Biko Speaks on Africa

Biko Speaks on Africa


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



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



  Books by and about Steve Biko

I Write What I Like: Selected Writings (2002)  /  The Testimony of Steve Biko (1984) 


 Biko (1991) / Black Consciousness in South Africa (1979) / Biko Lives!: Contesting the Legacies of Steve Biko


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Biko Speaks on Africans

Their Sufferings & Black Consciousness



Black Consciousness & Singularity of Purpose

By Black Consciousness I mean the cultural and political revival of an oppressed people. This must be related to the emancipation of the entire continent of Africa since the Second World War. Africa has experienced the death of white invincibility. Before that we were conscious mainly of two classes of people, the white conquerors and the black conquered. The black in Africa now know that the whites will not be conquerors forever.

I must emphasize the cultural depth of Black Consciousness. The recognition of the death of white invincibility forces blacks to ask the question: “Who am I? Who are we?” And the fundamental answer we give is this: “People are people!” so “black” Consciousness says: “Forget about the color!” But the reality we faced ten to fifteen years ago did not allow us to articulate this. After all, the continent was in a period of rapid decolonization, which implied a challenge to black inferiority all over Africa.

This challenge was shared by white liberals. So for quite some time the white liberals acted as the spokesmen for the blacks. But then some of us began to ask ourselves: “Can our liberal trustees put themselves in our place?” Our answer was twofold: “No! They cannot.” And: “As long as the white liberals are our spokesmen, there will be no black spokesmen.” It is not possible to have black spokesmen in a white context.

This was realized readily in many black countries outside of South Africa. But what did we have here? The society as a whole was divided into white and black groups. This forced division had to disappear, and many nonracist groups worked toward that end. But almost every nonracist group was still largely white, notably so in the student world. thus here we were confronted with the same shortcoming: the context of getting rid of white-black tensions was still a white context.

So we realize that blacks themselves had to speak out about the black predicament. We could no longer depend upon whites answering the question: “Who are we?” There had to be a singularity of purpose in that answer. the white trustees would always be mixed in purpose.

Black Consciousness & Western Christianity

I grew up in the Anglican church, so this matter is an important one for me. But it is a troublesome question, for in South Africa, Christianity for most people is purely a formal matter. We as blacks cannot forget the fact that Christianity in Africa is tied up with the entire colonial process. This meant that Christian came here with a form of culture which they called Christian but which in effect was Western, and which expressed itself as an imperial culture as far as Africa was concerned.

Here the missionaries did not make the proper distinctions. This important matter can easily be illustrated by relatively small things. Take the question of dress, for example. When an African became Christian, as a rule he or she was expected to drop traditional garb and dress like a Westerner. The same with many customs dear to blacks, which they were expected to drop for supposed “Christian” reasons while in effect they were only in conflict with certain Western mores.

Moreover, although the social hierarchy within the church was a white/black hierarchy, the sharing of responsibility for church affairs was exclusively white. This meant that the nature especially of the mainline churches was hardly influenced by black fact. It cannot be denied that in this situation many blacks, especially the young blacks, have begun to question Christianity. the question they ask is whether the necessary decolonization of Africa also requires the de-Christianization of Africa.

The most positive facet of this questioning is the development of “black” theology does not challenge Christianity itself but its Western package, in order to discover what the Christian faith means for our continent.

Black Consciousness & Black People’s Convention

In the 1960s, the African Congress had been banned, so the main realities we were confronted with were the power of the police and the leftist noises of the white liberals. Faced with these realities, we had to solve the question of how a new consciousness could take hold of the people.

The government controlled the schools. There was a low output from the schools as far as Black Consciousness was concerned. We knew we had to seek for participation among the intelligentsia. But we also knew that the intelligentsia tend to look upon the masses as tools to be manipulated by them, so the change of consciousness among graduates of the black universities that we sought focused on an identification of intellectuals with the needs of the black community.

Here lies the origin of SASO–the South African Student Organization. It challenged the injustice of the existing structures, but it did this in a new way. As a matter of fact, since we stressed Black Consciousness and the relation of the intellectuals with the real needs of the black community, we were at first regarded as supporters of the System. The liberals criticized us and the conservatives supported us. But this did not last very long.  It took the government four years to take measures against us. Even today we are still accused of racism. This is a mistake.

We know that all interracial groups in South Africa are relationships in which whites are superior, blacks inferior. 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. For all of us this means that South Africa is not European, but African.

Gradually this began to make sense. Black Consciousness gained momentum, but we were still faced with the practical issue that the people who were speaking were mainly students and graduates. There was no broad debate. For this reason we had to move from SASO to the organization of the Black People’s Convention so that the masses could get involved in the development of a new consciousness.

