Essays Black Consciousness Movement


The apartheid era in South Africa brought about significant, but rather negative implications in the lives of many South Africans. These discriminatory laws passed by the National Party (NP) government not only abused human rights, but at the same time degraded black people, ill-treated and also dehumanized them; reasons are given in the essay below.

During this era, there was much opposition by affected parties. For every law passed, there would be a reaction from the people affected, and then the government would also react by passing even harsher laws, so the cycle continued over again. It became rather unpleasant to live in and be associated with that era.

Through the liberation struggle, black people had tried mass protests, petitions, letters and talks with the government, until the people decided that one last resort was the armed struggle. This however proved to be difficult due to reasons that will be mentioned later in this document. However, Bantu Steven Biko came with a different angle, not fighting the government, but instilling back the pride of black people. He wanted black people to stop relying on the white man to give them liberty, but for them to liberate themselves.

After the banning of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in 1960, following the Sharpeville massacre many leaders of the liberation movements were jailed, put under house arrest or exiled. This caused the liberation movements to become inactive for a long period. During the 1960s, Prime Minister B.J. Vorster created a set of security laws that turned South Africa into a police state. These laws suppressed any protests against the regime and attempted to silence any opposition in every way possible. Black people then came up with a movement which would formulate a conscious black people that would reject any form of oppression, and reject the apartheid policy with all its forms.

For the purpose of this document, the researcher has looked at the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), how it was received by the black people, how the government reacted to it and whether this movement became a success. The BCM became a new perspective of looking at the world, on a black person’s eye. The BCM decided that black people will only be liberated once they emancipate themselves from mental slavery and feelings of inferiority and thus start to conduct their own political campaigns instead of relying on the white liberals to do it for them. The BCM also believed that they could not form alliance or allies with white people simply because they were the same people who oppressed them. Through the BCM, blackness became something to be proud of and worth fighting for.

A brief biography of Bantu Steven Biko

Biko was born on the 18th December 1946 in King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape. He moved to the Catholic School in Natal after he was expelled from Lovedale College in the Eastern Cape for his brother’s involvement in politics. He then went to further his studies at the medical school in Natal University – black section. His father Matthew Mzingane worked as a clerk while his mother Alice Nokuzola worked as a domestic servant. He got exposed to politics at an early age when his brother was arrested in 1963 as he was a PAC activist. In 1972, Biko dropped out of University to continue his work with the Black Community Programme in Durban.

Biko married Nontsikelelo Mshalaba at the age of 23 in 1970. The following year they gave birth to their first son, Nkosinathi. He then had an affair with Mamphela Ramphela and they had a daughter together in 1974, who died at the age of two months. Through his political life, Biko rejected the ANC’s policy to collaborate with white people. The rest of his political life will be discussed in the content below.

Political atmosphere in South Africa during 1960-1970

The period 1960 to 1970 was marked by a number of political events, i.e. the Sharpeville massacre, formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe and Poqo, the Treason Trial in 1961, and the Trial of Samson Ndou and 21 others in 1969. For every action by the oppressed, the government would react with even harsher and stricter laws. After the pass protest on 21 March 1960, the government banned public meetings on the 24th of March and a state of emergency was imposed from the 30th of March to the 31st of August 1960, in terms of the Public and Safety Act of 1953; which stipulated that the state could declare a state of emergency and suppress the normal operation of law. 

By May 1960, about 1 600 people had been detained and were held without the right of access to lawyers or even family. In the end, about 18 000 people were arrested and more than 11 000 of them were detained under the emergency regulations. The government also passed the Unlawful Organisation Act no 34 on 8 April 1960 when the ANC and PAC were declared unlawful. After this act was passed, many people got arrested for unlawful meetings, intimidations, incitement, public violence and various pass law offences. There were also about 307 prosecutions under the Suppression of Communism and the Public and Safety Acts resulting in 142 convictions.

In May 1961, the ANC called for a National Convention stay-away from the 29th to the 31st [May]. The government then reacted by passing the General Law Amendment Act, no 39 of 1961, which allowed the police force to hold people in detention without trial for 12 days. About 10 000 people got arrested and detained under this law, for example, Nelson Mandela was arrested in August 1962 and was held for 12 days before he could come before the court of law and was then given five-years imprisonment for leaving the country without permit and for inciting people to rebel against the government.

Government enacted the General Law Amendment Act, no 76 and the Sabotage Act in June 1962. The Sabotage Act stipulated that the acts of sabotage would be accounted for on the same scale as treason including the death penalty.

“Any person who committed any wrongful and wilful act whereby he/she injured, obstructed, tampered with or destroyed the health or safety of the public, the maintenance of law and order, the supply of water, light, power, fuel, or foodstuff, sanitary, medical, or fire extinguishing services, could be tried for sabotage”.                

