Fearless fighter for true justice

2011-12-23 10:57

Fikile Bam studied at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in the 1950s, where he was influenced by African intellectual and author AC Jordan.

Bam and his fellow student and friend, Archie Mafeje, hailed from Tsolo in the Eastern Cape – and so
did Jordan.

A lecturer at the University of Cape Town, Jordan was a leading light in the Cape African Teachers’ Association, the All-African Convention and the Non-European Unity Movement.

The All-African Convention and the Unity Movement distinguished themselves from the ANC by their insistence on “non-collaboration with the oppressor”.

At the abortive unity talks between the All-African Convention and the ANC in Bloemfontein in 1948, one of the All-African Convention‘s leaders, Mda Mda, asked: “Are we here to perpetuate the NRC (Native Representative Council) and the Bhunga...

The Ballingers and the rest of them must have no place in our midst.”

The NRC and Bhunga were apartheid creations, and Margaret Ballinger was the representative of blacks in Parliament.

Bam’s Unity Movement background is crucial to understanding his militancy – a militancy I first experienced as a young boy listening to his fiery speech at Steve Biko’s funeral in 1977.

According to Francis Wilson, Bam’s fellow student at UCT in the 1950’s, “Fiks had no business being anywhere near that funeral. He was banned. But he did it anyway.”

Bam had been one of the founding members of the Yu Chin Chan Club, the Unity Movement’s equivalent of the ANC’s Umkhonto weSizwe or the PAC’s Poqo.

Although Yu Chin Chan had not started any military campaign, Bam and his close comrade, Neville Alexander, were imprisoned for their membership and spent 11 years on Robben Island (1964-1975).

Upon his release, he was served with a banning order. However, he asked Wilson to arrange a meeting with Steve Biko, who had been banished to the township of Ginsberg in King William’s Town – his home town.

This request involved the small matter of how to spirit away one banned person from the Transkei to meet another banned person in King William’s Town.

At the meeting, Biko asked Bam to lead black community programmes in the Transkei. He also asked Bam if he would arrange for a meeting with Neville Alexander, who was under house arrest in Cape Town.

I asked Bam about his request to meet with Biko. His response spoke of a tradition of always seeking out unity. If anything, his life should serve as a reminder of the rich variety of characters in our struggle heritage.

It is at Biko’s funeral that Bam issued the equally risky threat to retaliate against the apartheid government: “But we are not helpless.” He could have been sent back to jail for that statement.

But then again, that was the manner of the man – principled and fearless in the face of injustice.

» Mangcu is an associate professor of Sociology at UCT

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