- Mental colonisation is so deeply entrenched that many Black people accept that anything Black people control or manage will fail and anything in the hands of white people is guaranteed to succeed.
- Non-white leaders (Black leaders who promote White interests) are useful tools in maintaining neo-colonialism.
- Black intelligentsia and Black middle class are busy smuggling themselves into the white community.
- The non-white political aristocracy admires whiteness, and despises poor Black people.
- The countless Afrikans who drown while trying to smuggle themselves into Europe are victims of misrule perpetrated by non-whites.
Every September, our movement, the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), reflects on our heritage, our beacon of hope, the founding father of our guiding philosophy of Black Consciousness, Bantu Biko. Biko was brutally murdered in police custody by the racist apartheid regime on September 12, 1977. AZAPO has, for the past 46 years, commemorated the death of Biko without fail.
But why does Biko occupy such a special space in AZAPO when our movement has countless liberation heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice in our anti-colonial struggle whose primary objective was the repossession of land?
Biko was a visionary leader, a philosopher, a dedicated and fearless freedom fighter who played a pivotal role in the development of Black Consciousness, an anti-colonial ideology, in occupied Azania.
As we pause and reflect on his life that was cut short by the brutes of the apartheid regime, let us consider some of his quotes and their meaning. “The Black man has become a shell, a shadow of man, completely defeated, drowning in his own misery, a slave, an ox bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity.”
In this statement, Biko had analysed the condition of Black people under settler-colonialism. This was a period of political lull after the banning of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and the African National Congress in the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre in March of 1960.
Leaders of the liberation movement have been completely silenced. Some had fled into exile to prepare for armed struggle while others such as Mangaliso Sobukwe and others were jailed on Robben Island. Dozens of freedom fighters, mainly members of POQO, which later became the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), were hanged by the racist regime.
Biko looked at the condition of Black people and realised that they had accepted defeat. They were suffering but doing nothing to end their oppression. Biko was of the view that if Black people were to change their circumstances and attain their liberation, the first step would be for them to conquer the mentality of defeat.
Noting that Black people have to be their own liberators, Biko writes:
“It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realise that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality. The first step therefore is to make the Black man come to himself; to pump back 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.”
In this statement, Biko is asserting that true liberation has to be an act of the people, by the people and for the people. He observes that Black people are an unstoppable force, but the first step would be to make them realise their power.
There are many true, yet ridiculous, stories of how Black people displayed total fear and submission to the white man. People relate stories of a single white police officer, riding a bike, who would arrest more than a dozen Black men. None of the arrested men following behind him would consider running away. We are also told of stories where a police van would drive into the township and arrest people who did not have passes.
Once the van is full, the police officer would tell the rest of the people who are under arrest that he is taking those arrested to the police station and that they should wait for him there and he would come and arrest them later.
Some men who would be passing by would ask: what are you waiting for? “We are arrested because we do not have our passes.” The man who was making the inquiry would then say: “Let me also join you because I, too, do not have the pass.”
At different stages of history, the European settlers have always been a minority, but they conquered, largely because they controlled the mind of the Black person. If Black people were to be free, Biko realised much earlier that they must first free their minds.
He writes: “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
This is a profound statement. When the oppressor controls the mind of the oppressed, he does not have to use force to coerce the oppressed to act in the interest of the oppressor. The oppressed on his own, without monitoring, acts in the interests of the oppressor.
Accepting that he is inferior, the oppressed surrenders the authority of governance to the oppressor. That is why, even today, one hears reactionary statements such as: “Black people simply cannot govern. They should just let white people govern. This country was much better under white rule.”
The mental colonisation is so deeply entrenched that many Black people accept that anything that Black people control or manage will fail and anything in the hands of white people is guaranteed to succeed.
This is why Afrikans risk their lives to cross violent seas to Europe because they genuinely believe that countries run by white people are better than those under Black rule. Sadly in many instances, they have evidence of misery under some despotic rulers, who do not qualify to be described as Black.