Under the General Law Amendment Act, no 37 passed in 1963 – commonly known as the Ninety-Day Law – police were authorised to detain any person suspected of a political crime for a period of 90 days without access to a lawyer. The ninety-days would be renewed after their expiration, so an individual could end up being held for years because of the renewal of these days.

When BJ Vorster became Prime Minister in 1966, he created a Bureau of State Security (BOSS) which reported directly to him. This security police force helped all chiefs who headed Bantustan governments to deal with their opponents. This security force seemed to be working as they instilled peace back in South Africa after the Sharpeville massacre as well as track down MK and Poqo activists.

Resistance pattern in the era 1960-1970

In 1961, the PAC and the ANC set up military wings in exile. The PAC’s military wing was called Poqo. Poqo was organised from Maseru in Basutoland (Lesotho) where recruits were sent there for guerrilla training. Poqo led armed risings during 1962 to 1963 in the Transkei and Cape Town, attacking both human and non-human targets. Police stations and shops in the centre of Paarl near Cape Town were attacked with firearms and burnt down. In the Transkei, police claimed that Poqo had assassinated 17 chiefs and headmen and had murdered white tourists. Later in 1963 the British colonial police in Basutoland raided PAC offices in Maseru and handed over a PAC membership list to the South African police. About 5 000 PAC members were detained and Poqo was weakened.  

The ANCs military wing on the other hand called Umkhonto we Sizwe – MK – was founded in 1961. The MK started sabotage acts within the country where they would bomb electricity supplies and government buildings. Their first attack was on the 16th December 1961 where Durban offices of the Department of Bantu Administration and Development (BAD) were bomb attacked. The second explosion took place in Johannesburg at the offices of Bantu Affairs Commissioner. More attacks followed the next 18 months, however, most of them minor.

Government reaction was a very strict one as MK headquarters in Rivonia were discovered and this led to the arrest of MK leadership. This had a negative effect on the struggle against apartheid in the sense that there was a communication breakdown between the leaders of MK and its supporters. This put a silence to many revolutionary acts as some historians argue that the period from 1961 to 1970 was a quiet one. Resistance from black people continued, but the arrests of these political leaders had an adverse effect on the MK strategies as infiltration proved to be difficult and there was not enough authority to plan sabotage acts and the way forward for the movement.

In order to keep the struggle alive, Biko and his fellow colleagues came up with the BCM in which from it brews a number of organisations that assisted the black people with the continued struggle against apartheid unjust laws. They then decided that it would be done through means of consciousness where blacks would be made aware of themselves, their position, culture, history and through the cultivation of certain anti-western values.

Black Consciousness Movement
Origins of Black Consciousness

The ideology originated in America by Africanists who never set foot on African soil. Booker T. Washington was most influential during the years from 1895 to 1905. He became the spokesperson for educational programs designed to provide vocational and industrial training in close connection with intellectual learning. Washington put much emphasis on economic upliftment for the Negroes and especially that grab every opportunity at trade which they came across in order to economically uplift themselves. He once said that “much will depend upon the sense of justice which can be kept alive in the breast of the American people, almost as much will depend upon the good sense of the Negro himself. That question, I confess, does not give me the most concern just now. The important and pressing question is; will the Negro with his own help and that of his friends take advantage of the future in general terms, he will be treated with justice, will be given the protection of the law and be given the recognition in a large measure which has useful and ability warrant”.

Another American figure who developed the concept double consciousness was WEB du Bois who said that black Americans were trapped in double consciousness between their African heritage and their American citizenship. He said that the problem faced by the African Americans was the fact that they wanted to create a single consciousness “out of an identity made up of dual perspectives”. Du Bois also fought against discrimination and prejudice towards the black Americans. He simply wanted to make it possible for black Americans to be both African and American “without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunities closed roughly in his face.

Black Consciousness Movement

The NP government during the 1960s passed even harsher laws, extending its use of torture, imprisonment and detention without trial. In the 1960s, the government had jailed, banned, and exiled the majority of the liberation movement’s leaders. For example, the ANC and the PAC had been banned in 1960, while the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) got banned in 1950 with the introduction of the Suppression of Communism Act after the May Day strike. This organisation later reformed underground and became the South African Communist Party (SACP) in 1953. In response to this harsh treatment, black people developed new organisations. These organisations aimed to fill these gaps that had been left by the banned SACP, ANC and PAC.

When Dr H.F. Verwoerd decided to create “tribal colleges” for black people, he had no idea that this would be a platform for the growth of black consciousness among the black students. Black Consciousness was not an organisation, but a set of ideas that helped create a sense of belonging amongst the “displaced” black people.

National Union of South African Students

The National Union for South African Students (NUSAS) was founded in 1924 as a body for representing and promoting the interests of students; such interests like the protection of students’ rights as well as cater for the students grievances at the time. This organisation was open to university and college students of all races.  Initially NUSAS was formed by white students who in the 1960s became sympathetic to the back students’ cause, and as a result black students sought out membership to NUSAS. Many black students however became frustrated at the inability of NUSAS to tackle race issues and discrimination in South Africa, especially students and polices at universities. The black students then broke away from NUSAS after a conference held at Rhodes University for its membership in 1967. Biko, who was at the time elected to the Student Representative Council (SRC) of the University of Natal, attended the conference where the host refused to allow mixed-race accommodation or eating facilities. Due to this, Biko dismissed all talks of the liberation as an “empty gesture by whites who really wished to maintain the status quo and keep blacks as second-rate citizens.

Late 1960s, black students started to question NUSAS’s ability to be an effective tool for fundamental social and political transformation. They [black students] had felt that the organisation failed to cater for black students whose number was increasing within the organisation. Black students then withdrew their recognition of NUSAS as a national union and started their own organisation named the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO).

South African Students’ Organisation (SASO)

Between 1961 and 1962, African Students’ Association (ASA) and the African Students’ Union (ASU) were formed as student wings of national resistance movements. They however collapsed after the authorities of universities for black people prohibited students’ representation councils from having dealings with NUSAS.

Formation of SASO was sparked or motivated by the formation of the University Christian Movement (UCM) in 1967. UCM was an inter-denominational religious movement which allowed students from different universities to meet in a regular basis. At a UCM meeting in 1968, black students formed a caucus and it was then decided that there was a need for an exclusively black student organisation. Caucus decided that in order for this organisation to be formed, a conference was needed. Therefore, a conference was organised for December of 1968. This conference was attended by 30 members from various black universities in South Africa, which was held in Marianhill, Natal. It was at this conference that SASO was born, and in July 1969, SASO had its inaugural conference held at the University of the North, near Polokwane. Steve Biko then became its first President.

SASO was founded when a group split from NUSAS – as an all-black student organisation. Split occurred after the NUSAS conference mentioned above. Although this incident coincided with the laws of separation at the time, black students were angered by the non-condemnation on the part of the white students over such racial acts. The following year Biko attended a conference organised by the UCM. Unlike NUSAS, UCM was allowed to exist on black campuses as at that time it had not developed a bad reputation with the officials. CUM leadership was still white, compared to the majority of its members being black. Biko then came to the realisation that black concerns did not match white ones. The following year SASO was formed and at its founding conference the founders said that:

“The complexity of the South African scene makes it impossible to have a pluralistic organisation that satisfies the aspirations of all member groups. Social and political stratifications in the country coupled with preferential treatment of certain groups result in differing aspirations prevailing in the different segment of the community”.

BCM rejected the idea that white people could play a role in the liberation of black people. According to Barney Pityana, who served in the executive of the BCM as well as a close friend to Biko, “the main idea was to get black people to articulate their own struggle and reject the white liberal establishment from prescribing to people”. The aim of the BCM was to create awareness of the merits and dignity of black people – to remind black people how important they were – and to encourage them to take credit for their own achievements. Building black identity, black self-definition and the liberation of the individual black person’s make up and psyche that had been destroyed through the discriminatory laws which came with colonialism and the policy of apartheid in SA were also some of the aims of the BCM. Biko said that

“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… the first step is therefore to make black man come to himself, to pump black 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”.

Pityana said that in 1971, black people should learn to stand on their own two feet, build themselves up to be independent off white people and also learn to realise the potential as self-respecting human beings and a people which realised their self-worth. He further went to say that black people had to start doing things themselves and not wait for the white man to give authority.

The BCM united blacks when the ANC and PAC were in exile. This organisation became the hope for black people, who after the banning of the ANC and PAC had lost morale and motivation of ever being free in South Africa. Biko instilled back within black people pride, importance and purpose as he said that: “being black is not a mistake”. The BCM then used rallies, public lectures, theatres and discussion groups to reach out to black people. Black Consciousness also emphasised unity and devoted effort to the proliferation of adult, youth, cultural and religious organisations.

Questions that were raised by the BCM were whether the idea could be transformed into a popular philosophy and how to go about making it practical. Escaping from the white dominated society proved to be difficult as black people attended schools which were white staffed, they went to work in the mines where authorities were white; so it was difficult to take away the lifestyle that black people had grown accustomed to and then start to tell them about how important being black is.

Under the BCM umbrella falls the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), Azanian Liberation Army (AZANLA) and others. The founding fathers of the BCM are Steve Biko, Mapetla Mohapi, Ongkopotse Tiro – who through the midst of psychological defeat within the black people, the banning of the liberation movements and when black people seemed cowed; these people were able to re-build the spirit of the black people through apartheid resistance. The philosophy of Black Consciousness was used by the youth as a weapon to destroy the inferiority complex created by the white minority government through the years of degradation, contempt, ill-treatment and dehumanization.

Attempts by the BCM to ensure that this installation of pride became a success was through the founding of Zimisele Trust Fund which raised funds to help ex-political prisoners who were often banned and restricted to areas far away from their homes and denied opportunities to earn a living as well as assist families of the jailed political activists.

Black People’s Convention (BPC)

Manasseh Tebatso Moerane – a former editor of The World, school principal and member of the ANC before it was banned – chaired a conference in Soweto in December 1971 when it was decided to form a political body for black people of all groups. An emergency meeting was arranged for three days in Pietermaritzburg the following year where more than 100 people attended. This was arranged by an ad hoc committee who also drafted a convention which was accepted at this delegation.

This convention stated that there was an urgent need for “blacks tore-assert their pride, dignity, identity and achieve solidarity through a political movement which would express their needs, make religion relevant to their aims and encourage black communalism – the philosophy of equal sharing.” Membership would be open to blacks only, the term used to refer to Indians, coloured people and Africans.

In 1972, SASO then formed the Black People’s Convention (BPC) which drew its members from adult black religious, social, educational, and cultural organisations. BPC however never materialised into a strong organisation yet its influence, and that of SASO was much more significant than critics were prepared to admit. Front founders of BPC were Sath Cooper, Drake Koka, Mthuli Shezi and Reverend Mayathula.

Since black people were carrying out charity work, Biko said this would instil a sense of dignity and pride within the black man because blacks were used to seeing white people carry out such projects. The fact that black people were doing it would have an adverse effect in the sense that blacks were helping themselves. He further went to say that the role of BCM was to assist in the upliftment of the black community and to help black people admit their problems and then come up with constructive resolutions for them.

Foreign investments were condemned because they were seen as supporting white economy and exploitation of black workers. Firms were consulted, asking them to withdraw their investments and not take part in the development of Bantu homelands. In 1972, the World Council of Churches (WCC) had taken a decision to withdraw its funds from companies which invested and traded in South Africa, this was in support of the notion accepted at the convention under discussion. The WCC also urged its 250 member churches to follow suit and the Zimisele scheme was then organised to support freedom fighters on education, welfare and medical needs. BCP leadership was tried and jailed in 1974 under the Terrorism Act following their act of organising students’ unrest on black campuses at the FRELIMO victory in Mozambique. Despite its 41 branches, BCP did not develop into a mass organisation. It did not exceed the membership of SASO which had 4 000 subscribers to its newsletter.

Black Community Programme

Towards the end of 1971, SASO and the BCP began a series of programmes which came to be known as the Black Community Programmes. These programmes involved literacy, adult education, employment, preventive medicine, and self-help. The BCP activities were launched in conjunction with the BCP and such activities entailed secretarial skills training, administration competency development as well as community work.

The BCP started up a few community projects such as clinics and community centres, for example, outside King William’s Town; Biko together with Ramphele built Zanempilo clinic. This programme was committed to self-help scheme. These centres raised their own money and trained their own staff. The aim was to train the people and once they have been trained then they go out and earn a living within their respective communities.

These kinds of projects and programmes prove that BCM was not just an idea, but also had activities which implemented the ideas behind the philosophy. The BCM then became a sense of hope for the black people who could see where the fight against apartheid was taking them, not only were they fighting the apartheid regime, but they were also doing something that would work at their best interest in the future. These programmes made black people feel important and that they were as much capable as the white people.

BCM and other organisations
The Pan-Africanist Congress

Unlike Robert Sobukwe Biko saw a completely for a non-racial society with no majority people, but a people living as equal. Biko accepted coloured and Indian people from the beginning, calling them black. He further went on to state that those people should have the same status in the face of the law as well as the same political rights. Biko however claimed that – just like Sobukwe – South Africa is for Africans only, “once it was independent, whites could be accepted as equals, then whites would be invited to sit at the African’s table: we are aware that white man is sitting at our table. We know he has no right to be there, we want to remove him… strip the table of all trappings put on by him and decorate it in true African style, settle down and then ask him to join us on our own terms if he wishes.

Biko said that Black Consciousness should not be compared to black power, which the latter was an ideal to seek participation by a minority group in an already established society through pressure-tactics groups, whereas the former aimed at completely transforming the system to be in favour of the majority.

In 1976, the BCP accepted black communalism as its economic policy where it was decided that an economic system which is based on the principle of sharing, lays emphasis on community ownership of land and its wealth and riches, and which strike a healthy balance between what may legitimately be owned by individuals and what ought to be owned by the community as a whole.

On the part of black solidarity, Biko believed that sitting around a table to beg for deliverance of black people was a beggar tactic. He believed that this would all defeat the purpose as it has come to a point where the white man was not only kicking the black man, but was also instructing him on how to react to the kick. Biko also said that the white men who claim they are liberals and have black souls trapped in white skin, still benefit from the apartheid regime and the fact that white liberals pinpointed the enemy – NP – was a strategic move to replacing the NP with another white political party, a slightly less reactionary one and relaxing oppressive laws.

The African National Congress

In the late 1970s, the BC programme within the country and abroad as the movement started to engage the banned ANC and PAC in secret talks which were aimed at forging unity amongst each other. At the time of his death, Biko was planning to continue these talks with OR Tambo – President of the ANC – who was at the time living in exile.

The links between the ANC and BCM were strengthened more after the Soweto uprisings. The ANC through the BCM grew stronger inside and outside SA, as thousands of young people fled the country to join the ANC in exile. In 1976, the ANC decided that meetings should be arranged between the leadership of the BCM and the ANC. Arrangements were made in 1976 and 1977, but this did not materialise until only in 1979.

The ANC and BCM finally met in Lusaka on 8 December 1979 when Barney Pityana represented the BCM. At that time, Pityana was exiled in the United Kingdom. Most BCM activists who attended the meeting were living in exile, for example, Ben Khoapa – the founding director of the BCP – lived in the USA and Jeff Baqwa, lived in Germany. The BCM was eager to collaborate with the ANC but was uneasy with the number of white communists within the ANC as well as the close ties the ANC had with Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) – led by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the Kwa-Zulu homeland – at the time. The ANC explained this by saying that it was “a broad church that embraced different individuals, institutions and organisations, including the Communist Party. Its strategy was to establish diplomatic channels with different organisations with the aim of reaching the masses on the ground, hence their exploratory relations with the IFP. The ANC further went to explain that their close ties with the IFP were a strategic one, since they, the former, like the BCM opposed Bantustans. The ANC and the BCM then worked together simply because the ANC needed the BCM who were inside the country to help with infiltration and to keep the struggle alive.

The collaboration or unity of these two ideas helped the struggle majorly in the sense that black people understood why they needed to be liberated and they also understood how that would take place. The more militant approach of resistance is felt during these years.


Reverend Beyers Naude – founder of the Christian Institute of South Africa (CISA) – came to understand and accept the BC ideology when most white liberals felt it was an idea which they were trying to avoid and fight; the idea of racial classification and segregation. Naude worked closely with ministers from black independent churches and he once said about Biko:

I learnt so much from him… the point we wanted to make to white community was to say “the time has arrived where the future initiatives of the country can no longer remain in white hands. It has to be an initiative emanating from the black community, and we as whites… must find… a supportive, complementary role, of white liberalism, to say to the black community over to you.

Francis Wilson, an academic at University of Cape Town together with Theo Kotze set up CISA offices in Cape Town which were opened in 1970 at Mowbary, in a building opposite a train and bus terminus. The building became a centre for anti-apartheid activities. This building was often raided by police. Peter Jones, a member of the BCM once remarked that “assistance from the CISA was unconditional and nothing was expected in return”.

The CISA under Reverend Naude condemned apartheid through its journal Pro Veritate. This movement also helped coordinate activities of already politically affiliated independent churches. The CISA was declared an affected organisation in 1975 by Parliament and was therefore barred from receiving financial support from abroad. Foreign support continued to sponsor CISA leaders financially in order to assist with bringing BCM leaders inside the country into contact with members of the ANC and PAC in exile. Cedric Mayson – member of the CISA and editor of Pro Veritate – flew a number of activists out of the country in his own plane for military training in the MK headquarters.

Mayson and Naude were two front leaders of the CISA who had close connections with Biko as they used to have regular meetings with him to discuss strategies and tactics over the movement and how they would deal with the struggle against apartheid. CISA leaders and members engaged with BCM leaders and the former grew to understand the ideology. The CISA rented offices to BCP and this also helped improve interaction and engaging processes. Such leaders whom Naude and Mayson had personal encounters with were Abraham Tiro, Harry Nengwekhulu, Thenjiwe Mtintso and many others. The Diakonia house both in Johannesburg and Cape Town became headquarters where black and white engaged with each other and they would inform each other of the realities and importance of strategies towards the liberation struggle. Naude said:

In the beginning, much about Black Consciousness was strange it was totally new and I had to re-evaluate… to what degree this could be seen to be in conflict with the basic truth and assumption of the Christian faith, and to what degree this was due to the fact that we as Western Christians had certain traditional concepts, both theological and political, which we took for granted as being the only valid ones. Here were people coming from a different background and perspective telling us that from their experience, as black Christians, they saw South Africa’s future to be totally different. This required an extensive re-evaluation of my understanding both of the reality of what was happening in the country and of the role which the church had to play.

The CISA issued statements urging the international Christian community to support all peaceful efforts to bring about change in South Africa. The church leaders asked for international support of stay-aways and economic sanctions. Canadian churches were responsive to this appeal and many leaders resolved to exert pressure on their governments and business communities to break all commercial ties with the apartheid regime. Mayson and Naude were banned in 1977 following the death of Biko, together with Pro Veritate and the black newspaper, The World. Mayson and Naude continued to work underground with the help of foreign donors who sponsored them personally.

Black Theology

The term “black theology” traces its first appearance to an address by Basil Moore in 1970 at the University Christian Movement’s (UCM) formation school in Thaba ‘Nchu. Sabelo Ntwasa was appointed as the first organiser of the Black Theology project of the UCM at the time. The idea of black theology is one that is associated with BCM as an academic discipline in S.A. in 1971. It was introduced by the UCM which organised several lecturers on Black Theology.

The project had seminars, for example, the first one was held from the 8th to the 12th of March 1971 at St. Ansgar, near Roodepoort. Many other seminars on black theology followed after that, for example, at Edenvale Ecumenial Centre in Pietermaritzburg the Federal Theological Seminary and St. Peter’s Seminary in Hammanskraal, Pretoria. Ntwasa also published papers in a book form called Essays in Black Consciousness which were read out at the Seminars and Conferences in 1972 and beyond.

The SASO got its inspiration from Black Theology which taught religion from an oppressed person’s point of view. Its aim was to inspire black people to realise equality with white people and that their blackness and inferiority was not a punishment or a condition created by God. The Black Theology philosophy saw these teachings as important to the black man because they removed the inferiority mindset and this was important for their liberation. However, Biko and his associates saw the UCM as reinforcing the inferior status of black people by having a large number of white people in its leadership structures even though its members were mostly black people.

Black Theology posed questions such as:

·         Why is Jesus not black?
·         The way that white people have interpreted the bible to claim that the Western way of interpreting it is the only correct way of dealing with the bible.
·         Where does God stand in the oppression?
·         Whose (oppressors or oppressed) value system does the exponent wish to convey?

Mokgethi Motlabi state in the foreword of the first book published in South Africa on Black Theology that:

Black Theology is not in South Africa. It has been with us almost since the churches from the white west arrived on our soil. We have had our Dwanes, Molcones, and Mzimbas. We have known also the Ethiopian and more recently the ever escalating number of African independent churches. Within these churches is a rich mine of Black Theology.

Black Theology understood and addressed conditions of the oppressed black people. As had already been loosely mentioned, this theology also posed questions such as; whether colonialism had an impact on the growth of the black community as well as the impact of the apartheid on the black people. Black Theology challenged churches to indicate what the bible would say about how the church should address the issues of inequality and oppression in S.A.

In 1975, Father Simangaliso Mkhatshwa organised the second conference on Black Theology. Theologians from as far as Lesotho and Malawi attended this conference. After this conference, government repression became rifer and there was too much pressure on the movement in such a way that their third conference was only held in 1983. Black Theology also argued that Jesus was black since he was born amongst the colonised, oppressed, the poor and sacrificed himself for the emancipation from conditions of oppression. They believed that the statement that “Jesus was black” was to express their point that God in actual fact identified with the oppressed. Jesus Christ was a liberator from physical and non-physical forms of slavery; therefore Black Theology took this notion. So the liberation of blacks began with Black Consciousness – an awareness of self-worth and affirmation of being black.

Trade Unions

The Black Allied Workers’ Union (BAWU) was formed at the Third Annual Conference of the SASO in July 1972. The BAWU was however not successful in its role as a trade union movement because the movement was more confrontational in its approach than cooperative to other groups that sought to start their own trade unions in the 1970s – organisations such as Trade Union Council of South Africa (TUCSA) in particular because of their decision to expel black workers from its ranks in 1969. The BAWU was also hostile towards the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) because the latter adhered to non-racialism. A number of BAWU members broke away soon after its formation and they formed community-based trade unions in various areas of South Africa.

Among the community-based unions was the South African Allied Workers’ Union (SAAWU) which became most dominant in Durban under the leadership of Sam Kikine. This movement later expanded to East London and Johannesburg. In 1980, the BAWU branches in Empangeni and Ladysmith split, led by Matthew Oliphant and Maphalala Magwaza respectively. They then formed the National, Iron, Steel, Metal and Allied Workers Union (NISMAWU) which joined forces with Sam Kikine’s SAAWU. The Transvaal region of BAWU also followed suite and broke away towards the end of 1980. This breakaway caused the formation of the General Allied Workers’ Union (GAWU) which Rita Ndzanga and Mary Ntsike became the first leaders. Another split led to the formation of the National Federation of Workers (NFW) at the Transvaal region in 1980.

Soweto Uprisings

Under the Bantu Education Act passed in 1953, the law stipulated that black education will move from missionary control to government control. According to the apartheid government, missionary schools were dangerous as they believed they fed liberal ideas to “untrained minds”. Verwoerd said that this act would “train and teach people in accordance to their opportunities in life”. Black schools no longer studied the same syllabuses as non-black schools, but followed new Bantu Education syllabuses which were conducted in indigenous languages. English was then phased out in primary schools and only limited in secondary schools. When the Bantu Education Act came into effect on 25 April 1955, about 7 000 pupils and teachers were dismissed due to boycotts. Similar laws were passed for Indians and coloured people’s education.

In 1975, the Minister of Bantu Education issued an instruction that mathematics and social studies in all black secondary schools will be taught in Afrikaans. Students then started riots against the introduction of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. At these riots, many students were arrested and faced with charges of disruption and promoting the aims of Black Consciousness. In May 1976, Biko was called in as a witness of nine students who were SASO members and had been involved in the riots. These students were faced with terrorism charges but the State did not have much evidence against them. During the nine students’ defence, Biko said that:

Basically, Black Consciousness directs itself to the black people and their situation, and the black people are subjected to two forces in this country. They are first of all oppressed by an external world through institutional machinery and through laws that restrict them from doing certain things, through heavy work conditions, through poor pay, through difficult living conditions, through poor education, these are external to them.

Biko further went to mention that there was no point in going to school if black schools were not the same as white schools. He also spoke about sports, the conditions in townships, the streets, the lighting being different and that the feelings of being incomplete as a black person were inevitable in the minds of the young people.

Despite Biko’s testimony, the court still found these nine students guilty, and this worsened the anger within the black community. On 13 June 1976, the South African Students’ Movement (SASM) held a meeting at Naledi High School in Soweto where a Soweto Students’ Representative Council (SSRC) was formed, which was composed of SASM delegates, two from each secondary school in Soweto.

In May 1976, Desmond Tutu, member of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and the Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg, when sensing the bitter mood of Black Consciousness wrote to the Prime Minister John Vorster saying: “I am writing to you because I have a growing nightmarish fear that unless something drastic is done very soon then bloodshed and violence are going to happen in South Africa… People can only take so much and more… A people made desperate by despair and injustice will use desperate means”. Vorster however ignored this warning.

The SSRC under the leadership of Tebello Moyopane organised the protests against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction for the 16th June 1976. About 20 000 school children participated in this protest march moving from Phefeni to Orlando Stadium. The security force opened fire on the crowd and many students were killed and injured.

In the months that followed, more people got killed and thousands injured as these riots soon spread out to the rest of South Africa. Students then reacted to this by organising boycotts of schools, beer halls, and also forced the Bantu School Boards and the Soweto Urban Council to resign.

In July 1977, Biko was arrested for his involvement in a case that involved the revolt of school children that began in Soweto June 16, 1976. The government accused Biko of persuading seven children to say they were forced to make false statements to the police. He was however found not guilty on this account.

The Soweto uprisings created a new political atmosphere in South Africa and a new pattern in resistance as many young people became more involved in politics. Through the BCM, they got to learn more about the banned ANC and they also got the chance to go for military training abroad through the help of the BCM. Scores of young people fled the country into exile to either join the MK, Poqo and/or further their studies abroad.

Government’s response

During the apartheid era, the NP government preached separate development and there came an organisation which spoke its language. At first, the government accepted the organisation as it saw in BCM a manifestation of Tribal Bantustans and Bantu Education. It was unaware that the aim of the BCM was to counter white supremacy with black solidarity.

In 1973, the government appointed ten members of Parliament, six from the NP and four from the United Party (UP) to form the Schlebusch Commission under the chairmanship of A.L. Schlebusch. The aim of this commission was to investigate the CISA, the UCM, NUSAS, and Welgespruit Fellowship Centre. The UCM had however decided to dissolve itself at its conference held from 10 to 16 March 1972, due to reasons unknown to the researcher. This then put an end to the Black Theology Project (BTP), which was still a baby organisation at the time. More attempts to get the BTP running were in vain due to a lack of funds. The Schlebusch report was published in 1975 and the CISA as well as Black Theology were put in a negative light.

To the disinvestment campaign, the government reacted by banning orders on 26 February 1973 signed by the Minister of Justice. These were served on office-bearers and some other members of the BCP. These orders prohibited members from attending gatherings, meetings, and associating with more than one person at a time, visiting factories, printing and publishing works, entering black residential areas other than where the banned person lived, and taking part in SASO and BCP activities. Amongst the banned people were:

·         Chris Madiebeng – BCP’s Vice President
·         Sathavisan (Sath) Cooper – Public Relations Officer
·         Sipho Buthelezi – Secretary General
·         Mrs. S. Moodley
·         Matthew Diseko
·         Drake Koka – a trade union organiser and
·         Mosebudi Mangera – the BCP union organiser who was jailed for five years under the Terrorism Act.

Challenges faced by the BCM
The Death of Steve Biko

In 1974, Biko was banned to his home in King William’s Town and was forbidden from taking part in any political activities. He remained silent until 1975 when nine BC supporters were put on trial of terrorism under the Terrorism Act of 1967. Since they had not performed any military acts, the state kept them on the issue of whether the BCM philosophy itself constituted terrorism. The evidence included only speeches and pamphlets. At the trial, the judge said that freedom of speech and assembly were regarded as fundamental in our society that did not mean that everyone with opinions or beliefs may address a group at any public place at any time. He then accepted that the BCM was not guilty of managing revolutionary groups but that their concepts “encouraged feelings of hostility between blacks and whites” and their depiction of the system of white power as one of murder, oppression, exploitation, fascism, robbery and plunder amounted to an act of terrorism.

