Sandile Memela
Sandile Memela

Centre for Blackness

Exactly 100 years after Africans were dispossessed of their land and stripped of their identity and heritage, the ANC government has subsidised the opening of the new headquarters for blackness.

This comes in the form of a legacy project worth more than R120 million to promote, protect and preserve the legacy of Black Consciousness visionary leader Steve Bantu Biko.

If alive, Biko would be 66.

This is the biggest amount of money the government has spent in the memory of any single political leader.

At present the government — through the department of arts and culture — had given R5 million to the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha and a mere R4 million to the Luthuli Museum in KwaZulu-Natal, for instance.

It has given R21 million to build a garden of remembrance, rehabilitate the homestead and refurbish the grave of Oliver Tambo. Unlike Biko, Luthuli, Mandela and Tambo are some of the ANC’s greatest leaders.

Unfortunately nothing major except a few street names have been renamed in the memory of Pan Africanist Congress leader Robert Sobukwe. The dormant PAC must surely be sulking.

Since the death of Biko in September 1977, the ANC has been accused of not only killing Black Consciousness exponents and activists in Soweto and Port Elizabeth in the 1980s, but allegedly also ignored and neglected the legacy of Biko, especially since the dawn of uhuru in 1994.

In an unprecedented development, President Jacob Zuma himself led a group of high-level government leaders and officials to open the Steve Biko Heritage Centre in Ginsberg township. This pretty much changes everything not only in terms of the relationship between Black Consciousness exponents and ANC progressives but the philosophical or ideological direction of the country.

Firstly it marks a permanent truce between the rivalry that existed between the ideology of Black Consciousness and progressive non-racism. Secondly this step must ultimately deliver a philosophical foundation for the country to operate from.

In fact it marks the establishment of a permanent headquarters for Black Consciousness (BC), Pan-Africanism and their adherents all over the world. The centre should serve as a nucleus and base for the pro-black philosophies and their movements.

But it remains to be seen how this development will be interpreted, especially by the leadership of the Steve Biko Foundation in unfolding its developmental programmes.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the philosophical foundation and ideological orientation of South Africa as a country on the continent has been wishy-washy except for the values and ideals enshrined in the Constitution. To some BC adherents, the philosophical orientation of the ANC has always been suspect.

Significantly the building of the Biko Centre started under former president Thabo Mbeki, in 2002. It was characteristic of a deep-thinking intellectual leader who not only brought leading elements of BC into his insider group of advisers, but was largely willing to adapt and repackage the philosophy of Black Consciousness as a ticket to take him to great heights of leadership across the continent. It would not be incorrect to see the completion of the project as the culmination of what Mbeki wanted to see happen.

But in a modern South Africa that has, largely, become a satellite of the US in lifestyle, music, speech, culture and values, the launch of the Biko Centre should mean one thing: the validation of BC as a philosophy and its mainstreaming as an instrument of social cohesion and self-empowerment among the indigenous people. Black people are now free to define and love themselves!

Since 2009 the government, through Paul Mashatile, has pursued a new programme not only to unleash the potential economic power of the arts for job creation and self-determination, but rebuild confidence and thus give hope to poor communities.

Ever since he died at the age of 31, Biko has been called everything from a prophetic hero to an agent of change. What he wished for, perhaps more than anything, was to see black people liberate their minds and be able to take full responsibility for what happened to them. In his own way, just like Biko, Mashatile believes black people can make things happen for themselves even if they rely on donor support, including from philanthropic capitalists and government. Thus the creation of the Biko Centre is not only a gesture of material support from government but intended to inspire people to get things done for themselves.

Since 1994 blacks and whites have lived and operated in a society that, in principle, is based on equality and non-racism. But there are very big question marks over whether the constitutional democracy is the same thing as freedom. It is argued in some circles that democracy and freedom cannot be used interchangeably. There is no doubt that a constitutional democracy epitomises what the ANC has, largely, desired and fought for.

In contrast Black Consciousness holds the view that not only must the people be liberated from economic injustice and social inequality but psychological freedom that will, inevitably, see the country assume the character and culture of the majority. What this means is that for black people to “give the world a human face” they must not only practice their own culture but the operations of society must be based on their values, especially Ubuntu which is sense of belonging and ownership among the people and sharing of the wealth of the country.

This is the creative tension that has haunted the relationship between an ANC constitutional democracy and Black Consciousness, for instance. Thus the Biko Centre will provide not only a platform for a healthy exchange of ideas but, hopefully, lead in the national discourse that will restore faith and self-confidence in the emptied cultural heritage and identity of black people.

