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Azanian People's Organisation leader Mosibudi Mangena brought memories of the late Black Consciousness (BC) leader Steve Biko to life when he told activists that the black consciousness ideology will never die.
Last Friday in Johannesburg, addressing the 30th anniversary of Biko's death and that of Black Wednesday Mangena said the apartheid-era justice minister Jimmy Kruger was mistaken in thinking that by banning the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and TheWorld, Weekend World and Pro Veritate newspapers, he had banned black consciousness from people's minds.
"They thought they were banning assertiveness and attitude. How do you ban attitude, a state of mind? We had an attitude that we could change the lives of our people to be proud of who they are."
The movement was black and embraced Indian and coloured. It could not be defined in ethnic terms. It was united by one conviction - to liberate the minds of the oppressed.
Mangena said volunteers visited churches to teach elderly mothers and fathers literacy. Black Natal University medical students were tasked with going to communities to render free treatment, while activists built pit latrines for the poor, among other things.
"They thought that they were banning that service we gave to our people. They thought black consciousness would die. They were wrong," said Mangena.
The cohesion of the BCM, being a collection of organisations, might have been affected by the bannings and incarceration of its leaders, but the ideology remained intact.
"They thought by banning the organisations they were banning independent thought. The solidarity was amazing. So they banned the organisations, but they failed to ban the BC identity, thought, solidarity and assertiveness," he said.
Mangena acknowledged, however, that things were never the same after the bannings, as many believe "black consciousness is an ideology we can outlive".
"Something has happened to us as black people and our solidarity has failed. The service that we rendered to our people has disappeared and it has been replaced by that which says 'the state must do everything for me'. We have done damage to ourselves, we have killed our culture and we have lost that solidarity and sense of who we are," said Mangena.
He said that since the advent of the new dispensation, there had emerged a new attitude and people had lost their true identity, preferring to call themselves previously disadvantaged individuals.
"What has happened in the recent past has changed who we are, our love for our people is no more. I wonder if the Americans invaded us whether our youth would fight them like the Iraqis are doing. The answer is no. They will welcome them, because they have lost their identity," he said.
Mangena urged black people to regroup and recapture the spirit of black consciousness.
The occasion, held at Moyo restaurant at Zoo Lake, was also addressed by the last Black People's Convention president, Hlaku Rachidi, who said the BPC was caught off-guard by the events of Black Wednesday.
"We had a sixth sense that something would follow, but we did not expect something like that to happen. We were still basking in the glory of having organised the biggest political funeral [of Steve Biko] since the banning of the ANC and PAC. The BPC was the hardest hit," said Rachidi.
Rachidi, who was taken away from his Orlando East home and driven in a police convoy to Modderbee Prison via Protea and John Vorster police stations, related the ordeal of BCM leaders. Their detentions were reviewed only after a year and they were released only to be placed under house arrest.
"I am taken aback that Azapo prefers that this day be called 'Day of National Solidarity'. We are so divided today that this is a misfit. The ruling party is torn and divided about who should lead it and the alliance is demonstrating divisions. The BCM is torn apart and the PAC is in tatters. Why are we in this state? Is this the way to enjoy our hard-fought freedom?" asked Rachidi.
He urged the Black Consciousness Movement to unite, adding that this must be paining Biko in his grave because "he died working on a dream to unite liberation movements in this country".
"When he died he was executing the dream of black solidarity and unity," he said.
Rachidi commended the ANC government for ultimately recognising and acknowledging the role played by the BCM in the struggle.
"Strategically, they have heaped praises on comrade Steve Biko, " said Rachidi. He said President Thabo Mbeki, in his recent Steve Biko memorial lecture, clearly acknowledged the BCM's role. The Deputy Defence Minister, Mluleki George had even thanked the BCM.
Phil Mthimkhulu, former World journalist, said their bosses and the "system" ensured black journalists did not know or write about what was taking place around them and in the outside world. They were supposed to concentrate on crime, sex, soccer, black local councils and homeland leaders and avoid anything related to BC activities.
"Our editors were comfortable with the situation. We were told to shed our black identity and assume independence as journalists," said Mthimkhulu.
He said the bosses made a mistake when they appointed Percy Qoboza as editor. He changed the situation around and turned the paper into a weapon of the struggle and a voice for black people.
Mthimkhulu said the Union of Black Journalists (UBJ) worked closely with BC leaders, who even attended its meetings.
"We should acknowledge the role black journalists played in conscientising black people. We carried angry messages, we were in the forefront of articulating the struggle," said Mthimkhulu.
Juby Mayet, former journalist and UBJ activist, related run-ins with police, while artist, Molefe Pheto and his Kontweng group, entertained the guests.