Mar
16

Chris Hani

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Chris Hani" (2014) by Hugh MacMillan. Like others in this series, this book helps provide accessible and concise materials on leading figures that otherwise are sometimes challenging to find appropriate student readings on. This one fills that gap. In addition to the biography, the book tells a lot of the history of the ANC and uMkhonto we Sizwe. A few notes:

"We must make apartheid expensive and costly in terms of financial resources and in terms of lives. It must be made painful. At the moment it is very sweet for them but it must be made painful and bitter, especially for the whites. It is bitter for the blacks. For the whites it must be made very painful and bitter… apartheid won't just be destroyed through talking, but, since it is a violent system, it will be destroyed by revolutionary violence." (p. 102)

"I am an implacable enemy of oppression. I am a soldier for democracy and justice. Negotiations are a product of all our sacrifices – those who went to jail, those into exile, those in camps in strange countries. What is happening is the fruit of this hard worthwhile labor … We need to build strong grass roots structures. We must build a popular democracy." (p. 126)

"… the ANC will have to fight a new enemy. That enemy would be another struggle to make freedom and democracy worthwhile to ordinary South Africans. Our biggest enemy would be what we do in the field of socio-economic restructuring. Creation of jobs; building houses, schools, medical facilities; overhauling our education; eliminating illiteracy; building a society which cares; and fighting corruption … " (p. 128) 

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Mar
14

Steve Biko

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I had one book from this series previously, on Thomas Sankara, and recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Steve Biko" by Lindy Wilson, published in 2011. I found this book useful as there are relatively fewer materials on Steven Biko, compared to others in the series (e.g., Fanon). The author also adds unique perspectives having done some interviews with people who knew Biko. A few notes:

"Biko was appalled at what he saw all around him in South Africa at the time: "the black man has become a shell, a shadow of man … bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity," he said. He challenged black people not to be a part of their own oppression, believing that "the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed'. He defined Black Consciousness as 'an inward-looking process' to 'infuse people with pride and dignity'. 'We have set out on a quest for a true humanity,' he said." (p. 14)

"No Saso president, for example, was in office for more than a year, a precedent set by Biko. This capacity to stand back, to put others forward, to initiate new ideas, get something going and make it practical, meant that although Biko was present, he managed not to be dominant." (p. 49)

"Biko's work was to awaken the people: first, from their own psychological oppression through reorganizing their inferiority complex and restoring their self-worth, dignity, pride and identity; secondly, from a mental and physical oppression of living in a white racist society." (p. 54)

"His message was simple and clear: Do not be a part of your oppression." (p. 148)

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Aug
29

I Write What I Like – Steve Biko

Similar to other giants of the struggle against apartheid, we do not have a book written by Steve Biko that pens his ideas. For Robert Sobukwe, a biography was written, while for Steve Biko, we have a collection of his writings and transcripts, first published in 1978. The book contains powerful ideas, some of which are shared below, but also contains writings that are audience- and time-specific, making it a sometimes less than relevant read. I share some of Biko's ideas:

  • "Basically the South African white community is a homogenous community. It is a community of people who sit to enjoy a privileged position that they do not deserve, are aware of this, and therefore spend their time trying to justify why they are doing so. Where differences in political opinion exist, they are in the process of trying to justify their position of privilege and their usurpation of power." (p. 19)
  • "We are concerned with that curious bunch of nonconformists who explain their participation in negative terms: that bunch of do-gooders that goes under all sorts of names – liberals, leftists etc. These are the people who argue that they are not responsible for white racism and the country's "inhumanity to the black man". These are the people who claim that they too feel the oppression just as acutely as the blacks and therefore should be jointly involved in the black man's struggle for a place under the sun… It is rather like expecting the slave to work together with the slave-master's son to remove all the conditions leading to the former's enslavement." (p. 20-21)
  • "The myth of integration as propounded under the banner of liberal ideology must be cracked and killed because it makes people believe that something is being done when in actual fact the artificial integrated circles are a soporific on the blacks and provide a vague satisfaction because it is difficult to bring people from different races together in this country, therefore achievement of this is in itself a step forward towards the total liberation of the blacks. Nothing could be more irrelevant and therefore misleading. Those who believe in it are living in a fool's paradise." (p. 22)
  • "We must learn to accept that no group, however benevolent, can ever hand over power to the vanquished on a plate. We must accept that the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. As long as we go to Whitey begging cap in hand for emancipation, we are giving him further sanction to continue with his racist and oppressive system. We must realise that our situation is not a mistake on the part of whites but a deliberate act, and that no amount of moral lecturing will persuade the white man to "correct" the situation." (p. 90-91)
  • "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." (p. 149)
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Feb
12

The ‘Nelson Mandela’ You Have Probably Not Heard About

Robert Sobukwe (1924-1978). Leader of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in South Africa, a focal leader in the struggle against apartheid, Sobukwe was so feared by the apartheid government that after he led a mass non-violence protests to break unjust laws, he was jailed indefinitely for fear of what he might do. A law was created, called the 'Sobukwe clause' (as it was created for him, and only used against him), that would allow for his imprisonment not for what he has done (that time had been served), but what he was capable to do.

"How Can Man Die Better" (original 1990) by Benjamin Pogrund is one of the few books available on Robert Sobukwe, but one wishes more was available. As much as readers may come to appreciate the author, this book is probably better described as two biographies (one of Robert Sobukwe and one of Benjamin Pogrund, the author), and in that regard the book is somewhat disappointing. Nonetheless, given the lack of detailed resources on Robert Sobukwe, this book is well worth reading.

Robert Sobukwe was a force in his opposition to unjust laws. He stated that we "have been accused of bloodthirstiness because we preach 'non-collaboration'. I wish to state here tonight that that is the only course open to us. History has taught us that a group in power has never voluntarily relinquished its position. It has always been forced to do so" (p. 37). Yet, in his forcing of change, he was a staunch advocate of non-violence means.

"I know, of course, that because I express these sentiments I will be accused of indecency and will be branded an agitator. That was the reaction to my speech last year. People do not like to see the even tenor of their lives disturbed. They do not like to be made to feel guilty. They do not like to be told that what they have always believed was right is wrong. And above all they resent encroachment on what they regard as their special province. But I make no apologies. It is meet that we speak truth before we die." (p. 35)

The original arrest of Sobukwe was in relation to a mass movement he led to break the unjust 'pass laws' requiring people of color to carry passes everywhere they went, and face arrest if in the wrong place, or at the wrong time. "Sobukwe began to plan the campaign: workers were to be urged to leave their passes at home and report to the nearest police station on their way to work. They would, he anticipated, be arrested and prosecuted for not carrying a pass; this would have the twin effect of putting pressure on the government through clogging police stations, courts and jails, and on employers to intervene because they would be without labour" (p. 111).

Alternatively, and contrary to the popular narrative outside South Africa, "Mandela acknowledged that he had planned sabotage [i.e. adopted violent means]. He had decided it was unrealistic for black leaders to keep up the African National Congress' traditional policy of non-violence when the government frequently used violence to crush opposition, he told the court. 'Africans had either to accept inferiority or fight against it by violence. We chose the latter'" Mandela stated (p. 212).

Robert Sobukwe was released after years of imprisonment, and after six extensions of the 'Sobukwe clause' to imprison him for what he might do, rather than anything he had done. His physical health was in poor condition (he would later die of lung cancer), and his mental health challenged, after years of severe solitary confinement. Once released, he was severely monitored and restricted, effectively under permanent house arrest until his death.

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