Critics of democracy complain that not only have black people lost a sense of identity and Afrocentric rootedness but have allowed themselves to be recreated in the image of white people. With the incorporatisation of the struggle into the economic mainstream, blacks cannot even tell who the enemy — if any still exists — is.

At the Biko Centre launch there was widespread acknowledgement that constitutional democracy is a significant achievement. But it was also admitted that there is an urgent need for black people to not only reclaim their heritage and identity but redefine the future in their own terms.

As South Africa has completed the Biko Legacy Project to honour one of its leading visionaries, it remains to be seen if the Biko Centre will revive the philosophy of Black Consciousness and re-ignite a sense of self-pride and independence among black people who have become over-reliant on social grants.

Biko’s death and this heritage site have come at a great cost. It’s long overdue that black people did things for themselves and that what Biko lived and died for became a way of life.

The time is now!

Tags: , , ,

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  • 30 Responses to “Centre for Blackness”

    1. Rich Brauer #

      “This comes in the form of a legacy project worth more than R120 million to promote, protect and preserve the legacy of Black Consciousness visionary leader Steve Bantu Biko.”

      My goodness, Sandy! I mean, that’s *almost* half of what the ANC has spent on Nkandla!

      You must be so proud.

      January 25, 2013 at 10:54 pm
    2. bernpm #

      “Exactly 100 years after Africans were dispossessed of their land and stripped of their identity and heritage, the ANC government has subsidised the opening of the new headquarters for blackness.

      This comes in the form of a legacy project worth more than R120 million to promote, protect and preserve the legacy of Black Consciousness visionary leader Steve Bantu Biko.”

      “With the incorporatisation of the struggle into the economic mainstream, blacks cannot even tell who the enemy — if any still exists — is.”

      So, after spending some odd millions on this “blackness awareness” project(s) and bringing them into the economic mainstream (as you frame it), blacks still do not know if there is an enemy and who it might be.

      Are we not spending a lot of money by chasing ghosts and cold we have been spending this money on building houses and schools instead of chasing fragments of imagination of some leading blacks (=government leaders)?????

      January 26, 2013 at 12:54 am
    3. AK #

      I am just afraid whatever we do there will always be people from the right wing who seek to discredit the government.

      Just a little bit of education here. the black consciousness that Biko was talking about is not the same black people that you guys so simplistically talk about. we are not black people, we are Africans. i know many of you claim this blackness as well.

      So what the ANC is talking about is not this narrow minded sense of Black people.

      There are no ghosts here, not so long ago there was a Jan Van Riebeck day in South Africa.

      please be honest people

      January 26, 2013 at 9:01 am
    4. Gary Richards #

      As an admirer of the writing of Biko I think that it is fantastic that there is a move to bring his ideas and philosophy to the for. Furthermore, the psychological impact of apartheid’s brutality needs to be addressed, even if it is somewhat belatedly. And here is the BUT. But really, R120 million to create what will in all likelihood be a platform for educated, well-read people to pontificate and pat themselves on the back. Surely the way to restore the pride that Biko was a proponent of is to create a means to use the money to educate people who have to now not had that opportunity.

      Also, the writings of Biko should form an integral part of the Life Orrientation subject at schools.

      January 26, 2013 at 10:13 am
    5. Sandile Memela
      Sandile memela #

      @ rich There is not enough money in the world to make up for tragic loss of Biko. Blacks and the whole world are poorer for it. As a result of that, we have the blind leading the blind.
      @ bernpm Blacks have become part of a system and history they fought against, fully coopted into a wire racist patriarchal capitalist super-structure. Everything has become blurred as they shot each other to kill to protect whose wealth?
      It would be nice to have more houses and clinics but how do they help degraded people who are worse than animals with neither self-respect nor self-love.
      The sense of self love, respect and confidence a person has is more important than the house or clinic the go to.

      January 26, 2013 at 10:31 am
    6. Brian B #

      Would Steve Biko want this money to be productively utilised for worthy causes or wasted on ideological symbolism ?

      January 26, 2013 at 10:42 am
    7. Unyoko #

      Seems like a good idea to me – Biko was a great man and a selfless leader. The contrast between the humble, simple life of Biko and the gross materialism (with very little sign of ubuntu) of much of the current SA leadership could not be more striking. We need more people like Biko.