The BPC was established in 1972. It was then that the government began to go into action. It banned individual leaders of the BPC. But today the BPC is getting wide support. the people are willing to sacrifice for it, with their money and with their time, as you can see from the packed courtrooms at trials of black leaders and inquests into their “mysterious” deaths in backrooms of police stations. 

In a sense, the Black people’s Convention is the most powerful organization among blacks, but this is hard to determine exactly, since the ANC and the PAC are banned as organizations, which means that they have a kind of generation-gap problem: there is a whole generation now that has not been influenced by the ANC and the PAC. In any case, the actual identification of people with the BPC is strong. When I put it this way, I do not want to give the impression that the relation between these organizations is one of competition. There will be one movement of revolt against the system of injustice. To be sure, there are the usual divisions due to background, but in terms of the revolution there is unity.

Communism or Communialism

We within the BPC have made up our minds that we must operate within the confines of the law or we will not operate at all. This means that the BPC is not and cannot be a communist organization. To some extent organizations can operate underground, but for our kind of organization it is much more effective to work openly aboveground. Moreover, an aboveground movement must have an element of compromise about it, and we look upon that as an advantage.

Further, a Communist in South Africa today will be an instrument of Moscow, not of the black people. Some Marxists are more pliable, more realistic. but then we have to know precisely about whom we are talking. While the BPC is nonviolent, it should not be forgotten that we are part of a movement which will be confronted with new situations that may require different strategies. We begin with the assumption that rapproachement is necessary. The BPC is not a third wing among the blacks, next to the ANC and the PAC.

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The Black Consciousness movement does not want to accept the dilemma of capitalism versus communism. It opts for a socialist solution that is an authentic expression of black communialism. At the present stage of our struggle it is not easy to present details of this alternative, but it is a recognition of the fact that a change the system. In our search for a just system we know that the debate about economic policy cannot be “pure,” completely separate from existing systems.

In our writings we at times speak of collective enterprises because we reject the individualistic and capitalist type of enterprises. But we are not taking over the Russian models. I must emphasize that in our search for new models we are necessarily affected by where we are today. For this reason also it is impossible to present details about the transition stage that will be here after the dissolution of white domination. It is far too early for that.

Source: Donald Woods. Biko. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1987.

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The Life and Death of Steve Biko (1977) The Life and Death of Steve Biko (1977) Part 2

Why Steve Biko Wouldn’t Vote

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I Write What I Like: Selected Writings

By Steve Biko

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” Like all of Steve Biko’s writings, those words testify to the passion, courage, and keen insight that made him one of the most powerful figures in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. They also reflect his conviction that black people in South Africa could not be liberated until they united to break their chains of servitude, a key tenet of the Black Consciousness movement that he helped found. I Write What I Like contains a selection of Biko’s writings from 1969, when he became the president of the South African Students’ Organization, to 1972, when he was prohibited from publishing.

The collection also includes a preface by Archbishop Desmond Tutu; an introduction by Malusi and Thoko Mpumlwana, who were both involved with Biko in the Black Consciousness movement; a memoir of Biko by Father Aelred Stubbs, his longtime pastor and friend; and a new foreword by Professor Lewis Gordon.Biko’s writings will inspire and educate anyone concerned with issues of racism, postcolonialism, and black nationalism.

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Steve Biko: Black Consciousness in South Africa

Edited by Miliard Arnold

In May 1976, nine Blacks were arrested in South Africa and charged with terrorism for having ‘thoughts’ unacceptable to the regime. Bantu Stephen Biko, that country’s most important Black leader, stepped forward to testify on their behalf and thus broke the ban on his public speaking. In the late 1960s, Biko had founded the Black Consciousness movement, which called for the psychological and cultural liberation of the Black mind as a precondition to political freedom; the movement spread rapidly among students and the masses, and his goal of using group pride to break the strangle hold of White oppression was partly realized by the time that his colleagues were placed on trial.

