Black Wednesday – The Banning of Black Consciousness

19 October 2012

ON 19 October 1977, a day known as Black Wednesday, the apartheid regime of South Africa banned the Black Consciousness (BC) ideology and its movements, exactly 37 days after brutally murdering Steve Biko on 12 September 1977.

On that day, 19 October 21977, the South African government banned 18 BC organizations. In typical fashion, the regime raided and arrested most of the people in the leadership positions of all the BC Movement formations. About 70 activists were arrested, including several members of the Soweto Committee of Ten, led by Dr Nthato Motlana.

Two sister newspapers, The World and The Weekend World, which were both edited by Percy Qoboza were also closed down. These Newspapers are the predecessors of The Sowetan newspaper.

There was collateral damage in the white community as well, with the banning of Donald Woods, a white guy who was Biko’s friend and supporter and who was the editor of the Daily Dispatch newspaper.

Forgive me if I repeat some parts from previous pieces – it is repetition for effect. I have mentioned umpteen times that Pan Africanism and Black Consciousness (BC) make up the well from which I drink my ideological waters. I am thus never thirsty, if you know what I mean.

I delight in the intellectual journeys that search for true meaning in the universe of Africans. Over the years, colonialism and imperialism have destroyed our minds and livelihoods, and thus we have become alienated from ourselves and the world around us.

Many African scholars have written extensively about the causes of such inferiority complexes, and Frantz Fanon stands out head and shoulders above the rest, especially his books “Wretched of the Earth” and “Black Skin, White Mask”. I suggest that we all read these books carefully and then look at ourselves in the mirror. Please accept that black is beautiful.

The scars of colonialism take long to heal. Sometimes, it is difficult for us to realise just how much damage was caused to our psyche, yet we go through life assuming that we are fine. Unfortunately, we are not fine. We need to critically confront ourselves and make sure that we are not, wittingly or unwittingly, carrying on the destructive work of the oppressor against ourselves.

That is why for me BC does not have a sell-by date; it is an on-going process of a check-up from the neck up.
The apartheid regime was sharp enough to realise that BC was a dangerous ideology, because it was shaking the very foundations of white superiority that the system was built on.

How can the drawers of water and hewers of wood now suddenly regard themselves as equal to the whites? And in 1976, the very black school kids whom the system wanted to indoctrinate were now spearheading the uprising against the regime!

The psychological damages inflicted on black people are thus immense and wide ranging. We need some serious detoxification programmes to remove the racist baggage from our system, otherwise we shall continue to be the laughing stock of the world. We must re-discover our true selves and set out to re-create the world in our own reconditioned image.

Nigerian poet and novelist, Professor Ben Okri, presented the 13th Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at the University of Cape Town recently, and made the following remarks about Steve Biko: “One of my points of affinity with Biko is with his rigour and his high-standards of expectation of the human and the African spirit.

He asks fundamental questions like: Who are you? What are you? Are you what others say you are? What is your selfhood? What makes you a man or a woman? He asks questions which will be relevant in hundreds of years’ time, questions which are an inevitable part of a free society. We need to reincarnate Biko’s rigour, his high-standards and his forensic questioning.”

As we remember Black Wednesday, we must be encouraged by the fact that despite the many wrongs perpetrated against us, we have overcome all obstacles and in that process, we have transformed ourselves and our enemies.

As will be seen in the Okri quote below, history has shown that the bigger the injustice, the bigger the resistance. The old slogan was that for every person that was killed, thousands more would rise to fill the vacuum. Heroes beget heroes, and that is why the struggle shall always continue, irrespective of the intensity of the adversity.

Words have power, and many African languages are rich with proverbs and expressions that connect with the inner being of people in a very special way. In fact, Chinua Achebe once said that “proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten”. A proper wordsmith, such as Achebe, can thus achieve great things and thus prove that the pen can indeed be mightier than the sword.

As I conclude, allow me to quote Okri at length: Great struggles tend to throw up great spirits. Great suffering tends to throw up great minds who refuse to accept the terms of that suffering…. people like Steve Biko…..It is one of the curious things about history that whenever they kill the incarnation of truth its voice is multiplied a thousand-fold… From you we learned that eventually the spirit is unconquerable.

From you we learned that history is not inevitable but must be fought for with love, with courage and with wisdom. ….But a great injustice rouses something very deep in the human spirit, something deep that goes all the way back to the Gods. We can almost say that greater justice awakens in us the same forces that shape the world, a force greater than destiny itself, a force that comes from the fire of the demiurge a force that tears down mountains and throws up continents; a force like bursting volcano, a force of thunder.

This is a force slow to arouse but once roused and awoken, hard to control.
Let the memories of Black Wednesday give us the fuel we need to prosecute the struggle to its logical conclusion.


Ondjirijo. Hijo.


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