      January 26, 2013 at 10:46 am
    8. The financial commitment of the government will hopefully also translate to a receptiveness to ideas, practices and programmes that promote and instill self-reliance in communities. There are many (NGO) led programmes that have successfully done this on a significant scale, over many years.
      One such programme is the Is’Baya Development Trust’s “Integrated Village Renewal Programme” (IVRP) that have been implemented in 52 villages in the OR Tambo district of the Eastern Cape, over the past 13 years. Communities (through individual households, organised in a village structure) have been producing high value fruit crops in addition to traditional low-value crops such as maize (see http://www.isbaya.org).
      Another is the Umtapo Center in Durban which has been organising youth at tertiary institutions, into Peace Corps that prepare these youth for their eventual integration into their communities, as facilitators and catalysts for change.
      And so the story of self-reliance continues. There are many other examples. The possibilities for real developmental opportunities are endless.

      January 26, 2013 at 11:13 am
    9. mike venter #

      Reading many of the articles around Blackness, Black consciousness and everything else black only, I get the feeling there is a movement back to where the whites came from. The whites only is now slowly transforming into Black only.

      **”Black Consciousness holds the view that not only must the people be liberated from economic injustice and social inequality but psychological freedom that will, inevitably, see the country assume the character and culture of the majority. What this means is that for black people to “give the world a human face”…………”**

      Some blacks use Biko’s ideologies to advance a type of racism for blacks only. And it seems what you are saying will eventually evolve to that.
      Culture is like religion, it oppress people, keep them believing in the old not allowing them to think for themselves and choose what and how they want to live.

      “***It would be nice to have more houses and clinics but how do they help degraded people who are worse than animals with neither self-respect nor self-love.”***

      Can you explain the “help degraded people worse than animals………..” part? It is 19 years on, are the people still feeling degraded and how will this millions help help feel better?
      Describe what and how must blacks get back their cultural heritage and identity? Why was it lost in the first place. Why look down on people if they like Western?

      Biko, surely would have wanted people to spend such money on better things than driving…

      January 26, 2013 at 11:51 am
    10. bernpm #

      Could we please get out of this ‘black & white” thinking when referring to human beings. It seems to have become just a convenient replacement for the banned “K….” word.

      In the eighties I was told that the NP’s biggest mistake was to put “apartheid” on the law books. Now it is off the law books, many seem to indulge in referring to this “apartheid” as if it is still alive and well with no way out.

      Dear Sandile, try and write the same article (and any of your future articles for that matter) without using the words “black” or “white” when referring to human beings.

      January 26, 2013 at 1:26 pm
    11. Sandile Memela
      Sandile memela #

      @ mike: let’s be clear that so-called blackness here is not defined by skin colour but a particular mental attitude that is pro-Africa and her people, both black and white. It does not discriminate on skin colour but promotes unity based on allegiance to the continent.
      As for how blacks will reclaim their culture and heritage, the attitude and behavior will determine that.
      But make no mistake to think that socalled african culture is about primitiveness and backwardness. Blacks have equally contributed to the 21st Century modernity and sophistication we find in this country today. It self delusion to attribute it to the arrival of people of European descent.

      January 26, 2013 at 3:26 pm
    12. Aliki #

      The platitude that wrenched my heart.”"……. In discussion with another personal acquaintance of Steve….. said person’s only comment was “He must be turning in his grave”

      January 26, 2013 at 3:41 pm
    13. Aliki #

      The platitude that broke my heart:.

      In discussion with another (WHITE) person who was a personal acquaintance of Steve’s

      this morning he said very simply ” He must be turning in his grave”

      January 26, 2013 at 3:49 pm
    14. Aliki #

      Apologies. The above is what happens when you use one of Cyril’s piggy banks as an isp.

      January 26, 2013 at 4:51 pm
    15. mike venter #

      @Sandile, maybe, just a suggestion then. Lets move forward when talking about blacks and whites and blackness and whiteness. Lets talk about Africans as our people. It is misleading and only create division and further problems for us all in SA.

      I agree on blacks contribution in SA. Then so for that reason they have nothing to feel degraded about.

      January 26, 2013 at 8:08 pm
    16. 'whiteness' #

      @Sandile Memela

      Brilliant writing Sandile. Thank you.

      Just one comment; human consciousness transcends race, gender, wealth etc.

      We must celebrate cultural differences but we have one underlying consciousness.

      January 26, 2013 at 10:21 pm
    17. 'whiteness' #

      Correction: We must celebrate cultural differences AS we have one underlying consciousness.

      January 26, 2013 at 10:27 pm
    18. Comrade Koos #

      Sandile

      ” let’s be clear that so-called blackness here is not defined by skin colour but a particular mental attitude that is pro-Africa and her people, both black and white. It does not discriminate on skin colour but promotes unity based on allegiance to the continent.”

