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Steve Biko Lecture: How Biko helps us to think black

By Neo Mokatsanyane

(This lecture was delivered in honor of the legacy of Steven Bantu Biko to the community of Boipatong in Sedibeng on 24 September 2016. The event was hosted by the Sedibeng Regional Chapter of Black First Land First)

I welcome and greet you all my black sisters and brothers, kale dumedisa kao fela , kale bitso la modimo amuntsu , modimo wabo nkgunu lebo ntate ah runa moholo, the God of the of the oppressed, the God of Anton Lembede, the God of Robert Sobukwe, the God of Bantu Steven Biko.

Our people of Sedibeng, our people of Boipatong, our people of occupied Azania – I bring you revolutionary greetings from the Sedibeng Black First Land First Movement.
Let me take this opportunity to acknowledge our Provincial and National leadership.

From the Sedibeng Black First Land First Movement, we would also like to take this opportunity in thanking the elders, who take care of the Boipatong Community Hall, for hosting us.

My fellow black sisters and brothers, to us in the Black First Land First Revolutionary Movement and other Pro Black/Pan Afrikanist organizations, the month of September as a whole marks the anniversary of the death of our father and Azanian messiah Steven Bantu Biko who was mercilessly and brutally murdered by the apartheid regime on the 12th of September 1977. Biko might have suffered a physical death but his spirit through his liberating ideas have become immortal.

So the fundamental question that we might ask ourselves is exactly who is Steven Bantu Biko? But first and foremost, I feel the urgency to make this clear – there is a misconception that has reduced Bantu Biko to the level of the mindset of the empty noisy politicians that currently characterize parliament.

No!!! We must refuse to accept this misconception. Biko was far more than a mere politician. With that said, we need to take into consideration that the white neo colonial/neo liberal racist establishment of post 1994 South Africa was accompanied and facilitated by the intellectual genocide of our people. This made it possible for the continued white washing of our people via the management of the politicians that constitute the black neo colonial and neo liberal government. These are politicians that our revolutionary (black first) thinking compels us to reject. Hence the idea of honoring Biko as a leader with the mindset of a politician is an injustice to his true legacy.

Steven Bantu Biko, was a philosopher, an African existential philosopher and an intellectual activist who emerged as one of the founding leaders of the Black Consciousness Movement. He was one of the greatest fighters and martyrs of the liberation of black people, not just in Azania, but throughout the entire globe. Brothers and sisters allow me to share a brief biographical moment with you – one of which is black consciousness and it came about particularly in the Azanian context.

The Black Consciousness Movement emerged in the mid 1960’s at a time when the white colonial apartheid establishment had arrogantly convinced itself that all forms of resistance coming from black people would ultimately be crushed through the banning of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Afrikanist Congress (PAC). It is from this point that the totality of white power had found consolidation and gained momentum – the point at which it became clearer (as Biko teaches us) that the one who oppresses us is the very same one who gives us solutions on how to deal with our oppression.

White liberals had become the mouth piece for the interests of black people. So black people thus became spectators in a struggle that was essentially theirs with the hope mainly of one day being coopted into whiteness. But this gave rise to new centeres of resistance – from the community, the churches, the primary schools, the high schools and the varsities. It is in these centers of resistance that the philosophy and ideology of black consciousness originated as a radical opposition to white supremacy. With particular reference to the 1960’s where the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) was opened to both black and white membership, the said NUSAS was peddled as the only student organization capable of guiding black students on how to approach their struggle.

But not all black students agreed with the false and deceiving solutions from white liberals. Consequently, Biko and his collegues formed the South African Student Organization (SASO) which was an all black organization that was guided by the black consciousness ideology of Steven Bantu Biko.

Steve Biko and his collegues took it upon themselves to bring blacks to the realization that it is the responsibility of black people to work towards their own emancipation. So the guiding ideology behind SASO was black consciousness. Biko defines black consciousness as the realization by the black man and woman of the need to rally together with his or her black brothers and sisters around the cause of their operation – which is linked to the blackness of their skin – and to operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.

This means that it is only through our collective black first centered action that we can break free from the physical, the mental and the spiritual bondage that we have been subjected to as a people. My fellow blacks we need to understand that it is through our mental bondage that white theft in all its forms is perpetuated as a harsh reality for black people in Azania and across the world. Batho ba heso, we need to comprehend that it is on the basis of our inferiority complex and supressed thinking that the abnormal anti-black world is seen as normal – the abnormal is seen as normal. Now what do I mean by this?

What I mean by this is that the white world – on its pedestal of arrogance which is constructed on anti-blackness – has declared that it is normal for black people to be subjected to the continuous cycle of poverty, that it is normal for blacks to be disease stricken at the hand that deliberately designed bio-logical weapons to decrease and finally render extinct the black population in order for the white racist global economy to flourish in peace at the expense of blacks.

The white world, through its establishment, has ensured that we accept as normal (even after the so called democratic bourgeois elections of 1994) our subhuman state of existence, to be subjected amongst other things to cheap labor as a means of sustaining white privilege. It has made us accept as normal imperialist funded wars and its consequences in Africa and indeed the whole world – including black on black violence. This tells us that the white establishment sees Africa as nothing more than a basket into which it can put its filthy bloodied hands and continue to loot it of its labour and resources. The black reality which is plaqued by all forms of disharmony and disorder, is not normal, it has never been normal and it will never be normal!

