“So as a prelude, whites must be made to realize that they are only human, not superior. Same with Blacks. They must be made to realize that they are also human, not inferior.” (Slogan coined by Steve Biko for the South African Student’s Organization, SASO).
This is an extract taken from Steve Biko’s address to the South African Students Organization (SASO) in which Biko questioned white arrogance and the assumed validity of white perspective(s) of the world and race relations. Stated differently, it is a call to black people to reject the false narrative that the concept of race [read whiteness] is a tool used to make a world of difference between the lives of people in society, that is, between the white settler minority and the people of color that Biko collectively defined as Black.
Therefore, in this short piece I draw from the memory and teachings of Steve Biko as a black radical theorist who provides us with the explanatory power to understand white racism and all its disguises. The first important philosophical teaching Biko imparted on us is well captured in the following words: merely by describing yourself as Black, you have started on a road towards self-emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being. You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you cannot care anyway (Steve Biko, I Write What I Like).
This quote perfectly captures the importance of placing race as a fundamental contradiction in the S. African struggle, Biko here exhorts us to think and act black because it is through employing the ideological lenses of black consciousness as conceptualized by Biko can we make demands for black reparations. In other words, it is only when we are armed with BC philosophy as a theory of black struggle against racialized oppression are we better able to demand society to acknowledge and redress the racial onslaught on black lives and to bring an end to white privilege and impunity once and for all.
Needless to say, those who have cared to bother and feel, will bear testimony to the widely publicized recent developments in South Africa regarding the unresolved national question of race relations. The rude awakening to the reality of just how black people are still at the cold feet of white racism and arrogance in the South African settler colonial imagery was glaring. Black people are against the proverbial wall and this was made manifest in the two racially polarized recent events, namely, the Senekal court case in the Free State and the Brackenfell school episode in the Western Cape. What these two events have shown us is that black people are a people who have been consigned to second- and third-class citizenship in the country of their forebears, and from time to time, are reminded that their position in society is that of being subjects of colonial oppression and subjugation with no recourse to justice.
A few while ago, black people came face to face with the Boers, a group of people who have arrogated to themselves the right to rule and be obeyed by all those they deem “subhuman” – it became a much publicized Black/White standoff in the two provinces, Free State and the Western Cape. This racial confrontation in the end elaborated itself as a struggle to assert oneself, as a struggle over who has the urgency over their well-beings and psychic life. The Boers hold a bizarre view believing that to assert oneself is their exclusive preserve as a race. However, this idea of racially partitioning society is historic and structural. It was the bedrock of apartheid and colonialism. The separate development framework employed under apartheid was manmade and deliberate. Socially, this racialized logic seeps its way into how interactions amongst various groups in South Africa occur. Whiteness is the totality of value, authority, rights and legitimacy while the black experience is characterized by what Prof Frank Wilderson III calls general dishonor, vulnerability to violence and alienation to self – or simply put, BLACK PAIN.
Significantly, what we must realize is that although the recent events were partisans, that is, were led and organized by the Economic Freedom Fighters, (EFF), I want to argue that the people involved were not attacked on the basis that they’re EFF, but on the basis of their blackness. In other words, their racialized black skin was the organizing logic of the violence meted out on them. That is why the black nation has correctly read these confrontations with their racial overtones that underpins them. Black people are now more than ever compelled to speak with one voice against white power and the persistent preservation of white privilege. These events further remind us that the struggle of black people is not issue based, although the core issue at hand has been lost in the liberal discourse that has veiled the underlying issue beneath the Senekal and Brackenfell sagas. This is not reducible to a racist school practice and policy or to a weak police force that failed to defend the state assets and legitimacy.
To put it plainly, the struggle of black people is a quest for total liberation from white domination and central to this struggle is the LAND QUESTION. Black people have now resolved to standing up and asserting their urgency as native people of this land after 26 years of experimenting with a failed rainbow nation project and a justice-less reconciliation. For the longest of time they were numbed to the fact that they’re conquered, landless, inferior and thus mattered little in relation to the propertied and landed white settler national bourgeoise, and had tacitly accepted that the settler colonial language and action is used as a medium of instruction in South African. Stated differently, the thought of black people asserting their urgency and humanity in a white supremacist South Africa was minimal to nonexistent.
The country has, for the longest of time, been socialized to accept white value systems and ideas of peace, order, what is “sayable” or “doable” with unquestionable validity. White people in the past acted with impunity and would mete out horrendous acts of racial violence on black people and there were extraordinarily little consequences for them or outrage from the black community. This anomaly was the social culture and norm and is best captured in Steve Biko warnings that, “tradition has it that whenever a group of people has tasted the lovely fruits of wealth, security and prestige, it begins to find it more comfortable to believe in the obvious lie and accept that it alone is entitled to privilege”. It is on this basis as Biko observed that gives white people the arrogance to believe their lives alone matter and that their feelings constitutes public policy.
But now that the elusive thought of white validity couched in the rainbow nation narrative has subsided we’re beginning to hear from the vast dormitory townships and the different streets a prevailing black voice saying, “if we beaten we will beat back, we fear nothing, and we will not take this shit anymore.” Black people now realize that the antidote to the organized violence of white power is black unity and counterattack.
Today the idea of a modern slave who must be kept compiled and obedient through the rules of civility and by notions of peace and social cohesion codified in the South African public policy and social morality has been broken asunder. This sudden change in the black psychic I want to argue is attributable to the teachings of Black consciousness leader and philosopher, Steve Biko who defined the black consciousness philosophy thus: “the basic tenet of black consciousness is that the black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity.” This rejection of Boer arrogance and Herrenvolkism could only be anchored on black consciousness philosophical thinking, whether our people know this or not is a different issue for a separate opinion piece.
The long held colonial language and modus operandi brought us to the stark realization that 26 years since the so-called “Freedom Day” black people are still a degraded people and functions as objects of racial ridicule and violence. Black people today fully realize that 94’ Changed Fokol for them and that the enemy is still alive and kicking and has grown more emboldened and offensive. It is fiercer and more dangerous as expressed in the growing unholy alliance of white people against the native people, yet more subtle and modest than ever before.
Its subtle and modest manifestation is cloaked in institutions of civil society, public commentary, the academy and public law. These institutions have for a long time served to conceal the civil strife waged on black bodies by either taking nonchalant positions that trivialize our experience as black people, or by plunging us into a colorblind conversation at a time when we needed to address the racism and arrogance of white people. Their actions and interventions have rendered South Africa a crime scene, although one with no perpetrators, just shared victimhood.
And in case you have forgotten, the objective enemy in South Africa is white supremacy and the preservation of white privilege in all its disguises. This fundamental contradiction is made concrete in every white body on this God forsaken land including the ones we refer to as friends and political allies. But this enemy will not reign forever, racial oppression will be defeated at the rendezvous of black liberation and black people irrespective of skin color will have an equal chance in life to self-actualize as free agents and beings, and in this regard again Biko is instructive, “In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift – a more human face.”
Mandisi Gladile is a Vaal University of Technology (VUT) current branch secretary of ward 10 for EFF in Vanderbijl Park, Gauteng. Former branch spokeperson for EFF Students Command (VUT). An activist of social and political justice.
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