      Why can we not leave race and continents out of it?

      What about a Global Country of World Peace?

      January 26, 2013 at 10:35 pm
    19. Piet Boerie #

      So the migrating Bantu nations colonised the south, those indeginous nations like the San were dispossessed of their land and stripped of their identity and heritage.

      So its ok for the Bantu to colonise but not eueopeans??? That is racism in its pure form.
      No nation can stand before God and say I was innocent of plunder or as you put it dispossessed of their land and stripped of their identity and heritage. DNA shows that the migrating Bantu nations raped and pilged their way south, chasing and destroying all that stood in their way.
      But when white people colonise its racsim. The Maori, who scream about white colonisation are orignally from Taiwan, they ate their way to as far as Hawaii, killing off any other tribes in their way. But whites are bad an colonisers. This is a human failing and not race. Dont just blame the one that did it last.

      The day we stop thinking in colour we will be able to liberate oursleves.

      Sorry Sandile but your thinking is part of the problem the majority face today, victim mindset and no taking responsibility for one own history.

      Decolonise your mind and have human Consciousness day then we will remove race and sex from the eqauation. But having seperate days and seperate movements for different colours, then we are not better than Apartheid.

      January 27, 2013 at 4:00 am
    20. Patriot #

      ‘It does not discriminate on skin colour but promotes unity based on allegiance to the continent.But make no mistake to think that socalled african culture is about primitiveness and backwardness. Blacks have equally contributed to the 21st Century modernity and sophistication we find in this country today. It self delusion to attribute it to the arrival of people of European descent.’ I agree with Mr Melela 100% on both points. SA became a great industrial nation not just due to people originally from Europe, but also due to the talent, culture, and damn hard work of black people – let’s not forget the huge contribution that black labour made to the mines,industries etc. And there would have been a lot more black foremen, engineers and managers if there hadn’t been the lousy job reservations on the mines. You are spot on sir!

      January 27, 2013 at 11:11 am
    21. A BLIND leads a BLIND, a double blunder in deed in our present leadership style:

      The word lagacy is only at the tip of a tongue of every leader in an organization but its true sense is just to convience the constituency. There is no practicality in that. Let’s for instance look at the legacy of Madiba, the undisputable legacy but no leader has ever take that in cognisance. This seams to be the tendancy of all African leaders and philosophers degrading our heritage and improving external ornerments above that of our own at its best. When this is going to materialize is only during the era of true visionary leader in likes Dr. RN. Manadela, Mr. R. Sobukwe, Mr. SB. Biko come into being.This legacy can spearhead the democratic leadership that would generate economic growth and service delivery people are longing for.

      January 28, 2013 at 6:49 am
    22. Tofolux #

      @Sandile, I think we as blacks in general and Africans in particular are guilty of outsourcing the fight for our pride to others. Insodoing, we have allowed all the anti-black voices to be given prominence and dominance over our voices. I say this because nowhere in the past 18yrs have we seen this prominence of anti-black voices as we see it today and lets ask the question, who is allowing these invoices, to be dominant? My problem is that it is the so-called intelligentisia who writes, who edits, who opiniates, it is these people who are rolling back the gains of social cohesion. Eg, no-where in our history except in the apartheid years, have we seen the character assasinations of Presidents and individuals as we see it today. The Deputy Pres is a case in point, blatant lies of pregnant girlfriends and supposed corruption. Who led these attacks? How could we possibly allow this hypocritical behavior? As has been done with FNB, they have been called to order it is high time that we call this anti-black brigade to order. Much as Gillian has done and called out the attitudes and contd practise of white racism we must not allow the anti-black brigade to be our voice. The adage of ”an injury to one is an injury to all” in this case fits simply becos when they paint pictures over our head and sing their ”they are corrupt” song, they say these things about all of us. When they attack our pride and paint pics of our elders with private parts exposed,they r painting all…

      January 28, 2013 at 12:11 pm
    23. Bantfu #

      “I think there is no running away from the fact that now in South Africa there is such an ill distribution of wealth that any form of political freedom which does not touch on the proper distribution of wealth will be meaningless. The whites have locked up within a small minority of themselves the greater proportion of the country’s wealth. If we have a mere change of face of those in governing positions what is likely to happen is that black people will continue to be poor, and you will see a few blacks filtering through into the so-called bourgeoisie. Our society will be run almost as of yesterday.”-Biko
      So if the govt wants to honour Biko, there you have it.
      But it is this anti-black government which has created a horrid reality for blacks.
      It is black children who will be mobbed by the Angie system, it is blacks who will die in public hospitals, it is blacks who are put in rdp matchboxes and face other anti-black brutality.
      It is the ANC government which creates this reality.
      So how dare the same government claim to honour Bantu Biko?
      As for the author’s claim that BC is about Ubuntu, I think u confuse BC for cultural mumbojumbo.
      BC remains the most dangerous ideology to the world of white supremacy, and this gesture by the ANC is an attempt to tame BC, to some cumbaya racist non-racism.
      Biko’s legacy has already been paid for in his own blood, and it is that blood that will inspire the youth to bring down the neo-colonial regime n bring about an egalitarian…

      January 28, 2013 at 3:03 pm
    24. Jack Sparrow #

      “that so-called blackness here is not defined by skin colour but a particular mental attitude that is pro-Africa and her people, both black and white. It does not discriminate on skin colour but promotes unity based on allegiance to the continent.”

      This has to be nonsensical and erodes your ideas. Any country that deliberately dienfranchises a section of its population based on race is not only doing something that is wrong in principal, it is destroying a potential source of production. Nonsensical.

      Wrong for apartheid and equally wrong for ANCheid.

      January 28, 2013 at 4:56 pm
    25. The former partner of Biko, the respected Dr Mamphela Ramphele , might very well end up as an opponent of the corruption of the ANC. I look forward to your opinions on that, Sandile.

      Actually, I don’t.

      January 28, 2013 at 11:35 pm
    26. Just a Thought #

      I enjoyed this article. Black South Africans do need to redefine their identity and be re-programmed to understand that they can achieve and are not being purposefully held down by the umlungu . But more importantly we need to understand that although a minority was in charge, if you redistributed all the jobs and societal gains (assuming that all whites have employment or are old enough to be employed) only 9% of the african population would be able to step into these areas. This leaves a huge proportion of the population who would still not benefit.

      So the discourse in this country needs to change from redistributing to creating a new environment where the social and economic aspects are not saturated in racial overtones, fear and blame.

      This is why I am very happy Mamphela Ramphele is entering politics Because the current ruling party and opposition are stuck in the blame throwing rut.

      January 29, 2013 at 9:10 am
    27. Just a Thought #

      @tofulux, i love your blinkers. Blantant lies of curruption is a HUGE statement. The auditor general time and time again finds massive holes in the finances of most municipality’s and government offices. he isnt trying to hold the black race down by confirming that money issued by the state isnt being used for its purpose, isnt in the bank accounts and most of the time cannot be accounted for. So it either gets returned to the state because it isnt being used or its just lost? Poof, dissapeared into thin air like a good magicians trick.

      So this is either maladministration on a monumental level or theft. Either or, its not character assasination, this poor performance stops assistance and service delivery getting to the people who need it the most.

      Im starting to think that you live in lala land with pink elephants and unicorns playing cards on big puffy clouds made of marshmellows and cotton candy.

      And on a final note, false allegations of corruption or wrongdoing tend to get these people into hot water as well. But I dont think the heated push to prevent access to state information is in response to false allegations.

      January 29, 2013 at 9:29 am
    28. DeeGee #

      @ Tofolux: ”an injury to one is an injury to all”

      OK. All together then – “we are all individuals!”

      (With apologies to Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”)

      January 29, 2013 at 9:48 am
    29. Noob #

      @ DeeGee
      “No I’m not!”

      January 30, 2013 at 4:41 am
    30. ntozakhona #

      There is is this big lie amongst the journalist type that the African National Congress has not recognised Steve Biko’s contribution. We had said before that in 1987 Oliver Tambo had led a commeration festival in honour of Biko and he was murdered as he was going to meet the ANC.

      The ANC cannot reject black conciousness though for many it is the lowest form of conciousness. You concientise an African by showing the clear disparities between black and white, but that is just scratching the surface.

      There is an ever present danger that a white ruling class may be replaced or combined with an emergent black elite at the expense of the poor. The deepened inequality we have today are a result of a two nations theory that has created black lumpen bourgeoisie that shout blackness but hide in shame when African culture is practically asserted.

      Where were these BC champions when the President chastised some Africans for raping grannies and treating dogs better than them?

      Our liberation project is not about blacks enganging in some charitable self feeding project but about a change in the ownership patterns in our country. It is not about Gautrain and other grandiose projects dreamt up to steal our resources but an efficient, accessible and safe public transport system. I am sure you know what I mean Sandlie and the rest of the FoC.

      January 31, 2013 at 3:20 am

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