Monday, 10 June 2013

Revitalizing the Black Consciousness Tradition

We are lifelong activists in the Black Consciousness Movement. We have noted the press statement announcing the merger of AZAPO and SOPA. We are committed to the unity of all BC organisations and individuals committed to the BC project. However we have concerns about the way that this merger has been planned and the content of the announcements surrounding it.

There have been serious disagreements within BC since the death of Biko. Since 1998 there have been a number of splits in the BC movement. There have been constant talks about unity but they have always failed. During these years many BC stalwarts have been operating independently, some pushing the question of unity and some getting involved in the new generation of popular struggles.

The politics of BC used to be a politics of dignity. It used to be entrenched within communities. You would have black students working in community programmes. You would have black lawyers who were not divorced from the people's struggles. Activists were right there in the struggles and the day to day lives of black people. They were not taking decisions for the people from an ivory tower. This has really been missing for many years. What we have had in recent years are small sects that are alienated from the people and from their struggles and have not been able to rethink BC politics for a new situation. They tend to just recycle the old dogmas and slogans of the past. Every new statement looks like a repeat of the Azanian Manifesto. Those that know the old dogmas and slogans are taken as the experts that must lead the people. Often there has been real authoritarianism in these organisations and a tendency to use slander and intimidation to shut down debate. There are sober people in these organisations. But if anyone is critical these organisations will send out their own Malemas to bark at their critics and to impugn their integrity. Critics have been called agent provocateurs, traitors, lumpens etc. But the record of these organisations is one of on-going political failure. They have not succeeded in elections and they have not succeeded in linking to popular struggles. The sclerosis of the BC tradition, once a politics rooted in the real lives and struggles of black people, has become clear.

The politics of the media manufactured celebrity with no support on the ground are not a real alternative to this. Real politics is not conducted on Facebook. And when the reduction of BC to celebrity culture is accompanied by the gutter politics of slander and threats to people that question the authority of the self-appointed leader it is nothing but an insult to the memory of Biko. BC needs to become rooted in the lives and struggles of black people once more. It needs to become a space for free and open discussion once more.

We know that criticisms of the organisations and people that have tried to capture the BC legacy for themselves will always result in attempts to assassinate the characters of the critics. There are many sober people in the various BC organisations but they often feel too scared to speak and debate freely. There are lots of discussions off the record but people do not want to go public. Even some of the real stalwarts do not want to go on the record with their concerns. However we remember that Che Guevara always used to quote Jose Marti on this point: “A sad thing it is to not have friends, but even sadder must it be not having any enemies; that a man should have no enemies is a sign that he has no talent to outshine others, nor character that inspires, nor valour that is feared, nor honour to be rumoured.”

We are concerned that it seems that the process leading to this merger between AZAPO and SOPA was carried out behind closed doors. It was not an open and democratic process. In fact it seems to us that it is just a marriage of convenience aimed at the 2014 elections. There is also a worrying authoritarianism in the statements that have been made. People who have genuine concerns about this merger are already being painted as 'immature', 'reckless' and 'power-mongers'. And there is no new political vision at all in the statements that have made. All we see are the old slogans. We can all agree that the ruling party has failed the black masses in occupied Azania. But just repeating the same old slogans that have never succeeded to capture the imagination of the people is not going to help.

If BC is to be made relevant on the ground it needs to connect to the everyday lives and struggles of black people. It will need to think seriously about the global crisis of capitalism, the new struggles that are emerging around the world, and the new struggles on the mines, on the farms and in the squatter camps in South Africa. It will need to think seriously about the crisis of unemployment, education and housing faced by the majority of black people under a black government. It will need to think seriously about the emergence of popular organisations like Abahlali baseMijondolo and AMCU that are independent of the ANC. It will need to think seriously about the brutal repression of new struggles by a black government. It will need to think seriously about xenophobia and rape. It will need to think seriously about moving out of the small, backward looking, introverted and divided spaces in which the remains of the BC tradition survive today and towards building a broad based left project rooted in popular struggles.

Karl Marx warned that the “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” He stressed that “We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things”. In the same spirit Frantz Fanon insisted that "Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it." Biko, Cooper, Ngwenkulu, Moodley, Mokoape, Ndebele, Philip, Pityana, Tiro and many others developed an explosive new politics for their time. We must do the same for our time. We cannot continue to think that just repeating the old slogans to ourselves is the same thing as making a serious political intervention.

If a genuine unity of all forces committed to the BC vision is to be achieved, and if this is going to be a new political force that can really make a difference, it will have to be based on an open and democratic process and it will have to be rooted in the lives and struggles of our people. This unity cannot come from a few leaders having discussions behind closed doors. It cannot come from leaders trying to protect their power and positions. If BC is to become revitalised and a real force in the politics of our country it must be returned to the people. We need a BC that will be able to capture the imagination of our people and that will only happen once we realise that the so-called masses are full blown political subjects. It will only happen once the urgency of the crisis faced by our people has been realised. It will only happen once we realise that our people are already in struggle and that we must join them in that struggle.

We sign off with a quotation from Steve Biko: "We have set 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 brotherhood. In time we shall be in a position to bestow upon South Africa the greatest gift possible - a more human face".

Bheki Buthelezi – 072 639 9893
Ayanda Kota – 078 625 6462
Xola Mali – 072 299 5253