Spirit of biko still lives on

Today South Africa and adherents of the black consciousness philosophy commemorate the 31st anniversary of the death of Steve Bantu Biko - the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement.

Today South Africa and adherents of the black consciousness philosophy commemorate the 31st anniversary of the death of Steve Bantu Biko - the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement.

Biko died a brutal death at the hands of apartheid security police on September 12 1977.

This commemoration comes when the contribution of the BCM - and therefore Biko - to the attainment of democracy in this country has once more come under the microscope.

Linked to this is also the question of the relevance of black consciousness in our current political milieu.

There are those who seek to reduce the contribution the BCM made to merely raising awareness among the oppressed black masses so that they can "be black and proud".

As far as these critics are concerned, black consciousness managed to "humanise black people who were dehumanised by apartheid - but did not have a clear methodology to combat the problems that plagued black people under apartheid".

In fact, there are those who have labelled black consciousness as an anti-white elitist fringe element.

Those espousing these views are either driven by political mischief or are just being ahistorical and reductionist in their criticism of black consciousness.

In his bookIs Apartheid Really Dead? Professor Julian Kunne of Arizona University aptly articulates the essence of the BCM and the contribution it made in the liberation struggle of this country.

"The Black Consciousness Movement was instrumental in advancing the levels of cultural resistance and defiance of the black working class.

"It sought to bridge existing chasms between black workers and the black student intelligentsia. It organised workers, students and community people in diverse geographic and ethnically disparate black communities," writes Kunne.

"The Black Consciousness Movement was the principal catalyst in propelling the South African revolutionary movement to its present phase, predicated on the principle of radical black working class culture."

Kunne correctly argues that the 1973 wildcat strikes by black workers in Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth were the result of black working-class resistance and solidarity, aided by black consciousness organisations such as the Black People's Convention and the South African Students Organisation (Saso).

By going on strike and challenging their working conditions, the workers were articulating the BCM programme of emphasising the psychic liberation of black people from mental subjugation in order to engage in transforming their material existence.

The argument here is that if one accepts that people's consciousness is conditioned to reality, then we should see that conscientisation as the effort to enlighten people about obstacles preventing them from a clear perception of reality.

In this instance of the black workers, it is the reality that they are a motivating force for change.

Standing up to their bosses as they did in 1973 was a step towards accepting that reality.

In his book I write what I like, Biko clearly articulated the BCM analysis of the apartheid capitalism situation in South Africa. It is in this book where Biko argued that it was the black people who were poor and therefore the real working class as opposed to the aristocratic class of workers. Biko spoke of egalitarianism, while others spoke of socialism.

We are now confronted with a situation where the dominant view is that the end of apartheid meant the death of black consciousness.

The reality is that it is still black people who are poor. It's still black people who kill other Africans because they find themselves in a system where the historical role of black workers continentally has been undermined.

While during apartheid these migrants were regarded as legal contract workers, they have now been reduced to illegal immigrants. It is this criminalisation that turns black South Africans against fellow Africans.

What is needed is the kind of conscientisation espoused by BC, which says that the system is turning black people into self-destructive objects.

There is a need for the kind of solidarity espoused by the BCM - which says we cannot accept the system - be it run by black rulers - to dehumanise us.