Biko /
Donald Woods.
3rd rev. ed. --
New York : H. Holt, c1991.
xiv, 418 p.
More Details
New York : H. Holt, c1991.
general note
Includes index.
catalogue key
A Look Inside
First Chapter
Biko - Cry Freedom
The White Settlers
Because Steve Biko was uniquely a product of South Africa and its history it is necessary to give a short synopsis of that history, with particular emphasis on those elements of it that influenced his stance and philosophy.
Recorded history in South Africa begins with the arrival of white settlers in 1652, when the Dutch established a sailing base where the city of Cape Town is now situated. But the country's history of human habitation extends far back in time, and archaeologists have found traces there of some of the earliest human habitation on this planet. When the Dutch settlers arrived they found the Cape area and hinterland inhabited by sallow-skinned hunters and herders, the Khoisan. Much of the interior of the country was inhabited by Negroid Bantu-speaking tribesmen. Schoolchildren in South Africa are taught that the arrival of the white settlers coincided with the arrival of these "Bantu" tribesmen, but radiocarbon dating provides evidence of Negroid communities in the Transvaal as early as the fifth century. The southward migration of the Bantu-speakers to the shores of the country was considerable in the fourteenth century, and they were certainly established as far as the Gamtoos River in the Cape Province by the fifteenth century.
White settlements at the Cape Peninsula were augmented by parties of German and French settlers, the latter being Huguenots fleeing from religious persecution in Europe. These groups fused, in time, into a single white cultural group which evolved its own language, Afrikaans, and whose descendants came to be known as Afrikaners. The Afrikaans language derived from Dutch, with some German influences, and was a simplificationof these European languages. It grew more distinctively practical as these whites settled further inland away from the Table Bay harbor and the European influences brought there by the sailing ships that called en route to the East.
In 1814 the British annexed the entire colony as part of a post-Napoleonic deal involving Britain, Holland, and Sweden. The British brought in four thousand British settlers (including my great-great-grandfather) in 1820 to settle the Eastern Cape area as a buffer zone between the mutually hostile Afrikaner farmers and black tribesmen. The British also abolished slavery and gave in to the demands of two settler journalists, Thomas Pringle and John Fairbairn, for press freedom. For a number of reasons, including the abolition of slavery and what the Afrikaners regarded as too liberal a policy toward blacks by the British colonial government, many of the Afrikaners migrated from the colony into the hinterland in what became known as the Great Trek. They established two independent republics, one in the north (Transvaal) and one in the central area of the country (Orange Free State), the latter named for the Netherlands royal family, the House of Orange.
By the dawn of the twentieth century, the British had control of the two coastal provinces, Cape Province and Natal, and the Afrikaners had control of the two northern republics. The discovery in the Transvaal of the world's richest reef of gold brought prospectors and miners from all ends of the earth, mostly from English-speaking countries--Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. This posed a new problem for the Afrikaner leader Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal republic, because these newcomers now constituted a majority outnumbering the Afrikaners in this area. These people, referred to by Kruger as the Uitlanders (foreigners), clamored for civil rights and particularly the vote, claiming that they provided most of the Transvaal's revenue and were entitled to full citizenship. Their demands were backed up by the British colonial government, whose zeal for the civil rights of their kithand kin was influenced considerably by the prospect of gold revenues for Queen Victoria.
In a tragic foreshadowing of what a future Afrikaner leader, Vorster, would do, Kruger refused all significant negotiations with the clamoring majority, persistently offering too little too late in the way of concessions. Eventually the situation exploded into violence--the Anglo-Boer War--which exacted a ghastly toll of life. More than twenty thousand Afrikaner women and children died of disease and neglect in wretched concentration camps where they were quartered after the British burned down their farmsteads to prevent their feeding and harboring of the Afrikaner guerrillas who were harassing the imperial forces.
Shortly after the end of the war the British handed all of South Africa back to what it regarded as a united white nation under Afrikaner leaders Louis Botha and Jan Smuts. The two former Afrikaner republics and the two former British colonies were united in the Act of Union and given full independence in 1910 as one sovereign state, the Union of South Africa, in which Afrikaners now constituted a majority of whites. Given the historic background of the two white groups that were to share control of the country, the Afrikaners and the English-speakers (roughly 60 and 40 percent respectively), this was a simplistic and superficial formula for the future. And given the historical and political background of the vast black majority, whose own aspirations were virtually ignored in this dispensation, the formula was one for future racial disaster.
Black politics up until 1910 was hardly an issue in white political thinking in South Africa. At the time of union only the Cape Province insisted on retaining voting rights for blacks on a basis of qualified franchise as introduced by the British colonial regime. The two Afrikaner republics had granted no political rights to blacks, and Natal was scarcely less conservative. Yet what minimal rights for blacks were provided for in the 1910 formula were not only destined not to be developed, but were actually whittled away.
In 1913 legislation pegged black land ownership rights to specific areas totaling barely 10 percent of the entire national territory, and successive onslaughts on black rights intensified with the birth of Afrikaner nationalism as articulated by the founder of the Afrikaner Nationalist party, former Boer General James Hertzog. Hertzog realized that Afrikaners formed a 60 percent majority within the white community and that by exploiting their racial conservatism he could oust Botha and Smuts and achieve control of the country. He therefore founded the Afrikaner Nationalist party in 1914 in opposition to the more moderate policies of Botha and Smuts. The twin formula of Afrikaner chauvinism and antiblack bigotry was so successful in electoral terms that his party came to power in the election of 1924 in coalition with a racist white Labor party largely representative of white miners.