The court ruling stipulated that “for a member of the BC movement to be found guilty of terrorism no act of terror or violence of any plans for terror or violence had to be proved”. The police officials deemed Biko as very dangerous and then detained him under the Terrorism Act on 18 August 1977.

Biko was chained with thick leg irons on his legs and not allowed to wear any clothes. He was also not allowed to leave his cell for air and exercise. He ate soup, sour maize drink, bread, jam and coffee. He however refused most of the food and mostly ate bread. On 1 September 1977, a magistrate visited his cell and Biko complained about the conditions. The magistrate however did not help Biko with any of his grievances.

On 6 September that year he [Biko] was then transferred to Walmer police station where he was interrogated by Colonel Pieter Goosen, who was known for his brutality when questioning political prisoners. After many days of medical examination after he had been tortured, Dr. Tucker who had been examining Biko said that he was fit enough to travel the 1 628km journey by road to Pretoria. He was still naked and handcuffed on his way to Pretoria, where he arrived 11 hours after leaving Port Elizabeth.

Biko died on 12 September 1977, in police custody as a result of brain injury sustained from torture, at the age of 30 years. When the Minister of Justice Jimmy Kruger was asked to give a statement on the death of Biko, he said that: “I am not glad and I am not sorry about Mr. Biko. It leaves me cold. I can say nothing to you. Any person who dies… I shall also be sorry if I die.”

Biko was known and respected amongst white liberals and had also gotten the privilege to meet United States senators and embassy officials. Biko’s death caused international outrage and people wanted answers as his death and the alibi given for it did not add up. Journalists and lawyers from all over the world flew to SA to investigate this sudden death. A reporter from the New York Times questioned Minister Kruger about Biko’s death and he said:

I personally do not believe this. I don’t believe that my police have done anything wrong… if there is anything wrong in the Biko case, I will be surprised… There will be no cover up in the Biko case”.

Police claimed that Biko died of hunger strike, however, evidence given by doctors, warders and police from the day after his arrest, 18 August 1977, showed that Biko had been kept naked and tortured for 21 days.

Banning of BC organisation

Between April and November 1977, 18 other people died while in detention for political offences. On 19 October 1977, 17 BC organisations were banned. Naude and D. Woods – editor of the East London Daily Dispatch – were both served with banning orders. They had been supporters of Biko and the BCM. The CISA journal, Pro Veritate and its editor Mayson were also banned. Also detained was, Percy Qoboza – editor of The World together with the newspaper.

The formation of AZAPO

After the banning of BC organisations in 1977, BC activists regrouped soon after. They organised meetings in Chiawelo – Soweto – on the 24th October 1977. The meeting was attended by about 40 BC activists; among those were S. Mazibuko, D. Mayet, T. Mazwai, J. Selebi and Z. Sisulu. In this meeting, the Soweto Action Committee was founded. Their first task was to mobilise black communities countrywide.

Another meeting took place in 1978 in Rooderpoort where delegates from as far as Natal, Eastern Cape, Free State and Soweto attended. This delegation decided to form a new umbrella organisation, the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO) which would carry through the ideas of Black Consciousness and replace the BCP. Conflicts of whether AZAPO should carry through the traditions and ideals of a banned organisation arose. It was then decided that BC was an ideology and it should be carried through. AZAPO was finally launched in May 1979 during a meeting attended by 200 delegates. AZAPO however failed to make much of a mark in the 1980s.


At the onset of BCM, the government was excited at this idea because at last, somebody was speaking their language of segregation. It seemed like Biko was in fact saying that black people should live separately, in their own homelands and fend for themselves, which was exactly what the apartheid government was trying to achieve. Biko in some twisted way gave the impression that he agreed with the apartheid government, until they [government] realised it was a restoration of black’s humanity he was advocating for. The government soon discovered that in actual fact, the BCM was a movement which attempted to do damage control from the apartheid policies. The BCM was trying to reverse the Bantu Education laws which taught black children that all they were good for was to serve the white man; the laws which gave the black people the impression that they were inferior to the white man and they should at all times rely on them with their intelligence.

The BCM became a new strategy of fighting the apartheid government, because Biko had said that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the oppressed mind. Through the BCM, the idea was to challenge the black people to start helping themselves. The basic idea was to do away with the reliance on white people, which is why trust funds were established to assist with all these projects.

The BCM was more than just a motivational organisation, philosophically; it was aimed at uplifting the black man’s spirit, motivating him, removing white dependency and instilling back the sense of pride.

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