Biko’s courageous and delicate testimony, recorded here in the dramatic format of direct and cross examination, explores almost every issue in South Africa and..shows something of Biko’s brilliance, humor, vision and quickness of mind. This was to be his last public statement. In Sept. 1977, Bantu Stephen Biko was murdered in a South African jail.—Random House

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This book is an excellent source for seeing the experience of apartheid from which the theory of black consciousness emerged. Biko lucidly articulates both the people and the regime he found himself in conflict with, and parallel’s between his appraisal and his idea’s are made clear. A must read for anyone who wants to get a full understanding of black consciousness.—Amazon Customer

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Biko            Lyrics by Peter Gabriel (1980)

September ’77 Port Elizabeth weather fine It was business as usual In police room 619

Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja The man is dead, the man is dead

When I try to sleep at night I can only dream in red The outside world is black and white With only one colour dead

You can blow out a candle But you can’t blow out a fire Once the flames begin to catch The wind will blow it higher

Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja The man is dead, the man is dead

And the eyes of the world are Watching now Watching now

Oh oh oh Oh oh oh Oh oh oh, na na na na na Oh oh oh, na na na na na So Biko, Biko Oh Biko, Biko

Source: Rosenberg  

Peter Gabriel—Biko Live 1986  / Peter Gabriel—Biko

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Freedom Now

             Lyrics By Tracy Chapman (1989)They throwed him in jail And they kept him there Hoping soon he’d die That his body and spirit would waste away And soon after that his mind But every day is born a fool One who thinks he can rule One who says tomorrow’s mine One who wakes one day to find The prison doors open the shackles broken And chaos in the street Everybody sing we’re free free free free free (3 times) They throwed him in jail And they kept him there Hoping his memory’d die That the people forget how he once led and fought for justice in their lives But every day is born a man Who hates what he can’t understand Who thinks the answer is to kill Who thinks his actions are god’s will And he thinks he’s free free free free Yes he thinks he’s free free free free He thinks he’s free free free free Soon must come the day When the righteous have their way Unjustly tried are free And people live in peace I say Give the man release Go on and set your conscience free Right the wrongs you made Even a fool can have his day Let us all be free free free free (3 times) Free our bodies free our minds Free our hearts Freedom for everyone And freedom now Freedom now Freedom now Freedom now

Source: Rosenberg

Tracy Chapman—Freedom Now Live SNL / Tracy Chapman—Freedom Now Live

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Pilgrimage  to an  Ancestral Land: Ghana  / Miriam in Ghana  / AmandlaPublishers

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Will the World Cup benefit South Africa?

When FIFA awarded South Africa hosting honors for the 2010 World Cup, many skeptics believed the nation could not pull it off. Others maintained that the event would negatively impact a country in which abject poverty is still widespread. But the event has kicked off with everything from stadiums to transport infrastructure ready. Inside Story asks what the costs of hosting the World Cup have been to South Africa and what South Africans stand to gain from the event.

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



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The Shadows of Youth

The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation

By Andrew B. Lewis

With deep admiration and rigorous scholarship, historian Lewis (Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table) revisits the ragtag band of young men and women who formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Impatient with what they considered the overly cautious and accommodating pace of the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr., the black college students and their white allies, inspired by Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence and moral integrity, risked their lives to challenge a deeply entrenched system. Fanning out over the Jim Crow South, SNCC organized sit-ins, voter registration drives, Freedom Schools and protest marches. Despite early successes, the movement disintegrated in the late 1960s, succeeded by the militant Black Power movement. The highly readable history follows the later careers of the principal leaders. Some, like Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, became bitter and disillusioned. Others, including Marion Barry, Julian Bond and John Lewis, tempered their idealism and moved from protest to politics, assuming positions of leadership within the very institutions they had challenged. According to the author, No organization contributed more to the civil rights movement than SNCC, and with his eloquent book, he offers a deserved tribute.—

Publishers Weekly

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Hopes and Prospects

By Noam Chomsky

In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky surveys the dangers and prospects of our early twenty-first century. Exploring challenges such as the growing gap between North and South, American exceptionalism (including under President Barack Obama), the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli assault on Gaza, and the recent financial bailouts, he also sees hope for the future and a way to move forward—in the democratic wave in Latin America and in the global solidarity movements that suggest “real progress toward freedom and justice.” Hopes and Prospects is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the primary challenges still facing the human race. “This is a classic Chomsky work: a bonfire of myths and lies, sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky is an enduring inspiration all over the world—to millions, I suspect—for the simple reason that he is a truth-teller on an epic scale. I salute him.” —John Pilger In dissecting the rhetoric and logic of American empire and class domination, at home and abroad, Chomsky continues a longstanding and crucial work of elucidation and activism . . .the writing remains unswervingly rational and principled throughout, and lends bracing impetus to the real alternatives before us.—Publisher’s Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 14 January 2010




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Related files:  Biko Biosketch   Biko Speaks on Africans  Introduction I Write What I Like  Why Steve Biko Wouldn’t Vote  Biko and the Problematic of Presence  Hunger for a Black President 

Black Education and Afro-Pessimism

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