Pan Africanism : Black consciousness

Discussion in 'Black History - Culture - Panafricanism' started by ngumbi, Oct 6, 2003.

  1. ngumbi

    ngumbi Member MEMBER

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    Hi all,

    I stumbled across very interesting writing by the South African father of Black Conciousness and since we were remebering his untimely pasing in the last month I thought I'd share it with you.

    Black consciousness and the quest for a true humanity

    Steve Biko

    It is perhaps fitting to start by examining why it is necessary for us to think collectively about a problem we never created. In doing so, I do not wish to concern myself unnecessarily with the white people of South Africa, but to get to the right answers, we must ask the right questions; we have to find out what went wrong -where and when; and we have to find out whether our position is a deliberate creation of God or an artificial fabrication of the truth by power-hungry people whose motive is authority, security, wealth and comfort, in other words, the "Black Consciousness" approach would be irrelevant in a colourless and non-exploitative egalitarian society. It is relevant here because we believe that an anomalous situation is a deliberate creation of man.

    There is no doubt that the colour Question in South African politics was originally introduced for economic reasons. The leaders of the white community had to create some kind of barrier between blacks and whiles so that the whites could enjoy privileges at the expense of blacks and still be feel free to give a moral justification for the obvious exploitation that pricked even the hardest of white consciences. However, tradition has it that whenever a group of people has tasted the lovely fruits of wealth, security and prestige it begins to find it more comfortable to believe in the obvious lie and to accept it as normal that it alone is entitled to privilege. In order to believe this seriously, it needs to convince itself of all the arguments that support the lie. It is not surprising, therefore, that in South Africa, after generations of exploitation, white people on the whole have come to believe in the inferiority of the black man, so much so that while the race problem started as an offshoot of the economic greed exhibited by white people, it has now become a serious problem on its own. White people now despise black people, not because they need to reinforce their attitude and so justify their position of privilege but simply because they actually believe that black is inferior and bad. This is the basis upon which whites are working in South Africa, and it is what makes South African society racist, The racism we meet does not only exist on an individual basis: it is also institutionalized to make it look like the South African way of life. Although of late there has been a feeble attempt to gloss over the overt racist elements in the system, it is still true that the system derives its nourishment from the existence of anti-black attitudes in society. To make the lie live even longer, blacks have to be denied any chance of accident" ally proving their equality with white men. For this reason there is job reservation, lack of training in skilled work and a tight orbit around professional possibilities for blacks. Stupidly enough, the system turns back to say that blacks are inferior because they have no economists, no engineers, etc. although it is made impossible for blacks to acquire these skills.

    To give authenticity to their tie and to show the righteousness of their claim, whites have further worked out detailed schemes to "solve" the racial situation in this country. Thus, a pseudo-parliament has been created for "Coloureds", and several "Bantu states" are in the process of being set up. So independent and fortunate are they that they do not have to spend a cent on their defence because they have nothing to fear from white South Africa which wilt always come to their assistance in times of need. One does not of course; fail to see the arrogance of whites and their contempt for blacks, even in their well-considered modern schemes for subjugation,

    The overall success of the white power structure has been in managing to bind the whites together in defence of the status quo. By skillfully playing on that imaginary bogey - swart gevaar — they have managed to convince even diehard liberals that there is something to fear in the idea of the black man assuming his rightful place at the helm of the South African ship, Thus after years of silence we are able to hear the familiar voice of Alan Paton saying, as far away as London; "Perhaps apartheid is worth a try". "At whose expense. Dr. Paton?” asks an intelligent black journalist. Hence whites in general reinforce each other even though they allow some moderate disagreements on the details of subjugation schemes. There is no doubt that they do not question the validity of white values. They see nothing anomalous in the fact that they alone are arguing about the future of 17 million blacks-in a land which is the natural backyard of the black people. Any proposals for change emanating from the black world are viewed with great indignation. Even the so-called opposition, the United Party. Has the nerve to tell the Coloured people that they are asking for too much. A journalist from a liberal newspaper like The Sunday Times of Johannesburg describes a black student-who is only telling the truth-as a militant, impatient young man.

    It is not enough for whites to be on the offensive. So immersed are they in prejudice that they do not believe that blacks can formulate their thoughts without white guidance and trusteeship. Thus, even those whites who see much wrong with the system make it their business to control the response of the blacks to the provocation. No one is suggesting that it is not the business of liberal whites to oppose what is wrong, However, it appears to us as too much of a coincidence that liberals-few as they are-should not only be determining the modus operand of those blacks who oppose the system, but also leading it, in spite of their involvement in the system. To us it seems that their role spells out the totality of the white power structure — the fact that though whites are our problem, it is still other whites who want to tell us how to deal with that problem.
    They do so by dragging all sorts of red herrings across our paths. They tell us that the situation is a class struggle rather than a racial one. Let them go to van Tender in the Free State and tell him this. We believe we know what the problem is, and we will stick by our findings.