Legislatively this signaled the start of a program of apartheid, or racial discrimination enshrined in statute, although the most extreme forms of this were to be enacted by Hertzog's political successors in 1948. Hertzog had certain inhibitions his successors did not have, including reservations about tearing up clauses of the 1910 constitution dealing with the voting rights of "Coloreds" (mulattoes) in the Cape Province. Besides, Hertzog's plans were set back when Smuts capitalized on anti-Hitler feeling in the South African Parliament in 1939 and forced a vote that toppled Hertzog from power. By the end of the Hitler war, Hertzog was dead and his political heir as leader of the Nationalist party, Daniel Malan, used the old Hertzog formula of Afrikaner chauvinism and antiblack bigotry to win power in the election of 1948.
The Afrikaner Nationalist party has been in power ever since, and for forty years has systematically and ruthlessly implemented the racial policy of apartheid that has earned the regime the revulsion of the world and the hatred of the black masses within the apartheid State.
The Black Response
Meanwhile, what of black politics in South Africa? What of the black response, first to white settlement and later to the legislative tightening of the apartheid screws? The first major black reaction to white expansionism from the Cape settlement was war. Over a period of a hundred years, from 1779, no fewer than nine wars were fought between Xhosa tribesmen and frontier farmers. Although the blacks were vastly superior in numbers, the spear was no match for the musket, and Xhosa military power was broken by the end of the nineteenth century. The other major black group, the Zulus, waged fierce war in Natal before going down to British weaponry in 1879.
For the next hundred years the black political response to white power was generally conciliatory, the overall aim of successive black political organizations being to bring the white rulers to the negotiating table for a fair dispensation in a shared society. From the beginning, the Eastern Cape was the fountainhead of black politics, partly because it was the home of black education in South Africa. Educational institutions such as Fort Hare University, Lovedale Institute, and Healdtown College produced black leaders not only for South Africa but for countries as far afield as Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia. This educational foundry cast all the leaders of the first black liberation movements, Dr. T. Jabavu, Dr. A. B. Xuma, P. Mzimba, E. Makiwane, W. Rubusana, A. K. Soga, J. Dube, M. Pelemi, J. Gumede, and P. Seme, and in the stormy era since the Afrikaner Nationalist party's accession to power in 1948, the three most important black leaders to emerge were Eastern Cape men--Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, and Steve Biko.
Ironically, the first manifestation of black political activity was when a substantial body of black voters qualified for the Cape franchise in 1869 to assist a white candidate, George Wood, to gain election to the legislative assembly. In at least one constituency in the Cape,black voters helped a white candidate to victory over a black candidate, and first indications were that the black vote would not be cast racially. However, this nonracial attitude did not persist in the face of white moves to raise the voting qualifications as black voters grew more numerous, and blacks turned increasingly to all-black associations and organizations functioning as pressure groups. For a long time these black pressure groups tried to lobby the white politicians in power to permit black participation in national affairs, but failure to make satisfactory headway spurred black leaders to seek aid abroad for their cause. After a conference in King William's Town in 1887, Dr. T. Jabavu founded the Cape Native Convention, as whose delegate he was to travel to London in 1909 to contest the racial formula through which Britain intended to grant full independence to the Union of South Africa.
His mission a failure, Jabavu returned to a climate of considerable black anger within the country over the terms of the proposed Act of Union. A black lawyer named Seme drew away a number of Jabavu's followers into a more militant black organization called the South African Native National Congress. Supporting Seme were influential black leaders such as Rubusana, Pelemi, Mapikela, Makgatho, Mangena, Msimang, and Dr. J. L. Dube, an American-trained disciple of Booker T. Washington. Jabavu stayed out of the new body, and set up his own South African Races Congress as a separate organization, pinning his hopes on the good faith of white liberals in the Cape power hierarchy. Both Botha and Smuts were already feeling the force of Hertzog's appeal on the race issue, and introduced the 1913 Land Bill designating racial land zones (the birth of territorial apartheid).
Jabavu, believing the land segregation plan would be of benefit to blacks, backed the bill. The Native National Congress split over the issue, its members dividing behind Dube, who had no objection to segregation in principle (provided there was equitable division of territory and national wealth between black and white),and Makgatho, who rejected it and gained the support of the majority, succeeding to the presidency in 1917. This development foreshadowed a future era in which some black leaders would accept the "homeland" policy of territorial segregation and be criticized as "sellouts" for settling for less than full black rights throughout South Africa.
The first tragic effect of the land segregation policy was the Bulhoek Massacre of 1921, when a group of blacks refused to budge from land they had squatted on at Bulhoek, near Queenstown, and charged a police patrol sent to evict them. The police patrol opened fire and cut them down--another foreshadowing, this time of the demonstration at the police station at Sharpeville, Transvaal, in 1960, which ended in the same sort of massacre.
From time to time in South Africa's Afrikaner Nationalist era, black anger and frustration was to break out in similar manifestations, the most explosive being the Soweto riots of 1976, followed a decade later by sporadic rioting and train bombings in 1987--each of which proved that stones, like spears, are no match for guns and tear gas.
The Native National Congress became more aggressive between 1917 and 1924, turning to passive resistance and strikes--methods later to be tried by the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress--but strikes require financial resources to sustain the strikers for any significant length of time, and sheer grinding poverty caused the collapse of every black strike attempt. One of the more successful strike leaders was Clements Kadalie, an expatriate Malawian, and the main inspiration for passive resistance was a Natal lawyer, Mohandas Gandhi, later to achieve fame as the Mahatma who rid India of British rule through the passive resistance methods he had evolved in South Africa.
By this time, in addition to all the other complex problems occasioned by politically encouraged awareness of racial differences among black and white, Afrikaner and English-descended, and so-called "Coloreds,"South Africa now had, in addition, what was called an "Indian problem," as well as a "Chinese problem." Indians had been brought to South Africa as cheap labor for the sugarcane fields of Natal, and Chinese to work the gold mines. After objections from white miners many of the latter were repatriated, but some numbers remained. Efforts to repatriate Indians were less successful, so that today there are almost a million South Africans of Indian descent, mostly in Natal. Gandhi first came to prominence in the fight against discriminatory measures by Jan Smuts against Indians, and it was due to his zealous groundwork that the vigorous South African Indian Congress came into being in 1923.
The following year, 1924, brought a new urgency to the black and "Indian" political movements, because 1924 saw the first coming to power of Afrikaner nationalism. Hertzog's government in its fifteen years (the last six in coalition with the former Botha-Smuts party, the South African party, after economic misgovernment in the depression years had cost Hertzog a governing margin of support) laid the legislative foundation for the massive structure of apartheid laws the 1948 Afrikaner Nationalists would erect. The Hertzog government not only put a stop to all prospects of black political advancement in a common society, but put such prospects into reverse. Indirect black representation in the central Parliament was limited to a small handful of seats--occupied by whites.
By this time the African National Congress had been constituted from the pioneering efforts of the Native National Congress, and it was to spearhead the black cause for the next forty years as the undisputed articulator of black political aspirations. Under Chief Albert Luthuli and later Nelson Mandela, two towering giants of the black liberation movement in the stormy years of the post-1948 Afrikaner Nationalist administration, the ANC gained massive support throughout the country.
Steve Biko's Predecessors
It was only when Mandela's patience in appealing to whites for compromise was exhausted that a split occurred in the popular movement. Mandela decided that future appeals to reason were a waste of time and that only violence could jolt Afrikaner nationalism out of its refusal to negotiate. The violence campaign was to start with selective sabotage of electricity pylons and power stations. If the white minority government remained obdurate, police stations and military installations would be the next targets. If this made no significant impression, the violence would escalate if necessary into full civil war. To launch this program, Mandela toured Africa in search of aid and declared he would accept it from any source.
The small but militant South African Communist party played a key role in gaining Eastern Bloc support for the ANC, and Mandela himself succeeded in gaining the support of all the major African states. His attempts, and later attempts by his friend and colleague Oliver Tambo, to gain Western support were firmly rebuffed, so that the only external support of a material nature for the ANC came initially from the Communist countries and the countries of Africa and the third world, which had slender resources.
The alliance between the ANC and the Communist party began to perturb younger members of the movement such as Robert Sobukwe. Sobukwe was worried not only about possible Communist influence over ANC policy but also about the apparently growing influence of whites in the alliance--a trend that he saw as diluting the essentially black nature of the struggle. Another foreshadowing, this time of the future Black Consciousness movement which Steve Biko helped to launch.
There were of course other reasons for the Pan-Africanist Congress breakaway, typified in the dispute over what later became known as the Freedom Charter--the ANC's public policy of principles. The ANC saw this as a broad statement of guidelines for a liberated SouthAfrica committed to multiracialism, reassuring various groups, including the whites, that the country "belongs to all who live in it." The PAC criticized this variously as unduly ethnic in its language, unduly conciliatory to whites, and insufficiently "Africanist" in its general approach. Undoubtedly, however, individual personality clashes played more of a role in the breach than was acknowledged by ideologues on both sides.
The break between Sobukwe and Mandela came in 1959, Sobukwe forming the Pan-Africanist Congress and taking with him a substantial number of the young supporters of the ANC. By 1961 both movements had vast followings among the black masses, and in that year both the ANC and PAC were banned. Sobukwe, Mandela, and their chief lieutenants were jailed, Mandela for planning the violent overthrow of the Afrikaner Nationalist government. Both were imprisoned on Robben Island near Table Bay. Sobukwe was banned on completion of his sentence and restricted to the remote Kimberley area. Mandela is now in his twenty-fourth year of imprisonment, and the South African government has stated it will never commute his sentence.
By present South African law Mandela may not be quoted and nobody within the country may repeat his words. Therefore his own countrymen may not debate or discuss his views. That he is a remarkable man, however, can be seen from various speeches by Mandela, excerpts of which are reproduced here.
In his first trial, Mandela was charged on two counts: inciting African workers to strike (the March 1961 stay-at-home); and leaving South Africa without a valid travel document. He turned the trial into a scathing indictment of white domination, and challenged the moral jurisdiction of the court:
I want to apply for Your Worship's recusal from this case. I challenge the right of this court to try me. Firstly, I challenge it because I fear that I will not be given a fair and proper trial. Secondly, I consider myself neither legally nor morally bound to obey laws made by a Parliament in which I have no representation.What sort of justice enables the aggrieved to sit in judgment over those against whom they have laid a charge?
The white man makes all the laws, he drags us before his courts and accuses us, and he sits in judgment over us. In this courtroom I face a white magistrate, I am confronted by a white prosecutor, and I am escorted into the dock by a white orderly. The atmosphere of white domination lurks all around in this courtroom. It reminds me that I am voteless because there is a Parliament in this country that is white-controlled. I am without land because the white minority has taken a lion's share of my country and forced my people to occupy poverty-stricken reserves, overpopulated and overstocked, in which we are ravaged by starvation and disease. These courts are not impartial tribunals dispensing justice but instruments used by the white man to punish those among us who clamor for deliverance from white rule.
I became a member of the African National Congress in 1944 and I have followed its aims for eighteen years. It sought the unity of all Africans, overriding tribal differences. It sought the acquisition of political power for Africans in the land of their birth. The African National Congress further believed that all people, irrespective of the national groups to which they may belong, and irrespective of the color of their skins, all people whose home is South Africa and who believe in the principles of democracy and of the equality of men, should be treated as Africans; that all South Africans are entitled to live a free life on the basis of fullest equality of the rights and opportunities in every field, of full democratic rights, with a direct say in the affairs of the government.
