated, Zimbabwe, England, the United States of America, Canada, France, Belgium and Germany.
While AZAPO mobilized within the country, the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania (BCMA) waged a political struggle in exile. Through the formation of the Azanian National Liberation Army (AZANLA) the BCMA also wage an armed struggle.
It sent BCM militants for military training in, amongst others, Libya, Eritrea, and China. With their training complete, AZANLA fighters engaged the forces of the apartheid regime in many theatres within the South Africa.
Remaining true to its philosophical precept of unity of the oppressed, AZAPO pursued cooperation which led to the launch of the National Forum (NF) in June 1983 at a conference attended by 800 delegates representing 200 organisations. The NF aimed to narrow the difference between the liberation groups. Talking about the launch of the NF, then President of AZAPO, Cde Saths Cooper said, “We think we need mature, sober consideration of all the issues in the liberation struggle and while principles should not be sacrificed, partisan approaches should take a back seat.”
Despite the call that “partisan approaches should take a back seat” a feud ensued which saw a number of AZAPO members killed and their homes raised to the ground.
In the face of the hardships arising from the feud, AZAPO launched the Azanian Students Movement (AZASM) and Azanian Youth Organisation (AZAYO) which, respectively, dominated student and youth politics and helped mobilise students and the youth in the struggle against apartheid. In the same period AZAPO successfully campaigned for the isolation of apartheid South Africa by tirelessly and vigorously waging the cultural boycott in the country.
After assessing the nature, character and possible outcome of the CODESA negotiations, AZAPO did not participate in the negotiations and in 1993, as a matter of principle, decided not to participate in the 1994 general elections. AZAPO rejected the interim constitution that would govern the elections and the period leading up to the adoption of a new constitution.
AZAPO’s view was that these agreements would not deliver substantive freedom to the Black people of South Africa. The agreements entrenched property rights effectively legitimising the dispossession that Black people had experienced over a period of close to four centuries. The government positions held by the apparatchiks of the apartheid regime would be retained as per the agreements.
The government set up after the election would not be a true reflection of wishes of the people as a government of national unity was guaranteed up until the next elections. Further to this, the parliament formed as an outcome of the elections would not have the power to change the interim constitution.
Twenty years after the inauguration of the new South Africa, South Africans are increasingly beginning to see the argument of AZAPO and its assessment of the negotiation process. Today, voices in dissent to the mainstream view and assessment of the negotiations are becoming louder in society, they can be heard in the labour movement, in various civil society formations and in conversations of ordinary Black South African who still live in poverty and their future and that of their children is not any brighter.
In October 1994, AZAPO merged with its sister exile organisation, the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania (B.C.M.A.). The merger of AZAPO and the BCMA marked an important milestone as the external and internal Black Consciousness organisations once again became one.
Following the adoption of the 1996 South African Constitution which made it possible for a party of coalition of parties with a two thirds (2/3) majority in parliament to change it, AZAPO entered electoral politics in the 1999 General Elections. Committed to the improving the lives of Black people and all South Africans, AZAPO allow its then President Cde Mosibudi Mangena to serve in government as Deputy Minister of Education and as Minister of Science and Technology.
To this day, AZAPO remains the leading exponent of the Black Consciousness philosophy in South Africa and draws inspiration from eminent sons and daughters of this soil such as Steve Biko, Onkgopotse Tiro, Strini Moodley, Abu Asvat and Vuyelwa Mashalaba. AZAPO remains committed to the struggle for total liberation which aims for the total abolishment of any form of political oppression, economic exploitation and marginalisation and social degradation of Black people (as defined by Black Consciousness). To this day AZAPO mobilises Black people and all people of conscience for the ushering in of a state and society where all forms of oppression, exploitation and marginalisation shall be done away with, where the free development of all is a necessary condition for the free development of one.