    I want to go a little deeper in this discussion because it is time we kitted this false political coalition between blacks and whites as long as it is set up on a wrong analysis of our situation. I want to kill it for another reason-namely that it forms at present the greatest stumbling block to our unity. It dangles before freedom hungry blacks promises of a great future for which no one in these groups seems to be working particularly hard.

    The basic problem in South Africa has been analysed by liberal whites as being apartheid. They argue that in order to oppose it we have to form non-racial groups. Between these two extremes, they claim, lies the land of milk and honey for which we are working. The thesis, the anti-thesis and the synthesis have been mentioned by some great philosophers as the cardinal points around which any social revolution revolves. For the liberals, the thesis is apartheid, the anti-thesis is non-racialism, but the synthesis is very feebly defined. They want to tell the blacks that they see integration as the ideal solution; Black Consciousness defines the situation differently. The thesis is in fact a strong white racism and therefore, the antithesis to this must, ipso facto, be a strong solidarity amongst the blacks on whom this white racism seeks to prey, Out of these two situations we can therefore hope to reach some kind of balance - a true humanity where power politics will have no place, This analysis spells cut the difference between the old and new approaches. The failure of the liberals is in the fact that their antithesis is already a watered-down version of the truth whose close proximity to the thesis will nullify the purported balance. This accounts for the failure of the Sprocas commissions to make any real headway, for they are already looking for an 'alternative' acceptable to the white man. Everybody in the corn missions knows what is right but all are looking for the most seemly way of dodging the responsibility of saying what is right.

    It is much more important for blacks to see this difference than it is for whiles. We must learn to accept that no group, however benevolent, can ever hand power to the vanquished on a plate. We must accept that the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. As long as we go to Whitey begging cap in hand for our own emancipation, we are giving him further sanction to continue with his racist and oppressive system.
    We must realise that our situation is not a mistake on the part of whites but a deliberate act, and that no amount of moral lecturing will persuade the white man to "correct" the situation. The system concedes nothing without demand, for it formulates its very method of operation on the basis that the ignorant we learn to know, the child will: grow into an adult and therefore demands will begin to be made. It gears itself to resist demands in whatever way it sees fit. When you refuse to make these demands and choose to come to a round table to beg for your deliverance, you are asking for the contempt of those who have power over you. This is why we must reject the beggar tactics that are being forced on us by those who wish to appease our cruel masters. This is where the SASO message and cry; "Black man, you are on your own" becomes relevant.

    The concept of integration, whose virtues are often extolled in white liberal circles, is full of unquestioned assumptions that embrace white values, It is a concept long defined by whites and never examined by blacks. It is based on the assumption that all is well with the system apart from some degree of mismanagement by irrational conservatives at the top. Even the people who argue for integration often forget to veil it in its supposedly beautiful covering. They tell each other that were it not for job reservation; there would be a beautiful market to exploit. They forget they are talking about people. They see blacks as additional levers to some complicated industrial machines. This is white man's integration, an integration based on exploitative values. It is an integration in which black will compete with black, using each other as rungs up a stepladder leading them to white values. It is an integration in which the black man will have to prove himself in terms of these values before meriting acceptance and ultimate assimilation, and in which the poor will grow poorer and the rich richer in a country where the poor have always been black. We do not want to be reminded that it is we, the indigenous people, who are poor and exploited in the land of our birth. These are concepts, which the Black Consciousness approach wishes to eradicate from the black man's mind before our society is driven to chaos by irresponsible people from Coca-cola and hamburger cultural backgrounds.

    Black Consciousness is an attitude of mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time. Its essence is the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression-the blackness of their skin-and to operate as a group to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude. It is based on a self-examination, which has ultimately led them to believe that by seeking to run away from themselves and emulate the white man, they are insulting the intelligence of whoever created them black.

    The philosophy of Black Consciousness therefore expresses group pride and the determination of the black to rise and attain the envisaged self. Freedom is the ability to define oneself with one's possibilities held back not by the power of other people over one but only by one's relationship to God and to natural surroundings.