Any thinking African in this country is driven continuously to a conflict between his conscience and the law. Throughout its fifty years of existence the African National Congress has done everything possible to bring its demands to the attention of successive South African governments. But this government has set the scene for violence by relying exclusively on violence with which to answer our people and their demands. We have been conditioned to our attitudes by history which is not of our making. We have been conditioned by the history of white governments in this country to accept the fact that Africans, when they make their demands powerfully enough to have some chance of success, are met with force and terror from the government.
Government violence can only breed counterviolence. Ultimately, if there is no dawning of sanity on the part of thegovernment the dispute between the government and my people will be settled by force.
I hate all race discrimination, and in my hatred I am sustained by the fact that the overwhelming majority of people, here and abroad, hate it equally. I hate the systematic inculcation in children of color prejudice and I am sustained in that hatred by the fact that the overwhelming majority of people, here and abroad, are with me in that. I hate the racial arrogance which decrees that the good things of life shall be retained as the exclusive right of a minority of the population, which reduces the majority of the population to a position of subservience and inferiority, and maintains them as voteless chattels to work where they are told and behave as they are told by the ruling minority. I am sustained in that hatred by the fact that the overwhelming majority of people both in this country and abroad are with me.
I have done my duty to my people and to South Africa. I have no doubt that posterity will pronounce that I was innocent and that the criminals who should have been brought before this court are the members of this government.
Mandela was sentenced to three-years' imprisonment for incitement to strike, and two-year's imprisonment on a second charge of leaving South Africa without a valid permit or passport. He began to serve his five-year sentence in Pretoria Central Prison. There he spent twenty-three out of twenty-four hours in solitary confinement in his cell.
On June 11, 1963, the police raided the underground ANC headquarters in Rivonia, a Johannesburg suburb, and arrested Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg, Lionel Bernstor, and others. The Rivonia trial began in October 1963 and Mandela was taken from his cell to join those in the dock facing trial for sabotage and a conspiracy to overthrow the government by revolution and by assisting an armed invasion of South Africa by foreign troops. The leaders were joined by Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni, making nine accused men in all. The prosecution's key witnesses had nearly all been held for long periods in solitary detention. Mandelaopened the defense case, and in his statement to court on April 20, 1964, he said he had been one of the founders of Umkonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the sabotage wing of the ANC:
I am the First Accused. I hold a Bachelor's Degree in Arts and practiced as an attorney in Johannesburg for a number of years in partnership with Oliver Tambo. I am a convicted prisoner serving five years for leaving the country without a permit and for inciting people to go on strike at the end of May 1961.
At the outset, I want to say that the suggestion made by the State in its opening that the struggle in South Africa is under the influence of foreigners or communists is wholly incorrect. I have done whatever I did, both as an individual and as a leader of my people, because of my experience in South Africa and my own African background, not because of what any outsider might have said. In my youth in the Transkei I listened to the elders of my tribe telling stories of the old days. Among the tales they related to me were those of wars fought by our ancestors in defense of the fatherland. I hoped then that life might offer me the opportunity to serve my people and make my own contribution to their freedom struggle. This is what has motivated me in all that I have done in relation to the charges made against me in this case.
Having said this, I must deal with the question of violence. Some of the things so far told to the court are true and some are untrue. I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the whites.
I admit immediately that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkonto we Sizwe, and that I played a prominent role in its affairs until I was arrested in August 1962. I, and the others who started the organization, did so for two reasons. Firstly, we believed that as a result of government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to channel and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this countrywhich is not produced even by war. Secondly, we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful methods of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the government. We chose to defy the law. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and the government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.
But the violence which we chose to adopt was not terrorism. We who formed Umkonto were all members of the African National Congress, and had behind us the ANC tradition of nonviolence and negotiation as a means of solving political disputes. We believed that South Africa belonged to all the people who lived in it, and not to one group, be it black or white. We did not want an interracial war, and tried to avoid it to the last. But the hard facts were that fifty years of nonviolence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights. Four forms of violence were considered--sabotage, guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and open revolution. We chose to adopt the first method and to exhaust it before making any other decision.
The initial plan was based on a careful analysis of the political and economic situation of our country. We believed that South Africa depended to a large extent on foreign capital and foreign trade. We felt that planned destruction of power plants, and interference with rail and telephone communications, would tend to scare away capital from the country, make it more difficult for goods from the industrial areas to reach the seaports on schedule, and would in the long run be a heavy drain on the economic life of the country, thus compelling the voters of the country to reconsider their position.
Attacks on the economic lifelines of the country were to be linked with sabotage on government buildings and other symbols of apartheid. These attacks would serve as a source of inspiration to our people. In addition, they would provide an outlet for those people who were urging the adoption of violent methods and would enable us to give concrete proof to our followers that we had adopted a stronger line and were fighting back against government violence. In addition, if mass action was successfully organized, and mass reprisals taken,we felt that sympathy for our cause would be roused in other countries, and that greater pressure would be brought to bear on the South African government.
This then was the plan. Umkonto was to perform sabotage, and strict instructions were given to its members that on no account were they to injure or kill people in planning or carrying out operations.
Experience convinced us that rebellion would offer the government limitless opportunities for the indiscriminate slaughter of our people, but it was precisely because the soil of South Africa was already drenched with the blood of innocent Africans that we felt it our duty to make preparations as a long-term undertaking to use force in order to defend ourselves against force. If war was inevitable, we wanted the fight to be conducted on terms most favorable to our people. The fight which held out prospects best for us and the least risk of life to both sides was guerrilla warfare. We decided, therefore, in our preparations for the future, to make provision for the possibility of guerrilla warfare. All whites undergo compulsory military training, but no such training was given to Africans. It was in our view essential to build up a nucleus of trained men who would be able to provide the leadership which would be required if guerrilla warfare started.