Biko was clear to define who is Black.
“Being Black is not a matter of pigmentation – being Black is a reflection of a mental attitude.”
He gives further clarity when he writes that the fact that we are not all white does not necessarily mean that we are all Black. He coined the term non-white to describe a soul trapped in a Black skin while his life promotes white interests.
That is why in our movement, we have always referred to non-European counter-revolutionaries and those who collaborated with the settler-colonial system as non-whites. Bantustan leaders, who were apartheid stooges propelled by greed and ignorance, were typical non-whites.
In today’s world, non-white leaders are useful tools in maintaining neo-colonialism, a system that entrenches the interests of colonial powers in post-colonial Afrika. The countless Afrikans who drown while trying to smuggle themselves into Europe are victims of misrule perpetrated by non-whites.
It is easy to expose a non-white leader. These are leaders whose rule is buttressed by the former colonial powers. One such leader was Mobutu Sese Seko of the then Zaire. Equally, it is easy to identify a true Black leader. A true Black leader who champions the interests of his people and the Afrikan continent, in general, is vilified and then assassinated.
An example of a true Black leader who served his people with honour and distinction is Patrice Lumumba of Congo. His anti-colonial posture led to his premature death at the hands of imperialist forces.
Biko is clear about urging Black people to be masters of their destiny.
He further writes: “The Blacks are tired of standing at the touchlines to witness a game that they should be playing. They want to do things for themselves and all by themselves.”
His teaching of calling Black people to do things for themselves is more relevant today in our country. Members of the Black intelligentsia and the Black middle are busy smuggling themselves into the white community. They have passed laws that force white-owned companies to give a small portion of their stake to this group.
Instead of forming their own companies, they are too content to manage white-owned companies. Instead of building their own schools and teaching their own children, this component of the non-white section of the population is too happy to smuggle their children into white schools where their children do not learn any Afrikan language.
Biko is strong about what he means by Black.
“Merely by describing yourself as Black you have started on a road towards 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.”
“Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the Black world for a long time. Its essence is the realisation by the Black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression – the Blackness of their skin – and to operate as a group to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.”
He writes further: “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.”
On the equality of races, Biko writes: “So as a prelude whites must be made to realise that they are only human, not superior. Same with Blacks. They must be made to realise that they are also human, not inferior.”
He taught that Black people should be proud of being who they are. While this message was well received in the mid-1970’s at the height of Black Power activism, some amongst us have regressed.
There are non-whites who use skin-bleaching reams to look more than pink people. Others wear wigs made from hair of dead white women. They may not admit, or even be conscious about it, but those who wear white people’s hair to look like white people actually hate themselves. They hate being Black.
The self-hate is one of the most potent tools to keep Black people powerless. Despite being a numerical majority, Black people remain a cultural minority and weak economically. If a white person sets up a shop in Mafefe village, the locals who are 100 percent Afrikan would overnight start buying from the shop. They can even stop going to the old local shop owned by a fellow local resident. Why?
They associate whiteness with good quality. They also associate Blackness with inferior quality. The association of good quality with whiteness is not only confined to Black people with limited education. Even the political aristocracy displays unqualified confidence in white professionals.
When many of these non-white politicians require legal assistance, they brief white lawyers. When they need medical attention, they consult white doctors. The non-white political aristocracy not only admires whiteness, but they also despise Blackness and poor Black people. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Gauteng Health Department would return more than R2 billion of the health budget when healthcare in public health centres that serve Black people are ill-equipped and experience a critical shortage of staff and medicines.
Can you pause for a moment and think what the priorities of this non-white government would have been if it was white people who did not have water? Or if it was white people who were living in shacks without toilets?
Biko was a prophet. He foresaw how the elite would behave in post-apartheid South Africa.
“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.”
This is why AZAPO celebrates Biko. He was the truth personified.
And in our hearts, Biko will live forever as he says from the grave: “It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die.”
Nelvis Qekema is the President of Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO).