Mcebo Dlamini: Malema, Mazwai and the Olympics of Black Consciousness

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Steve Biko, who is the major proponent of black consciousness, left us with a text that delineates beautifully the basic tenets of black consciousness, says the writer. Picture: AP
Steve Biko, who is the major proponent of black consciousness, left us with a text that delineates beautifully the basic tenets of black consciousness, says the writer. Picture: AP

The Olympics of black consciousness resurfaces again as Ntsiki Mazwai intimates on social media that she is more black conscious than Julius Malema.

Some of the reasons she mentions are that Malema wears Gucci and his wife is not the type that a black conscious person would marry.

And as usual the country is torn apart with others in defence of Malema and others who insist that Ntsiki is bold for making the statement because it is true.

I am not interested in either defending Ntsiki or Malema but I am rather interested in cautioning the dangerous ways in which black consciousness has been used.

Not because I am the arbiter of what black consciousness is but because it is important for us to guard and defend ideas that those who came before us died for.

It is important for us to treat with a certain level of carefulness ideas that have the potential to fully liberate our people.

We must not allow our theories and practices of the revolution to be distorted. 

Perhaps the biggest question that interests me about this debate is how we ought to speak about black consciousness and who are the custodians of black consciousness?

Who gets to decide who is correct and not in the discussion around this topic?

Or even more interestingly, is black consciousness a living theory or is it trapped in a time capsule?

The questions are not quite easy but what assists us is that we have a number of texts by scholars who have dedicated their time to give us different ways in which we can treat these questions.

Steve Biko himself, who is the major proponent of black consciousness, left us with a text that delineates beautifully the basic tenets of black consciousness.

Succinctly Biko states “Black Consciousness is in essence the realisation by the Black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression – the blackness of their skin and to operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude”.

So you see that the need to rally together and in unison is central to what black consciousness is about?

That is a theory that is rooted in unity among black people against the enemy which is everything that seeks to keep black people in bondage.

Here I am trying to highlight that if anything, the continuous comparisons that are made about who is black conscious than who are useless in so far as they do not do anything to contribute in the greater cause of the struggle.

The reality is that it only fragments the already fragmented black voice.

This is much more dangerous when it is done by people who enjoy a higher level of popularity and influence in our society. 

Of course this is not to say people who clearly demonstrate anti-black tendencies must not be called out.

Yes, they must and that is part of the project of black consciousness.

In dealing with this question Biko made the ‘non-white and the black’ binary.

Precisely because he understood that in as much as black consciousness is a political project it is also a state of mind.

That is why it is important that we do not allow things such as afros, weaves, nails, dreads or the brands of our clothing to become the main barometer of the strength of one’s black consciousness.

In the same way we must be able to carefully read a person’s behaviour to determine their mental attitude and state of mind. 

So here we see that there are no check boxes that can be ticked to measure the ‘different’ levels of black consciousness.

But what matters is whether or not one is fully committed in changing the conditions of black people for the better.

This must come as a mental attitude for the purposes of implementing change not for popularity or whatever narrow interests people might have.

It becomes important for us discern when people are using the title of black consciousness to engender disunity but it is also important to guard against those who shout loudest the slogans of black consciousness yet do nothing to effect real and meaningful change.

On this question it is important that we defend the idea from vultures and also skin the sheep to find whether or not there exists a wolf.


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