Another of the allegations made by the State is that the aims and objects of the ANC and the Communist party are the same. I wish to deal with this and with my own political position, because I must assume that the State may try to argue that I tried to introduce Marxism into the ANC. The allegation is false. The ideological creed of the ANC is, and always has been, the creed of African Nationalism. It is not the concept expressed in the cry, "Drive the white man into the sea." The African Nationalism for which the ANC stands is the concept of freedom and fulfillment for all as enshrined in our Freedom Charter, which is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state. It calls for redistribution, but not nationalization, of land; it provides for nationalization of mines, banks, and monopoly industry, because big monopolies are owned by one race only, and without such nationalization racial domination would be perpetuated despite the spread of political power.
As far as the Communist party is concerned, and if I understand its policy correctly, it stands for the establishment of a state based on the principles of Marxism. Although it is prepared to work for the Freedom Charter, as a short-term solution to the problems created by white supremacy, it regardsthe Freedom Charter as the beginning, and not the end, of its program. The ANC's chief goal was for the African people to win unity and full political rights. The Communist party's main aim, on the other hand, was to remove the capitalists and to replace them with a working-class government. The Communist party sought to emphasize class distinctions while the ANC sought to harmonize them. This is a vital distinction.
It is true that there has often been close cooperation between the ANC and the Communist party. But cooperation is merely proof of a common goal--in this case the removal of white supremacy--and is not proof of a complete community of interests. The history of the world is full of similar examples. Perhaps the most striking illustration is to be found in the cooperation between Great Britain, the United States of America, and the Soviet Union in the fight against Hitler. Nobody but Hitler would have dared to suggest that such cooperation turned Churchill or Roosevelt into Communists or Communist tools, or that Britain and America were working to bring about a Communist world.
Another instance of such cooperation is to be found precisely in Umkonto. Shortly after Umkonto was constituted, I was informed by some of its members that the Communist party would support Umkonto, and this then occurred. At a later stage the support was made openly.
I believe that Communists have always played an active role in the fight by colonial countries for their freedom, because the short-term objects of communism would always correspond with the long-term objects of freedom movements. Thus Communists have played an important role in the freedom struggles fought in countries such as Malaya, Algeria, and Indonesia, yet none of these states today are Communist countries. Similarly in the underground resistance movements which sprung up in Europe during the last world war, Communists played an important role. Even General Chiang Kaishek, today one of the bitterest enemies of communism, fought together with the Communists against the ruling class in the struggle which led to his assumption of power in China in the 1930s. This pattern of cooperation between Communists and non-Communists has been repeated in the National Liberation Movement of South Africa. Prior to the banning of the Communist party, joint campaigns involving the Communist party and the Congress movements were accepted practice. African Communists could, and did, become members of the ANC, and some served on the national, provincial and local committees.Among those who served on the National Executive are Albert Nzula, a former secretary of the Communist party, Moses Kotane, another former secretary, and J. B. Marks, a former member of the central committee.
I joined the ANC in 1944, and in my younger days I held the view that the policy of admitting Communists to the ANC, and the close cooperation which existed at times on specific issues between the ANC and the Communist party, would lead to a watering down of the concept of African Nationalism. At that stage I was a member of the African National Congress Youth League, and was one of a group which moved for the expulsion of Communists from the ANC. This proposal was heavily defeated. Among those who voted against the proposal were some of the most conservative sections of African political opinion. They defended the policy on the ground that from its inception the ANC was formed and built up not as a political party with one school of political thought but as a parliament of the African people, accommodating people of various political convictions, all united by the common goal of national liberation. I was eventually won over to this point of view and I have upheld it ever since.
It is perhaps difficult for white South Africans, with an ingrained prejudice against communism, to understand why experienced African politicians so readily accept Communists as their friends. But to us the reason is obvious. Theoretical differences among those fighting against oppression is a luxury we cannot afford at this stage. What is more, for many decades Communists were the only political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans as human beings and their equals; who were prepared to eat with us, talk with us, live with us, and work with us. They were the only political group which was prepared to work with Africans for the attainment of political rights and a stake in society. Because of this, there are many Africans who, today, tend to equate freedom with communism. They are supported in this belief by a legislature which brands all exponents of democratic government and African freedom as Communists and bans many of them (who are not Communists) under the Suppression of Communism Act.
It is not only in internal politics that we count Communists as among those who support our cause. In the international field, Communist countries have always come to our aid. In the United Nations and other councils of the world the Communist bloc has supported the Afro-Asian struggle against colonialism and often seems to be more sympathetic to our plightthan some of the Western powers. Although there is a universal condemnation of apartheid, the Communist bloc speaks out against it with a louder voice than most of the white world. In these circumstances, it would take a brash young politician, such as I was in 1949, to proclaim that the Communists are our enemies.
I turn now to my own position. I have denied that I am a Communist, and I think that in the circumstances I am obliged to state exactly what my political beliefs are. I have always regarded myself, in the first place, as an African patriot. I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs partly from Marxist reading and partly from my admiration of the structure and organization of early African societies in this country. The land, then the main means of production, belonged to the tribe. There were no rich or poor and there was no exploitation.
Yes, I have been influenced by Marxist thought, but so have other leaders such as Gandhi, Nehru, Nkrumah, and Nasser. We all accept the need for some form of socialism to enable our people to catch up with the advanced countries of this world and to overcome their legacy of extreme poverty. But this does not mean we are Communists, or even Marxists. Indeed, for my own part, I believe that it is open to debate whether the Communist party has any specific role to play at this particular stage of our political struggle. The basic task at the present moment is the removal of race discrimination and the attainment of democratic rights on the basis of the Freedom Charter. Insofar as that party furthers this task, I welcome its assistance. I realize that it is one of the means by which people of all races can be drawn into our struggle.
