As we commemorate Steve Biko's 40th anniversary, it is imperative to take into cognizance his ideas on the Black Consciousness Movement.
September 12th, 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the murder of Bantu Stephen Biko in police detention. Steve Biko, who was born on December 18th, 1946, would have been in his 70th year. In remembering him, we also remember some of his principles on the black consciousness movement.
Steve Biko was a prominent and eminent exponent of the Black Consciousness movement in his bid to fight the oppressive regime of the apartheid system. His ideas were deemed to be dangerous by the settler regime in South Africa and they found it befitting to get rid of him from this planet. His spirit of resistance lived on after his death and was embraced by many other black South Africans, which ultimately culminated in South Africa getting its independence in 1994.
Biko's role in the anti-apartheid movement was of great importance and had profound effects on the whole outlook of the struggle in terms of how the black South Africans viewed themselves. Biko created the South African Students Association which later morphed into the Black Consciousness Movement. “Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time,” he said.
Biko's activism was so fierce that in February 1973 he got banned, meaning that he could not address any public gathering or speak to more than one person at a time. The early focus of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) was on criticising anti-racist white liberals and liberalism itself, accusing it of paternalism and being a "negative influence" on black Africans. In one of his first published articles, Biko stated that although he was "not sneering at the [white] liberals and their involvement" in the anti-apartheid movement, "one has to come to the painful conclusion that the [white] liberal is in fact appeasing his own conscience, or at best is eager to demonstrate his identification with the black people only insofar as it does not sever all ties with his relatives on his side of the colour line."
Biko rejected the apartheid government's division of South Africa's population into tribal and ethnic groups, instead dividing the population into two categories: the white and the black. He defined blackness as a "mental attitude" rather than a "matter of pigmentation", referring to "blacks" as "those who are by law or tradition politically, economically and socially discriminated against as a group in the South African society" and who identify "themselves as a unit in the struggle towards the realization of their aspirations".
In this way, he and the Black Consciousness Movement used "black" in reference not only to Bantu-speaking Africans but also to Coloureds and Indians, which together made up almost 90% of South Africa's population in the 1970s. Biko was not a Marxist and believed that it was oppression based on race, rather than class, which would be the main political motivation for change in South Africa. He argued that those on the "white left" often promoted a class-based analysis as a "defence mechanism... primarily because they want to detach us from anything relating to race. In case it has a rebound effect on them because they are white".
The matter of how the black person suffered from intense inferiority complex was at the crux of Biko's ideology. He said that the most important tool the oppressor had was the mind of the oppressed. He also said that when blacks look down on themselves they are actually insulting the intelligence of whoever created them black. He strongly believed that it was because of white supremacy that the apartheid system thrived and that they totally controlled the political arena, thus, leaving the black people marginalized.
Biko's approach to activism focused on psychological empowerment, and both he and the BCM saw their main purpose as combating the feeling of inferiority that most black South Africans experienced. Biko expressed dismay at how "the black man has become a shell, a shadow of man ... bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity", and stated that "the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed". He believed that blacks needed to affirm their own humanity by overcoming their fears and believing themselves worthy of freedom and its attendant responsibilities. He defined Black Consciousness as "an inward-looking process" that would "infuse people with pride and dignity".To promote this, the BCM adopted the slogan "Black is Beautiful."
Nelson Mandela said of Biko: "They had to kill him to prolong the life of apartheid. While it was Nelson Mandela who was freed to lead South Africa and reconcile the country after the fall of apartheid, many still see Biko as an icon of the struggle for majority rule.
His influence on the South African political landscape has been of unparalleled magnitude, and it continues to bear a lot of significance for the rest of the Africa, considering how many minds are still mired in the bondages of colonial thinking.
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