    On his own, therefore, the black man wishes to explore his surroundings, and test his possibilities. In other words to make his freedom real by whatever means he deems fit. At the heart of this kind of thinking is the realisation by blacks that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. If one is free at heart, no man-made chains can bind one to servitude, but if one's mind is so manipulated and controlled by the oppressor as to make the oppressed believe that he is g liability to the white man, then there will be nothing the oppressed can do to scare his powerful masters. Hence thinking along lines of Black Consciousness makes the black man see himself as a being complete in himself. It makes him less dependent and more free to express his manhood. At the end of it all he cannot tolerate attempts by anybody to dwarf the significance of his manhood.

    In order that Black Consciousness can be used to advantage as a philosophy to apply to people in a position like ours, a number of points have to be observed. As people existing in a continuous struggle for truth, we have to examine and question old concepts, values and systems. Having found the fight answers we shall then work for consciousness among all people to make it possible for us to proceed towards putting these answers into effect. In this process, we have to evolve our own schemes, forms and strategies to suit the need and situation, always keeping in mind our fundamental beliefs and values.

    In all aspects of the black-white relationship, now and in the past, we see a constant tendency by whites to depict blacks as of an inferior status. Our culture, our history and indeed all aspects of the black man's life have been battered nearly out of shape in the great collision between the indigenous values and the Anglo Boer culture.

    The first people to come and relate to blacks in a human way in South Africa were the missionaries. They were in the vanguard of the colonisation movement to "civilise and educate" the savages and introduce the Christian message to them. The religion they brought was quite foreign to the black indigenous people. African religion in its essence was not radically different from Christianity. We also believed in one God, we had our community of saints through whom we related to our God, and we did not find it compatible with our way of life to worship God in isolation from the various aspects of our lives. Hence worship was not a specialised function that found expression once a week in a secluded building, but rather it featured in our wars, our beer-drinking, our dances and our customs in general. Whenever Africans drank they would first rotate to God by giving a portion of their beer away as a token of thanks. When anything went wrong at home they would offer sacrifice to God to appease him end atone "for their sins. There was no hell in our religion. We believed in the inherent goodness of man -hence we took it for granted that all people at death joined the community of saints and therefore merited our respect.

    It was the missionaries who confused the people with their new religion. They scared our people with stories of hell. They painted their God as a demanding God wanted worship "or else". People had to discard their clothes and their customs in order to be accepted in this now religion. Knowing how religious the African people were, the missionaries stepped up their terror campaign on the emotions of the people with their detailed accounts of eternal burning, tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth. By some strange and twisted logic, they argued that theirs was a scientific religion and ours a superstition-all this in spite of the biological discrepancy which is at the base of their religion, This cold and cruel religion was strange to the indigenous people and caused frequent strife between the converted and the "pagans", for the former, having imbibed the false values from white society, were taught to ridicule and despise those who defended the truth of their indigenous religion. With the ultimate acceptance of the western religion down went our cultural values.

    While I do not wish to question the basic truth at the heart of the Christian message, there is a strong case for a re-examination of Christianity- It has proved a very adaptable religion which does not seek to supplement existing orders but-like any universal truth-to find application within a particular situation. More than anyone else, the missionaries knew that not all they did was essential to the spread of the message. But the basic intention went much further than merely spreading the word. Their arrogance and their monopoly on truth, beauty and moral judgement taught them to despise native customs and traditions and to seek to infuse their own new values into these societies.

    Here then we have the case for Black Theology, while not wishing to discuss Black Theology at length, let it suffice to say that it seeks to relate God and Christ once more to the black man and his daily problems. It wants to describe Christ as a fighting God, not a passive God who allows a lie to rest unchallenged. It grapples with existential problems and does not claim to be a theology of absolutes. It seeks to bring back God to the black man and to the truth and reality of his situation. This is an important aspect of Black Consciousness, for quite a large proportion of black people in South Africa are Christians still swimming in a mire of confusion the aftermath of the missionary approach, it is the duty therefore of all black priests and ministers of religion to save Christianity by adopting Black Theology's approach and thereby once more uniting the black man with his God. "

    A long look should also be taken at the educational system for blacks. The same tense situation was found as long ago as the arrival of the missionaries- Children were taught, under the pretext of hygiene, good manners and other such vague concepts, to despise their mode of upbringing at home and to question the values and customs of their society. The result was the expected one child and parents saw life differently and the former lost respect for the latter. Now in African society it is a cardinal sin for a child to lose respect for his parent. Yet how can one prevent the loss of respect between child and parent when the child is taught by his know-all white tutors to disregard his family teachings? Who can resist losing respect for his tradition? Who can resist losing respect for his tradition when in school his whole cultural background is summed up in one word-barbarism? Thus we can immediately see the logic of placing the missionaries in the forefront of the colonisation process, A man who succeeds in making a group of people accept a foreign concept in which he is expert makes them perpetual students whose progress in the particular field can only be evaluated by him; the student must constantly turn to him for guidance and promotion. In being forced to accept the Anglo-Boer culture, the blacks have allowed themselves to be at the mercy of the white man and to have him as their eternal supervisor. Only he can tell us how good our performance is and instinctively each of us is at pains to please this powerful, all-knowing master. This is what Black Consciousness seeks to eradicate.

    As one black writer says colonialism is never satisfied with having the native in its grip but. By some strange logic, it must turn to his past and disfigure and distort it. Hence the history of the black man in this country is most disappointing to read. It is presented merely as a long succession of defeats. The Xhosas were thieves who went to war for stolen property; the Boers never provoked the Xhosas but merely went on "punitive expeditions" to teach the thieves a lesson, Heroes like Makana* who were essentially revolutionaries are painted as superstitious trouble-makers who lied to the people about bullets turning into water. Great nation-builders like Shaka are cruel tyrants who frequently attacked smaller tribes for no reason but for some sadistic purpose. Not only is there no objectivity in the history taught us but there is frequently an appalling misrepresentation of facts that sicken even the uninformed student.

    Thus a lot of attention has to be paid to our history if we as blacks want to aid each other in our coming into consciousness. We have to rewrite our history and produce in it the heroes that formed the core of our resistance to the white invaders. More has to be revealed and stress has to be laid on the successful nation-building attempts of men such as Shaka, Moshoeshoe and Hinsta. These areas call for intense research to provide some sorely needed missing links. We would be loo naïve to expect our conquerors to write unbiased histories about us but we have to destroy the myth that our history starts in 1652, the year Van Riebeeck landed at the Cape.

    Our culture must be defined in concrete terms. We must relate the past to the present and demonstrate a historical evolution of the modern black, man. There is a tendency to think of our culture as a static culture that was arrested in 1652 and has never developed since the "return to the bush” concept suggests that we have nothing to boast of except ions, sex and drink. We accept that when colonisation sets in it devours the indigenous culture and leaves behind a bastard culture that may thrive at the pace allowed it by the dominant culture. But we also have to realise that the basic tenets of our culture have largely succeeded in withstanding the process of bastardisation and that even at this moment we can still demonstrate that we appreciate a man for himself. Ours is a true man-centred society whose sacred tradition is that of sharing. We must reject, as we have been doing, the individualistic cold approach to life that is the cornerstone of the Anglo-Boer culture. We must seek to restore to the black man the great importance we used to give to human relations, the high regard for people and their property and for life in general; to reduce the triumph of technology over man and the materialistic element that is slowly creeping into our society.

    These are essential features of our black culture to which we must cling. Black culture above all implies freedom on our part to innovate without recourse to white values.
    This innovation is part of the natural development of any Culture. A culture is essentially the society's composite answer to the varied problems of life. We are experiencing new problems every day and whatever we do adds to the richness of our cultural heritage as long as it has man as its centre- The adoption of black theatre and drama is one such important innovation which we need to encourage and to develop. We know that our love of music and rhythm has relevance even in this day.

    Being part of an exploitative society in which we are often the direct objects, of exploitation, we need to evolve a strategy towards our economic situation. We are aware that the Blacks are still colonised even within the borders of South Africa. Their cheap labour has helped to make South Africa what it is today, Our money from the townships takes a one-way journey to white shops and white banks, and all we do in our lives is pay the white man either with labour or in coin. Capitalistic exploitative tendencies, coupied with the overt arrogance of white racism, have conspired against us. Thus in South Africa now it is very expensive to be poor. It is the poor people who stay furthest from town and therefore have to spend more money on transport to come and work for white people; it is the poor people who use uneconomic and inconvenient fuel like paraffin and coal because of the refusal of the white man to install electricity in black areas; it is the poor people who are governed by many ill-defined restrictive laws and therefore have to spend money on fines for "technical" offences; it is the poor people who have no hospitals and are therefore exposed to exorbitant charges by private doctors; it is the poor people who use untarred roads, have to walk long distances, and therefore experience the greatest wear and tear on commodities like shoes: it is the poor people who have to pay for their children's books while whites get them free, It does not need to be said that it is the black people who are poor.