From my reading of Marxist literature and from conversations with Marxists, I have gained the impression that Communists regard the parliamentary system of the West as undemocratic and reactionary. But, on the contrary, I am an admirer of such a system. The Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights, and the Bill of Rights are documents which are held in veneration by democrats throughout the world. I have great respect for British political institutions, and for the country's system of justice. I regard the British Parliament as the most democratic institution in the world, and the independence and impartiality of its judiciary never fail to arouse my admiration. The American Congress, that country's doctrine of separation of powers, as well as the independence of its judiciary, arouses in me similar sentiments.
I have been influenced in my thinking by both West and East. All this has led me to feel that in my search for a political formula I should be absolutely impartial and objective. I should tie myself to no particular system of society other than socialism. I must leave myself free to borrow the best from the West and from the East. As to the suggestion that we received financial support from abroad, I wish to state that our political struggle has always been financed from internal sources--from funds raised by our own people and by our own supporters. Whenever we had a special campaign or an important political case--for example, the Treason Trial--we received financial assistance from sympathetic individuals and organizations in the Western countries. We had never felt it necessary to go beyond these sources.
But when in 1961 the Umkonto was formed, and a new phase of the struggle introduced, we realized that these events would make a heavy call on our slender resources, and that the scale of our activities would be hampered by the lack of funds. One of my instructions, as I went abroad in January 1962, was to raise funds from the African states. I must add that, while abroad, I had discussions with leaders of political movements in Africa and discovered that almost every single one of them, in areas which had still not attained independence, had received all forms of assistance from the socialist countries, as well as from the West, including that of financial support. I also discovered that some well-known African states, all of them non-Communist, and even anti-Communist, had received similar assistance.
The government often answers its critics by saying that Africans in South Africa are economically better off than the inhabitants of the other countries in Africa. I do not know whether this statement is true and doubt whether any comparison can be made without having regard to the cost-of-living index in such countries. But even if it is true, as far as the African people are concerned it is irrelevant. Our complaint is not that we are poor by comparison with people in other countries, but that we are poor by comparison with the white people in our own country, and that we are prevented by legislation from altering this imbalance. The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy. White supremacy implies black inferiority. Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion.
Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa, wewant security and a stake in society. Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy. But his fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division based on color is entirely artificial, and when it disappears so will the domination of one color group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.
This then is what the ANC is fighting. Our struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by our own suffering and our own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Those were the last words South Africans were to hear from Mandela before he was put behind bars to serve out the rest of his natural life in captivity on Robben Island. They are recorded here because they seem to me appropriate to this account of Steve Biko, and because in much of his life-style, personality, and intellectual power Mandela was in the authentic line of major black South African leaders culminating in Biko himself.
South African history will one day accord full and due honor to the distinguished roll of courageous leaders who devoted their energies to the cause of their people. The contributions of black spokesmen of varying shades of moderation and activism will be recognized, including the earliest and the latest, from Jabavu and Soga, Mzimba, Makiwane, Rubusana, Pelemi, Seme, Gumede, Bokwe, Xuma, Makgatho, Mapikela, Mangena, Msi-mang, and Dube, to Luthuli, Mandela, Sobukwe, Tambo, Sisulu, and Biko. I believe, though, that SteveBiko will be accorded a special place in our national history, not only because of his own remarkable qualities but because he was to become the first of these major leaders to die at the hands of the State.
The Rise of Black Consciousness
With Mandela imprisoned and Sobukwe banned, there was for some years a leadership vacuum in South African black politics. It was filled toward the close of the 1960s by Bantu Stephen Biko.
Biko's was a new style of leadership. It was not an obvious style. He never ever proclaimed himself as leader, and in fact he generally discouraged the cult of personality and often tried to play a backroom role. He preferred to think that the struggle for black liberation was led by many rather than few, and that Black Consciousness was a mass movement of which he was only one of many articulators. But in this he deceived himself. From early youth he was so obviously a leader and was perceived by so many of his contemporaries as such, that he was inevitably deferred to in any gathering of which he was a part.
He was, in fact, the main guiding founder and inspiration of Black Consciousness, which addressed itself to black youth to prepare it for a new phase of the struggle for freedom.
The idea behind Black Consciousness was to break away almost entirely from past black attitudes to the liberation struggle and to set a new style of self-reliance and dignity for blacks as a psychological attitude leading to new initiatives. From this philosophy came many black organizations that sprang from the Black Consciousness movement, mainly the Black People's Convention (BPC) and the all-black South African Students' Organization (SASO). Biko and his associates used almost brutal language to initiate these bodies, because they felt they first had to get blacks to break away fromthe whites in multiracial organizations such as the National Union of South African Students.
It was the height of irony that the first major manifestation of Black Consciousness sprang from a black breach with one of the most courageously pro-black white youth organizations, the National Union of South African Students. NUSAS consisted mainly of white English-speaking students of the liberal universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand (Johannesburg), Natal (Durban and Pietermaritzburg), and Rhodes (Grahamstown). Its leaders and office bearers had repeatedly been jailed, banned, and prosecuted for protesting against racial injustice, and although NUSAS tried valiantly to build up and maintain a multiracial membership, the dice were loaded against its efforts in this regard because of the national environment. There happened to be more white students than black students in the land, and this fact, and the general set of legislative obstacles that militate against sociopolitical integration in South Africa, meant that its leadership was white-oriented--the very fact that provided the black students with their launching pad for the all-black South African Students' Organization.
