The Black Consciousness Movement is arguably the most influential student movement in the 1970s, in Apartheid South Africa. Black Consciousness is defined as the awareness of one’s identity as a black person.
“We aim to eliminate the alienation from self that afflicted the being of the oppressed Black people of South Africa.”
This, in the South African context, includes Indians and Coloureds (Result of interracial conception). The Black Consciousness philosophy was introduced to the South African political landscape by the South African Students Organization (SASO). The SASO was an explicitly non-white organization open to students classified as African, Indian, or Coloured under Apartheid Law. This organization was founded by students that walked out of the National Union of South African Students, which was multiracial but white-dominated, in 1969. This marked the commencement of the Black Consciousness Movement. With Steve Biko as its leading theorist and communicator, the Black Consciousness Movement aimed to “eliminate the alienation from self that afflicted the being of the oppressed Black people of South Africa.”
“Merely by describing yourself as black you have started on a road towards emancipation.”
The Black Consciousness Movement promoted a new identity and politics of racial solidarity, and became the voice and spirit of the anti-Apartheid movement at a time when both the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress had been banned in the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre. Over the past year there has been an arising of two conflicting tags, #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. What some people fail to realise is that Black Consciousness and the #BlackLivesMatter are a battle against white superiority rather than a negation of whites as a people. In the words of Mabogo More, a South African Black Consciousness philosopher, “Black Consciousness was and still is a struggle for a new consciousness, a reawakening of a self-consciousness, a re-appropriation of black self-consciousness from the clutches of a dominating white consciousness, a rediscovery of the black self which lay buried beneath white consciousness imposed on blacks by cultural, political, economic, linguistic and religious domination.”
Relevant today as they were in the last century are BC’s eminent qualities which are:
- Ability to interrogate and surface the operations of power,
- Ability to decipher acts aimed at marginalizing African norms and values and supplanting them with ones meant to alienate Black people from themselves and thus perpetuating subjugation,
- Its ability to bear witness to human suffering and exploitation and its advocacy and struggle for society and a world based on radical humanism where exploitation of man by man or of nation by another nation is done away with and forms no part of human and nation to nation interaction.
The exact connections between the Black Consciousness Movement and the Soweto Student Uprising are debated, but for the Apartheid government the connections were clear enough. In the aftermath of Soweto, the Black People’s Convention and several other Black Consciousness movements were banned and their leadership arrested many after being beaten and tortured, including Steve Biko who died in police custody. The BPC was partially resurrected in the Azania People’s Organization, which is still active in South African politics. The 21st century has, so far, not been marked by the dispersal of power to all, but by its further concentration in the hands of the few. It has not seen the destruction of oligarchies but their increase in political and economic affairs and it has seen former liberation movements become self-serving entities that sacrifice the needs of the masses through abuse of state resources and corruption. It is BC that remains the hope for the poor and marginalized people – particularly Black people in the South African context – its power to awaken and to give the oppressed a critical consciousness and to restore their agency, their power to act, is what holds the promise for a different society.