The BC evolution

2009-09-12 12:26

THE annual orgy of ­commemorating Steve Biko is upon us again. Parties, organisations and individuals who claim to uphold his ­philosophy and legacy will bombard us with his wisdom. But after September some of these “friends” of Biko will return to their lethargic existence, either helping the ANC to run the country in the interest of a minority or passing time in the margins, away from the dirty and difficult ­arena of real politics.

Biko’s black consciousness (BC) is hotly contested by three forces. The first is the black ­business class. This group simply uses the history of black exclusion to claim a portion of the country’s wealth for itself while the majority remains trapped in poverty. This is the black economic ­empowerment movement known as the BEE brigade.

Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana represents this group well. When he issued a warning to companies that were not implementing employment equity quotas he said there was going to be a revolution for all black people.

One must wonder, are black capitalists and managers any less vicious than their white counterparts? Why would the excluded and exploited black majority fight for a few to eat at its expense?

The black business and professional class, which includes ­academics, simply wants representation in existing white ­supremacist structures so that it too can eat. In exchange it gives legitimacy to these anti-black ­entities.

The second contenders are the political parties. The BC parties have reduced themselves to lobby groups for street-name changes and the erection of monuments in Biko’s name. They do all this to claim recognition for the role they played during the struggle. They hope that if their struggle history is remembered voters will ­support them. These increasingly non-BC parties are also now claiming Biko for political expediency because this country is so ­bereft of untainted icons.

The third contending force is the struggling masses. While most in this class do not actually use the words “BC” or ­“Steve Biko” they express black consciousness through their actions. When these people block roads, burn tyres and force the government to listen to them, their actions claim a ­position that Biko’s BC would have supported: a position of ­demanding dignity.

These mass actions might ­express an underdeveloped form of BC but they do so more effectively than the parties of commemoration and monuments.

A more interesting development is in the arena of youth culture. The interesting part of developments in this arena lies not so much in the claims of the consumerism of commercial youth radio stations, which is all pose but no substance, but in counter-culture initiatives such as Blackwash, a blacks-only ­formation that seeks to upgrade BC for the 21st century.

Here Biko is not valorised as an infallible God. Rather, his ideas are questioned and developed to help blacks make sense of why their victory of 1994 has turned into a massive defeat. Key to upgrading BC is linking it to the black diaspora, in particular to Haiti and her agonies of the past 200 years.

Secondly, Blackwash wants to make it clear that BC is inherently anticapitalist and also that capitalism is inherently anti-black. This move returns a radical black socialism to BC and kills the claim that BC is not “class conscious”. It also rejects the silly idea that BC must subscribe to the alien notion of “scientific socialism”.

The point is that a correct reading of Biko’s BC shows that it is anti-capitalist.

Two other areas where BC is ­being further elaborated are in the fight against patriarchy and homophobia.

This new thinking includes ­rejecting backward cultural practices such as ulwaluko (circumcision) and ukuthwala (forced ­marriages) and seeks to construct new forms of being informed by BC’s liberatory impulses.

The future remains BC but this great philosophy must be liberated from some of its most ardent supporters – they’ve become relics of the past.

  • Mngxitama is the publisher of New Frank Talk


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