On the 12th of September, the people of South Africa and the continent at large commemorated the life and teachings of Black Consciousness leader, Bantu Stephen Biko, otherwise known as Steve Biko. Marking 40 years since Biko was killed in detention, his teachings and ideals still live on in a society of broken systems, unequal “equals”, wounded people and pervasive injustice.
Biko is best remembered for his activism in the struggle against Apartheid and his wisdoms which galvanised the youth into resistance during a time when prominent leaders of the struggle were silenced, banned and exiled. A popular voice of Black liberation, speaking to the ideals of Black pride and Black self-love. Notions of self-reliance and the mental emancipation of colonised people were prominent points of conscientisation in the Black Consciousness Movement; largely drawing on the successes from the wave of independence from colonial rule that swept the African continent in the 20th century.
It is these very underpinnings of Black Consciousness that we now see re-emerge in present-day discourses about the fault-lines and disintegration of the “Rainbow Nation”. Black Consciousness, itself, has come under major scrutiny in recent years with many critiquing the erasure of women who contributed significantly to this school of thought that inspired the resistance movement. The likes of Mamphela Ramphele, Thembi Nkabinde, Manana Kgware, Deborah Matshoba, Nomsisi Kraai, Thenjiwe Mtintso, and Vuyelwa Mashalaba (to name a few) are often forgotten and their contribution negated.
Lately, difficult conversations about racism, systems of power and privilege have resurfaced. Not only in South Africa but the world, at large. Movements like that of #BlackLivesMatter in the United States is one such movement that made international headlines, highlighting the continued dehumanisation of Black people in America, thus providing space for conversations around the “virulent anti-Black racism that permeates society”. The #BlackLivesMatter movement mobilised in physical form around issues of racism; particularly that of state violence in which “Black people are left powerless at the hands of the state”.
Similarly to that of Black Consciousness, radical Black-love is central to the teachings of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The idea that, in face of violence, being proud in one’s blackness is essential in the fight for justice.
It is this thinking that deeply resonates with the current political climate which bears witness to (and often underpins) the rise of the “alt-right” and white supremacist ideologies. The idea that in our striving for justice, that the restoration of pride and self-love be central to our understandings of Black Consciousness and, in and above that, be central to our movements for social change.
The world is changing rapidly. Every day we wake to new political scandals, detrimental economic occurrences, news of escalating conflicts, impending race wars, increased poverty and the detrimental consequences environmental degradation. As of late, many have come to understand that the need to harness our collective strengths, in the fight for justice, is growing each day. And it is through radical self-love that we, as colonised people, are able to rise from an imposed place of powerlessness to reassert and reclaim our humanity.
If not radical self-love, then how else are we planning to fulfil the vision of a just society that the likes of Biko spoke truth to?
Jodi Williams is a Communications and Advocacy Project Officer at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation