12 September is Biko Day. The nation and the world remembers this giant of the Azanian Revolution who was brutally murdered by the apartheid regime in 1977. Steve Biko’s name and ideas are gaining momentum in South Africa at this moment. But there are also dangers of distortions by opportunists and populists. As Black First Land First (BLF) we are guided by Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness philosophy and regard it as our duty to defend his sacred ideas and name. Here we respond to blatant distortions of black consciousness by the spokesperson of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Mbuyiseni Ndlozi ( see “In defence of black violence” in Daily Maverick 31 August 2015)
“Fighters attack!” commanded the President of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Julius Malema at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) atop a campaign van recently. On the ground blacks turned on each other tearing limbs, throwing rocks and fists! Everything that could be mobilized by blacks to inflict harm on each other was unleashed. This is the politics of the EFF as we have come to know them. EFF is too quick to attack blacks in the name of the revolution. A week after the incident reports of counter violence including stabbings on campus have been made. A circle of violence is likely to ensue in these mindless battles aimed at achieving political influence, not revolutionary change. As if this is not enough the EFF poet, Soldier Bigg Dogg, who has fallen out with leadership alleges that he was attacked following incitement to harm him by members of the EFF. We shall soon enter the vortex of politically sanctioned black on black violence proper.
We would have left the EFF alone on their path of anti-black hatred until they eventually exhausted themselves into a stop. However, we cannot keep quite when the sacred name of Steve Biko and his liberatory philosophy of Black Consciousness is being mobilized by the EFF to justify black on black violence. The EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndozi wrote what amounts to a blasphemous distortion of Biko in the Daily Maverick in his quest tosanitise the open call to do violence against blacks by his leader. Ndlozi’s project is to try to elevate vigilante violence against blacks to the level of some revolutionary sacred duty. This is an affront to everything Biko stood for and shows a shocking lack of understanding of the most basic tenets of Black Consciousness.
In his long winded, badly argued article, Ndlozi cuts and spreads quotes from Biko totally out of context. In this regard, he shows a lack of understanding of black consciousness philosophy on the one hand and on the other hand he exposes how EFF demagoguery operates. It’s bereft of ethics or respect for established practices in the black radical traditions. In fact, the valorization of black on black violence is not only inimical to black liberation, it is also an active strategy and practice of counter revolution. The last time we were subjected to open calls of violence against black people was at the dying days of apartheid when the apartheid government teamed up with counter revolutionary tribal organisations to cause mayhem in black townships. Those who were too happy to attack other blacks said then it was in defense of democracy. Today we are told condoning and inciting violence against blacks is revolutionary and can be defended on the basis of Black Consciousness. This is an insult to Biko and all those great black people who put their lives on the line to develop black consciousness as a philosophy that puts blacks first.
Truth is EFF has now established a clear and unmistakable pattern of systematically and habitually attacking black people whilst staying away from white settlers and “white monopoly capital” they so much deride in words. Thismobilization of BC to justify violence against blacks is disingenuous work of sophistry that is devoid of the required depth to sustain a revolutionary ethic that requires love, understanding, patience and persuasion as a method to settle differences amongst the people. Here we see a wrongheaded thinking that is incapable of distinguishing between the enemy and the people where de facto the people are treated as one treats the enemy and the enemy is treated as a friendly force – thereby objectively turning such organization into an agent of whiteness and reaction. Anyone who is involved in mobilizing or organizing people without understanding this basic law of revolutionary engagement is bound to create untold suffering for the oppressed they claim to represent. They talk about revolution, while in reality they are strengthening the hand of the oppressor. If you do not know who the enemy is, then all is fair game in the war of all against all! This is not revolution! It is brute force to impose oneself in society. If EFF leaders were not so driven by the superficiality of commitment to the ideas of revolution, they would have educated themselves more deeply about the meaning and methods of black consciousness so as to avoid such tragic mishaps as these.
Basically, Ndlozi abuses Biko’s notion of “non-white” to justify why attacking blacks. But this is such a wrong application of the notion – including how Malcolm X’s uses the term “house nigger”. Biko used the concept“non-whites” to delineate blacks who were black in skin color but who had surrendered to the white system or were active agents of the said system. In fact Biko gives examples of these “non-whites” as the apartheid homeland leaders, as those “people who call whites baas”, or those people who work for the police. Biko is careful not to condemn all blacks who may not have gained Black Consciousness as the enemy to be subjected to violence. On the contrary Biko posits that Black Solidarity is the main response to white racism. Black solidarity places black unity at the forefront of defeating white supremacy which is the real enemy. In fact Biko is clear that the very same blacks who have internalized white thinking are in the final analysis the people who must make the revolution. In this regard he said, “(i)t 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.” For Biko therefore, the first reaction of a revolutionary movement is not to put blacks who have not come to consciousness in the enemy camp, but rather the duty of the said movement is to win such people over to the revolution. Steve Biko, Frantz Fanon and Malcolm X have never justified violence against fellow blacks. The idea that BC can in fact do so is an invention of people who have no investment in BC or Biko’s ideas and have no love for black people.