The formation of SASO, a traumatic event for white liberal youth committed to the NUSAS ideals, was inspired by Steve Biko. But the gestation process was initially best publicly described by two spokesmen on opposite sides of the dispute. One, a NUSAS leader named Clive Nettleton, gave a strikingly perceptive analysis:
The formation of SASO has disrupted the traditional alignment of the South African student world. The old alignment consisted of, on the one side, the Afrikaanse Studentebond, representing the Afrikaans-language universities supporting apartheid, and on the other hand NUSAS, representing the English-speaking campuses, including the black university colleges. The formation of SASO has introduced a new force into the situation and has underlined the inability of NUSAS to represent adequately the views of black students. SASO also has importance because it reflects a new movement in society at large--Black Consciousness.
The major problem facing NUSAS as a nonracial organization existing in a society based on racism is that, while preaching the ideal of nonracism, the members of the organization are unable to live out their ideals. While it is still possible for white and black students to hold joint congresses and seminars, and to meet occasionally at social events, they live in different worlds.
The white English-speaking students are unable to find an identity outside the student framework, while the black students feel a strong identification with the aspirations of the black people as a whole and feel in a forum such as a NUSAS congress that they represent not only black students but all black people.
Legality and multiracialism do not yoke together easily in South Africa. A NUSAS commission examined laws that infringed the rights of the individual, an issue white students felt had great importance. However, for the first time there was a new response from the black students. "What," asked one delegate, "is the use of a black man talking about the erosion of freedom in South Africa? We have no freedom and one or two laws more or less make no difference to our situation."
The NUSAS Congress of 1967 had been the turning point. The conditions under which the black delegates were (separately) accommodated at Rhodes University were appalling and NUSAS was unable to do anything about it.
The black student community now stands united in the belief that in their unity lies the strength to overcome so many problems they face, first as students and then as members of the oppressed community. Briefly these sentiments are expressed in the following:
(i) Black students owe their first allegiance to the black community with whom they share the burdens and injustices of apartheid. Student unity, where this involves consolidating ranks encompassing people of variable aspirations, is not to be encouraged. It has been shown in the past that black-white student cooperation often leads to a divergence of expectations with the resultant frustrations.
(ii) The student population is already divided and black students feel it is more effective to go it alone instead of standing piously on ineffective platforms, issuing impotent fulminations against "the System."
(iii) It is essential for the black students to elevate the level of consciousness of the black community by promoting blackawareness, pride, achievement and capabilities. In the long run this will prove far more valuable than the sentimental and idealistic attitude of perpetually trying to "bridge the gap" between races.
The confusion which the formation of SASO has caused among liberal whites is considerable and needs to be looked at carefully. The problem is that believing in nonracism seems to be contradicted by an acceptance of a black-only organization. But the essence of the matter is that NUSAS was founded on white initiative, is financed by white money and reflects the opinions of the majority of its members who are white. SASO, on the other hand, also faces considerable problems. The purpose of SASO would seem in the first instance to be to build up among the black students a Black Consciousness, and within this framework to confront the white power structures. Initially the confrontation is with the liberal structures, which are both the most accessible and the easiest to attack on the grounds of their middle-of-the-road nature. Any group seeking confrontation needs also to establish clear polarities, and the middle-of-the-road section needs to be eliminated in order to bring about the confrontation. So it should not be surprising that the first attack by SASO should be directed against NUSAS rather than the more extreme right-wing organizations.
SASO have realized that in South Africa today it is impossible to live the nonracial ideal and that it is therefore better to withdraw in order to achieve congruence between program and reality.
Nettleton's exposition admirably summed up the issue, and an equally admirable exposition of Black Consciousness came also from Barney Pityana, Steve Biko's chief lieutenant in the SASO movement. Typically Biko took a back seat at this early stage, feeling that if he kept a low public profile initially, this would boost second-echelon leadership--which indeed it did. This is Pityana's account:
To ask the right questions, to encourage a new consciousness, and to suggest new forms which express it, are the basic purposes of our new direction.
It is true that the question of race is one which we often findembarrassing. It should rather not be discussed, like the problem of sex during the Victorian era. "Oh, you see, I love you as a person and it never occurs to me that you are black!"--this is the sort of gesture we receive from our sympathetic friends. Many would prefer to be color-blind; to them skin pigmentation is merely an accident of creation. To us it is something much more fundamental. It is a synonym for subjection, an identification for the disinherited. Hans Morganthau's Realist school of thought suggests that by power we mean man's control over the minds and actions of other men. Political power refers to the mutual relations of control between the holders of public authority and the people. The holders of public authority exercise their power by the consent of their subjects. The subjects have an ultimate right to revoke this authority in the event of its abuse, or corruptive employ- ment. Power, therefore, is an essential element of politics.
The South African population consists of more than 25 million people. Of these only about 5 million are white. Yet all political and economic power is in the hands of this white minority. They have a right to vote for, and to be voted on to, all effective legislative bodies. They monopolize all key positions and centers of power and preferred occupations. Whites are protected by legislation from competition with blacks in spheres of employment, sport and politics. They appropriate far more than their fair share in educational, welfare and other social services, and they maintain a wide gap between themselves and other races in terms of technical skills, and consequently the wealth of the land. The so-called nonwhite people are kept in total subjection by the white authority. It is government policy to keep the different racial groups in complete separation from one another. The obvious result is that they have developed prejudices, complexes, and suspicions about one another. They are competing for favors from the powers that be. There is differentiation in living conditions, social amenities, and salary scales.
One has to take account of the years of indoctrination starting from the first encounter of the white colonists with black tribesmen, when whites were set up as a standard. From their capitalistic tendencies one has come to measure status by the amount of money one has. In this way the class situation was introduced as a value even for blacks. The urgency of the moment is that we have to liberate the mind of the black man.