But Bantu Biko teaches us that it is only through black consciousness as a liberating tool that we blacks can come to black self awareness as well as awareness of our inhumane conditions of oppression and dehumanization at the hands of white supremacy.

Bantu Biko in his book “I write what I like” teaches us that at the heart of black consciousness is the realization by blacks that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. This means that as long as our minds are not liberated, black people will continue to serve white supremacy and thereby reinforce their own oppression in service of the oppressor. The oppressor does not need to whip or frighten you anymore – you are now a slave on auto-pilot. Now this points to one thing – the liberation of our minds is the primary pre-condition for the liberation of the land. Free the mind to free the land. As a mentally enslaved people we can never be architects of our own liberation until we come to black consciousness – black people who have not come to black consciousness will continue to serve (wittingly or unwittingly) as willing agents of the white establishment. Once we accept colonial rule through its own norms and values we become willing participants in our oppression. In saying this we must remember that the oppressor distorted and thereby destroyed our history. Maximum force and aggression was used to create the native in the image of the oppressor. This is how the “kaffir” and the “nigger” came about. In this context, whites came symbolize everything that is positive and blacks, everything that is negative.

Black consciousness sought to put life back into the black person by bringing the humanity of the black in opposition to the white theme and program of dehumanization. Our final defeat as a people was not only marked by the dispossession of land. It went hand in hand with the dispossession of our labor, identity and our minds as a people. So this defeated and hopeless attitude of black people is in line with the deliberate design of white supremacy.

This brings us to the reason and objectives of white supremacy – to prepare our people for their subservient role to whites in this country, to be in service of the interests of the white supremacy and to be in service of the interests of white monopoly capital. In this regard we end up thinking that we are in service of our own interests when the real truth is that we are not – we actually work against our own interests. South Africa is currently under attack by imperialist funded campaigns like the “Zuma must fall” campaign which projects the president as the primary enemy whereas the root cause of our problems is white supremacy which in turn is located in the colonial theft of black land. So from a black consciousness perspective which necessarily compels us to think black first, the following must occur:

– Land must be returned to blacks!
– Imperialism through its main agencies, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) must end!
– White Monopoly Capital – operated by white bankers and captains like Johann Rupert, the Openhiemers and the Ackermans – must end!
– White Racism must end!
– Neo-colonial, neo liberal education must end!
– Free quality education must be declared and implemented!
– Privatization of banks and the other key sectors of the economy must end via nationalization.
– Black on black violence must end!
– Poor housing and infrastructure must end in favor of adequate, decent housing!
– Outsourcing at campuses must end in favor of insourcing!
– A living wage must declared and implemented!
– Patriarchy (which is located in the structural logic of white supremacy) must end so as to end the oppression, discrimination, exploitation, violence (and other forms of abuse) of black women!

BLF’s Black First centered campaign in essence is that white supremacy must fall! It is through thinking along these lines that the black liberation project can be cast at the center of our efforts to attain freedom.

Batho ba heso, this is how the black consciousness of Bantu Biko helps us to think black first. Furthermore, there must be an acknowledgement that to think black first is to incorporate the land first approach. This is because it is only through the return of our stolen land that the total liberation of our people will materialize.

BLF has consolidated the black first approach to thinking into a Black Agenda which can be accessed via our website. This document is guide to the method and program for achieving genuine liberation for blacks.

The black agenda correctly points out that black people are at the bottom of society in all areas of life. To this end the white settler minority has the land via colonial theft and the black majority remain landless 22 years into “democracy” of the post 1994 ANC regime. Statistics indicate that out of more than 54 million people in South Africa only 35 thousand white families own 80 percent of the land. The ANC government has been able to buy only 8 percent of the stolen land from the settlers at a cost which is approximately 50 billion! Just imagine the madness – the twisted logic of buying back what was stolen from you! Here are some of the practical indicators that tell us that black people remain at the bottom of society:

– Since 1994 a staggering one million plus black people have been forcefully removed from farms
– In urban areas black people have no housing because of unaffordable prices.
– More than 45 percent of black people are unemployed in contrast to only 5 percent of whites.
– White people make up 10 percent of the economically active population, but at the end of the day occupy 60 percent of top management. (And some us have the audacity to say that we are living in an equal democratic society. Even when it comes to income, white families own six times more than what black families earn)
– The average yearly income of a black family is R60000 whereas a white family earns an average yearly income of R360 000.
– Only 5 percent of black people complete higher education. (We love saying that education is the key to success but how can it be such when our people are excluded from education because of lack of financial means)
– Black people only own 3 percent of the listed Johannesburg stock exchange companies.
– Black people continue to live in concentration camps we call townships, informal settlements and squatter camps where life is almost impossible because of hunger, violence and social alienation which was created by white supremacy.

To think black first is a revolutionary call to equip ourselves with the necessary mental and practical capacity so as to remove ourselves from the bottom of society – because we black people, are the first people to walk the planet, we are the founders of all civilizations. White supremacy through slavery, colonialism and apartheid have placed blacks at the bottom of society. The legacy of Biko teaches us that it is important to think black first as it is the only liberating tool that help us to end the divisions among us and also unite us into a front against white supremacy. It is through this way that an end to the suffering, poverty, landlessness and all other ills that have been brought to bear upon us by white supremacy can be realized.


1. See link to Black Agenda: http://blf.org.za/policy-documents/black-agenda/
2. Biko S “I write what I like” (Picardo Africa an imprint of Macmillan South Africa 2004)

Neo Mokatsanyane is the Black First Land First Regional Political Education Secretary for Sedibeng

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