Real black consciousness dictates that we defend blacks against all odds – even the house niggers and non whites. This we tried to practice in the case of Lindiwe Mazibuko and Mmusi Maimane who are perfect candidates for being non-whites by virtue of being leaders of the DA – a party that is overtly anti-black. When the two came under attack we argued they deserved our sympathy and protection because we know they are being attacked because they are black even if we disagreed with their politics fundamentally. The command to “attack” at TUT was not a call to self-defense. It was a response that has now become an established pattern of dealing with black people who disagree with EFF. These blacks are subjected to violence and public humiliation. In fact, the EFF is a party at war with black people. That Biko and Fanon are dragged into these anti-black pogroms are the height of cynicism. Someone believes people are stupid and can use words to bamboozle them to sleep.
Let us look at the established pattern by the EFF of doing war against black people. Their first target is Jacob Zuma – not so much because he is the president of the country and pursuing anti-black politics – but because pursuing Zuma falls into the same category of politics of the public humiliation of blacks, whilst leaving intact the white supremacist edifice that the ANC defends. The focus on Zuma paying back the R250 million of Nkandla and not linking it in anyway with the need for white capital to pay back the R50 billion stolen by construction cartels or the R68 billion(at one point as much as 20% of the GDP was stolen) was stolen by private corporations is proof enough about the priorities of EFF. There is no strategy or energy invested in making white capital account and exposing the inextricable link between ANC government policy and the protection of white capital. Little wonder the Nkandla scandal has become a point of unity for all the anti-black forces – from EFF, to the DA, to the Freedom Front. The “pay back the money” campaign has de facto become a shield for white capital and diverts our attention from the culpability of white capital as part of the generalized and legalized thieving system that is at the heart of the South African economic and political structure. The duty of a revolutionary movement is to make complex connections visible and not to pursue lopsided battles that serve to shield the real enemy and beneficiary of the system of oppression. Yes, Zuma must pay back the money – but would it not be even better if white capital did the same? Would it not be great if reparations were demanded for slavery, colonialism and land theft?
This pattern of violence against blacks was used to settle internal differences in the EFF itself. We remember how the former EFF MP Andile Mngxitama was attacked at a press conference he was hosting. The attackers said on camera that they had a mandate from the national leadership to disrupt the press conference. The EFF national leadership indeed subsequently congratulated the“fighters” for a job well done. Mngxitama refused to fight back or retaliate because as a BC adherent he knows these same blacks who attacked him are the same people who must be brought to revolutionary consciousness so as to assist in defeating the enemy. Soon after Mngxitama was attacked the mother of the one of the Gauteng leaders, who had fallen out of favor with the leadership of EFF, was attacked at her home in a township south of Johannesburg. In this context a new pattern emerged of the humiliation of those targeted through “expropriation of their regalia in public without compensation”. Here too the national leadership publicly praised these acts of violence. Violence against blacks has been normalized in the EFF.
We also saw how the ”snake” pastor was dealt with by the EFF. There was no attempt at engagement and persuasion. EFF’s resolution of the problem was to issue threats and to burn down the tent used for worship and to do “miracles”. There was no real attempt at understanding why would anyone voluntarily subject themselves to snake eating. A revolutionary movement grasps things by their root causes. It does not chase newspaper headlines. As we speak the miracle man is now growing his church – well armed with the “evidence” that the anti-Christ are fulfilling a prophesy of persecution of the authentic followers of the Lord. The revolutionary movement does not use terror methods against the people to stop backward practices. It instead uses patience, love and engagement. The difference between a black consciousness response to dealing with differences amongst the oppressed and those who are anti-black even as they proclaim revolution was demonstrated during the June 16 1976 students uprising in Soweto. The students were driven by BC and had called a stay at home strike. The hostel dwellers broke the strike at the initial stages by going to work. This was a point that threatened to divide the people. The student’s leaders did not declare the workers “non-whites” and “house niggers”and attack them. They instead successfully persuaded the hostel dwellers to join the strike. In contrast in the 1980s and under the UDF – we saw how boycott breakers where beaten and forced to drink fish oil and washing powder. That was imposing one’s politics through terror against the people. We shall forever remember how Winnie Mandela valorized violence against blacks with her declaration that “with our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country”. We saw black people being burnt in the name of the revolution using the macabre methods of the “necklace”.
These attacks against blacks are part of official policy of the EFF. When closing their national conference last December, under the ruse of fighting against mining houses abuses and exploitation, the party leader told the conference that the three mining houses (all owned by black people) would be attacked through blockages and such actions. They have subsequently made good this threat by marching to a mine owned by Motsepe. Targeting black owned mines de facto suggests that there is good practice in white owned mines. It must be asked what justifies focusing on black owned mines exclusively? What was telling with the policy directive given at that conference was that land occupations must be directed at“unoccupied land” which is a code for municipality land to erect shacks. This injunction again de-facto protects the real land thieves who own more than 80% of the total land in South Africa – the white land owners.
Further clarity on how EFF treats blacks compared to whites was shown in earlier this year when Julius Malema was wined and dined by land thieves in Stellenbosch. Unlike the rage that goes to dealing with black owned business, the farmers of Stellenbosch were told not to worry and that the EFF would not occupy their land. In a bizarre turn, the leader of the party that speaks about “land expropriation without compensation”, said EFF was only interested in the land which was “un-productive”. The media reports tell us of jubilation by white farmers who were happy to take lots of pictures with the leader of the“revolution” who has also asked them for some money amidst these guarantees – all this sounded like protection fees. The difference between how black mining bosses are treated compared to the white land thieves tells the story that fits well into the narrative of anti-black politics that had manifested in TUT and which in turn had been defended through the abuse of Black Consciousness. A clear pattern has been established that operates within the official party policy of targeting blacks – and we should expect more!
Ndlozi’s flimsy grasp of BC is best exposed when he moves between the Freedom Charter and Biko seamlessly, totally oblivious of the major contradictions that he was riding. Anyone who has the most basic understanding of BC would know that Biko rejected the Freedom Charter as vehemently as Sobukwe did. For instance Biko forcefully argue for a new breed of blacks who would go against the liberalism of the ANC and the Freedom Charter. Biko said, “here was emerging in South Africa a group of angry young black men who were beginning to “grasp the notion of (their) peculiar uniqueness” and who were eager to define who they were. These were the elements who were disgruntled with the direction imposed on the African National Congress by the “old guard” within its leadership. These young men were questioning a number of things, among which was the “go slow” attitude adopted by the leadership, and the ease with which the leadership accepted coalitions with organisations other than those run by blacks. The ‘People’s Charter’ adopted in Kliptown in 1955 was evidence of this”. The Freedom Charter is diametrically opposed to ideas of Black Consciousness which puts black first. How can anyone make such elementary mistake? This is the height of intellectual kwashiorkor from those who pass as intellectuals.
One of the most abused line by people with a perfunctory grasp of BC is “being black is not a matter of pigmentation”. Here Biko calls for a practice amongst blacks that is consistent with black solidarity as the anti thesis against white racism. It is not a license to do violence against blacks. From a proper BC perspective, one would have to restrict the label “house nigger” to ANC leaders – not to the ordinary members. In fact from our black perspective, there is no difference between the blacks in the ANC, DA, EFF etcetera. They are all black and all landless and all suffer from the same internalization of the white system. Our job is not to declare war on them. In fact we have to even run away from them if we can to avoid confrontation. We must do so because tomorrow they shall come to consciousness and be our comrades in arms – because they like the rest of us are faced with the same enemy.
To be clear, the ANC must be defeated. It has not used the power it has in the service of black people. However, the ANC is not the real enemy, it is merely the bodyguard of the enemy. Those who support the ANC must be brought to the realization that they are supporting a party that is anti black. But these people are not the enemy and should not be subjected to any form of violence. These millions who are lost and voting for the ANC are blacks who must be mobilized for total liberation. It is therefore, not only disingenuous but a massive distortion of the pro black radical philosophy of BC to be abused like this in service of violence against black people. There is a need to defend the correct interpretation of Biko’s ideas against those who hate his BC but are too willing to use his nameto advance their reactionary narrow ends.
There has always been ways to settle differences amongst the people and violence is not one of these ways. This is true from Mao to Biko. The leader of the Black Panther Party, George Jackson, teaches us to “transform the black criminal mentality into a black revolutionary mentality.” It is September, which is also Biko month! Lets defend the shining legacy Biko. The reactionaries are done squandering the ideologies they have followed all this time, now they turn to Biko to defile him! It behooves us to defend Biko and we shall!
National Coordinator Black First-Land First Movement
11 September 2015