by Nigel Gibson, Social Identities, 2008
Grounded in the South African experience, in discussions with Blacks about their everyday experiences of oppression and in attitudes formed from that experience and sharpened by an engagement with Africana philosophers like Fanon, Steve Biko recreated the kind of praxis that Fanon suggested in the conclusion of The Wretched of the Earth, namely that the working out of new concepts cannot come from the intellectual’s head alone but must come from a dialogue with common people. Today a new shackdweller movement (Abahlali baseMjondolo) has emerged in South Africa, which has put post-apartheid society on trial and has resonated with Fanon and Biko’s idea of a decolonized new humanism. At the same time Abahlali’s notion of a person and its critique of reification has been challenged by the spontaneous eruption of xenophobic violence indicating that the stark choice between humanism and barbarism is a most concrete question in the shack settlements.
Because Biko’s development of Black consciousness and his engagement of Fanon’s thought remains of historic importance to contemporary South Africa, the paper begins with a focus on the creativity and the contradictory processes by which Fanon’s philosophy of liberation is articulated in Steve Biko’s conception of Black consciousness. From this starting point the discussion shifts from Biko’s critique of white liberalism to the dialectics of contemporary neoliberal ‘postcolonial’ reality. What remains central, however, are the creative and contradictory processes that a re-engagement with Fanon will create. In other words, since it is ‘the live subject that unites theory and reality’, the issue becomes how, in a new historic moment, a philosophy born of struggle makes itself heard.
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