    We therefore need to take another look at how best to use our economic power, little as it may seem to be. We must seriously examine the possibilities of establishing business co-operatives whose interest wilt be ploughed back into community development Programmes. We should think along such lines as the "buy black" campaign once suggested in Johannesburg and establish our own banks for the benefit of the community.

    Organisational development amongst blacks has only been low because we have allowed it to be. Now that we know we are on our own, it is an absolute duty for us to fulfil these needs.

    The last step in Black Consciousness is to broaden the base of our operation. One of the basic tenets of Black Consciousness is totality of involvement. This means that all Blacks must sit as one big unit, and no fragmentation and distraction from the mainstream of events be allowed.
    Hence we must resist the attempts by protagonists of the Bantustan theory to fragment our approach. We are oppressed not as individuals, not as Zulus, Xhosas, Vendas or Indians. We are oppressed because we are black. We must use that very concept to unite ourselves and to respond as a cohesive group. We must cling to each other with a tenacity that will shock the perpetrators of evil.

    Our prepardness to take upon ourselves the cudgels of the struggle will see us through. We must remove from our vocabulary completely the concept of fear; Truth must ultimately triumph over evil and the white man has always nourished, his greed on this basic fear that shows itself in the black community. Special Branch agents will not turn the lie into truth, and one must ignore them. In a true bid for change we have to take off our coats, be prepared to lose our comfort and security, our jobs and positions of prestige, and our families, for just as it is true that "leadership and security are basically incompatible". a struggle without casualties is no struggle. We must realise that prophetic cry of black students: "Black man, you are on your own"

    Some will charge that we are racist but these people are using exactly the values we reject. We do not have the power to subjugate anyone. We are merely responding to provocation in the most realistic possible way.

    Racism does not only imply exclusion of one race by another-it always presupposes that the exclusion is for the purposes of subjugation. Blacks have had enough experience as objects of racism not to wish to turn the tables, White it may be relevant now to talk about black in relation to white, we must not make this our preoccupation, for it can be a negative exercise. As we proceed further towards the achievements of our goals let us talk more about ourselves and our struggle and less about whites.

    We have set out on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the distant horizon we can see the glittering prize. Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common plight and our brotherhood. In time we shall be in a position to bestow upon South Africa the greatest gift possible-a mom human face.
     
  2. ngumbi

    ngumbi Member MEMBER

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    Oops, for those interesting in knowing more about this increadible man visit:
    www.sahistory.org.za and I must ackowledge that this site was the source of the above post.
     
  3. ngumbi

    ngumbi Member MEMBER

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    You may have picked up that 'coloured' and 'black' a.k.a 'Bantu' are referred two as separate entities, in the days of apartheid and that legacy still prevails, Black meant pure African breed and Coloured reffered to those of 'mixed' blood. As much as coloured people had 'Black' reletives, these two 'entities' were separated in terms of where they resided, schools they attended, where their 'people' were buried and of course the ligheter your skin was the 'better' you were treated.
     
  4. mkhaya lo'

    mkhaya lo' Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Ngumbi, hello...thank you very much for your contribution...I appreciate as many people that contribute here... I live in South Africa, born and bred here... I lot of what i read here I dont even experience anymore... Not of course that i think it doesnt happen. A very strange thing has happened in South Africa since 1994 when democracy came into effect. Racism became taboo...white people would rather die than be openely seen as racists. So racism has taken a different undertone, one only detected when you know the signs really. If you should ever come to South Africa, its nothing like what Bantu Biko writes about back in the 70's... but you only have to sometimes dig deeper to see that its still right there and kicking... I want to bring the real picture about South Africa. One the one hand I feel the need to defend where we are as a people and share that I feel the government is committed to changing the lives of black people for the better, to undo the chaos and anarchy left by the apartheid government. People are still poor, unemployed, crime is rife, people are still being subjected to subservient positions but i have no doubt in my mind that the government has a plan to change things-slowly and completely... South Africa-as does the rest of Africa belongs to black people. there can be no doubt in anybody's mind.

    My brother Ngumbi, I appreciate you posting, but I must admit I would have like you to communicate with me first in terms of the information that you would have liked to add to my posting-seeing that it is my column it would have only been the courteous thing to do...and I do appreciate everybody coming in here and reading-even if they dont always reply, the important thing is that they read and get a better understanding of things.. Everything I say about South Africa and Africa is through my own eyes.... sometimes we need that extra pair of eyes...but at the same time.... I would not just come all up in your space and took it over I would have told you what i have and i'm sure it would have been okay in anycase because knowledge in the bottomless well of eternal life...

    lo'
     
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