Black Consciousness can therefore be seen as a stage preceding any invasion, any abolition of the ego by desire: The firststep, therefore, is to make the black man see himself, to pump life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth. This is what we mean by an inward-looking process. This makes consciousness, Black Consciousness, imminent in our own eyes. "I am not a potentiality of something," writes Fanon. "I am wholly what I am. I do not have to look for the universal. No probability has any place inside me. My negro consciousness does not hold itself out as black. It IS. It is its own follower. This is all that we blacks are after. TO BE. We believe that we are quite efficient in handling our BEness and for this purpose we are self-sufficient. We shall never find our goals and aspirations as a people centered anywhere else but in US. This, therefore, necessitates a self-examination and a rediscovery of ourselves. Blacks can no longer afford to be led and dominated by nonblacks."
I do not believe that there was nothing of value in the way of life of the indigenous black peoples. The tribe was seen as an extension of the family and all collective enterprise was geared to the general good. The chief was merely a custodian of the property of the tribe. There cannot be a better collective system of government. Blacks must reject the exploitative nature of white society. The norms of Western society are, by definition, norms required by the capitalist for its survival. Thus exploitation, which is natural in Western culture, will never willingly be renounced by whites. Culture is largely a social product which is imposed on each individual by the socializing process to which he is subjected in his particular society. Culture is a living tradition, a collection of ideas and beliefs which represent a people's collective way of life. The culture orientation of the black people is influenced by their life-style in the black ghettos! They have had to generate a "soul force" which would enable them to remain human beings in these camps. I view the government's attempts at developing the cultures of the various ethnic groups as an "arrested image of culture." Government policy aims at breaking down the life thread; and Black Consciousness is determined to build a new culture and value-orientation which, though influenced by other forces, will articulate the priorities and needs of the black people and act in terms of these needs.
The fact that a concerted delving into our roots and a rewriting of our history is considered necessary to ignite a consciousness should not be stretched to absurd proportions. Iwould not like to exalt the past at the expense of the present and the future. It may, however, be necessary for both the present and the future because a correct interpretation of events, that is of history, will be obtained by understanding both the opposing tendencies and the result of their conflict. This is our theory of history: past events can shape the present and the future.
To hope that change might come through the existing political parties in South Africa is a pipedream, because a political party that appeals to white voters alone invariably makes their claims the touchstone of policy, plays on their racial antagonisms and consolidates them into a hegemonic block in opposition to the voteless majority. This means that black people must build themselves into a position of nondependence upon whites. They must work towards a self-sufficient political, social and economic unit. In this manner they will help themselves towards a deeper realization of their potential and worth as self-respecting people. The confidence thus generated will give them a sense of pride and awareness. This is what we need in South Africa for a meaningful change to the status quo. The way to the future is not through a directionless multiracialism but through a positive unilateral approach. Black man, you are on your own.
The ultimate irony had occurred. Apartheid, designed to suppress a unified black response, had created precisely such a response. In denying validity to any claim by blacks to even the slightest share in a common multiracial society, the racists had driven the most articulate young blacks into claiming not merely a share but the dominant share in such a society--on their own terms.
The young Steve Biko and his colleagues had seized the shoulder of the sleeping giant of black awareness in South Africa to shake him from his slumber. And more than that: to raise him to his feet, to stretch him to his full height, and to place him for the first time into the attitudes of total challenge toward all who had sought to keep him prone. Black Consciousness was born, a new totality of black response to white power, and with it a new era in the racial struggle in South Africa.
And with it was born the increasingly perceptible leadership of Steve Biko. Despite all his efforts to keepin the background, to generate collective leadership on a broad front so that the movement would be one of all the people rather than a movement tied to one personality, his own modesty was no proof against the inexorable processes whereby even the most able group of men will turn to one among them in some form of acknowledgment that he, more than any other, is their recognized guide. Though the Black Consciousness movement from the beginning produced a wide array of gifted leaders and spokesmen, it was the name of Biko that increasingly worked its way to the fore out of this large group in the months and years ahead, and by the dawn of the decade of the 1970s there were already signs that the young Steve Biko was the personification of an immense new force at the forefront of black politics in South Africa.
In the process of mobilizing blacks against the white racists, the Black Consciousness advocates felt they first had to wean their fellow blacks away from the white antiracists, the white liberals, by attacking liberalism itself. As a liberal, I was therefore one of those whose first awareness of Black Consciousness was through attacks by people like Biko on all that I personally believed in, in the South African political context. I, after all, was one of these white liberals whose "paternalism" and "negative influence" were under attack, along with my liberal heroes like Alan Paton. We liberals believed in a common nonracial society in South Africa, in an end to all apartheid and in a brotherhood among all South Africans of every race, creed, and color. We could not see that, for young blacks in our repressed society, such concepts were utterly impractical, and that our unavailing efforts to achieve these ideals were no longer adequate.
There were few enough of us, in all conscience. Few white South Africans shared our anti-apartheid views, and even for many of us who described ourselves as liberal, a long political road had had to be traveled away from racism.
This was certainly so in my case.
My Own White World
To establish from what vantage point I observed and evaluated the significance and philosophy of Steve Biko, I should explain my own background and the influences that shaped my own thinking. I was born on December 15, 1933, in the Transkei territory of Eastern Cape Province, a territory later to become the first "Bantustan" or "homeland." Like most white South Africans, I was born into a home highly conservative on the racial issue. My father was a trader and so was my mother's father. A trader is a rural shopkeeper in a tribal reserve who sells blankets, beads, buckets, hoes, spades, and a variety of basic goods to th
Main Description
This powerful biography of Bantu Stephen Biko--which was the basis for the major motion picture Cry Freedom, starring Kevin Kline and Denzel Washington--is considered the definitive work on one of the most important leaders in South Africa's history.
Main Description
Subjected to 22 hours of interrogation, torture and beating by South African police on September 6, 1977, Steve Biko died six days later. Donald Woods, Biko's close friend and a leading white South African newspaper editor, exposed the murder helping to ignite the black revolution.

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