South Africa: The Real Threat to Black Consciousness Today
southern africa |
the left |
Saturday April 13, 2013 16:57 by Malaika Mahlatsi - Rhodes University
A critique of the collapse of the BC tradition into an authoritarian personality cult
A critique from within the Black Consciousness tradition in South Africa of a collapse of a faction of that tradition into an authoritarian form of politics.
On a cold afternoon in July 2010, a group of us met in Newtown to distribute pamphlets around the Johannesburg CBD and hotspots of the 2008 "xenophobic" attacks, such as Diepsloot etc. We were only about twelve, so we had to break into groups of four.
Three people would distribute flyers and one person would engage people to explain the cause we were fighting. Our campaign was called "Singamakwerekwere sonke", meaning "We are all foreigners". Basically, we were protesting against the deporting and the violence against our Afrikan brothers and sisters, whom our system calls "foreigners" and our people call "amakwerekwere". Our group was called SNI. We were young people whowanted change and we wanted it NOW!
Three of my colleagues and I were deployed to Noord Taxi Rank, which is now known as MTN Rank, in the Jo'burg CBD. It was myself, Marechera WaNdata, Katlego (surname forgotten) and one of my closest friends at the time, Andile Mngxitama. We began to distribute the pamphlets to commuters and taxi drivers, with myself and Andile speaking to people one by one, telling them why it was wrong to attack and kill Afrikan brothers and sisters. Most of the people listened, but some told us to go to hell. One taxi driver came to me and said: "The reason why you want us to not kill these people is because you are being fucked by Nigerians..."
At this, Andile and Marechera ran to my defense. Not long after, the three of us were grabbed by the collars of our t-shirts by armed men. We were dragged up the stairs to some room near the taxi rank vicinity. Our pamphlets were conviscated and we underwent interrogation for what felt like decades. They swore at us, intimidated us and threatened to assault us. Eventually they let us go, but still kept our pamphlets. I was 18 years old, terrified beyond measure, hungry, cold and feeling dejected by the refusal of our people to understand the importance of our cause.
A few days later, we put into motion the plans to have a national conference where we would converge BC activists and design a program of action that would annihilate the nervous and heinous condition of Blackness in a country where Black life is cheap. I left my home to stay with one comrade Ncesh and for the next two weeks, herself, myself and Andile wrote discussion documents that would be used at the first ever September National Imbizo (SNI). It was exhausting. We never slept for more than four hours at a time. Everyday Ncesh and myself would walk all the way from Marshalltown to Braamfontein to use Internet facilities and then go to Andile's offices at the Foundation for Human Rights and have a debriefing. This went on until the documents were completed. From then on, every waking day of our lives was dedicated to mobilising and organising young people for this conference. I was registered with UNISA, trying to juggle academic work with SNI work, often neglecting the former. I was determined to give my all to the SNI, because I believed with every part of me that it was a struggle worth fighting.
A few months later, after an ideological disagreement with Andile, I was out of the SNI. I was not even told decently that I had been suspended or given an explanation as to why. I was simply told by a comrade that there was a Steering Committee meeting which I, as the Secretary General of SNI at the time, was not even told about. I was told that "the committee feels uncomfortable with you and feel that it is best if you stop being part of it". I was told this by my comrade, my friend, the person I had run around Jozi with late at night and early mornings. Comrade Ncesh. The SNI did not want me. Me, who had sacrificed my life for the SNI, me who had stood by Andile when he was being attacked by the entire BC bloc. Me who had fought his battles with Mazibuko Jara, his sworn enemy. I was devastated. Sure, I was not innocent. I had contributed to the conflict in SNI by befriending "enemies of Blacks", which included Jara himself. But my defense at the time was that these people were not our enemies, that we could still unite with them. Comrades were being purged from the SNI. Anyone who disagreed with Andile was out. Genuine comrades like NtsikaGogwana, Lola Bam, the late Mzimkhulu Nyeka...any and everyone who was not Andile's "yes boy" was being purged and some of us were fighting against this.
We were labelled as 'traitors'. Our families were under attack from Andile and his bulldogs. We were accused of being agents of the ANC. We were no longer the same people who had been detained and harrassed with him. We were no longer foot soldiers of the Blackwash Dream. Everyone was taking sides. For those of us who had given our lives to SNI, the world became extremely lonely. I had no friends outside the SNI, and no-one in the SNI wanted to associate with me. I was alone, terrified, perpetually in a state of weeping. Eventually a ray of hope emerged, an opportunity to get out of Gauteng to continue my activism elsewhere. It came from the least expected person: Mazibuko Jara. The same person I had fought with for Andile. The man I had insulted and humiliated. He was saying: "Malaika, you are still young and you can still make a difference".
I left for Cape Town and never looked back.
Today, Andile is under attack and we are being asked to fight for him. Today, when it is convenient to do so, we are being asked to mobilise against "liberals" who allegedly want to destroy Andile. Today, the BC and Afrikanist bloc is asked to defend Andile when he stands to face criminal and civil charges. Who was being mobilised when Andile was purging all of us? Who was defending us when his bulldogs were relentlessly attacking us and our families? No-one. Today Andile and his remaining followers claim that the BC bloc is under threat from "liberals". Liberals? Liberals like Aubrey Mokoape and the Unemployed People's Movement?
And what is the real threat to the BC bloc? It is not people who have distanced themselves from Andile's public threats of violence to a journalist. It is not people who are disgusted by Andile's publication of lies, racist lies, about grassroots BC activist Ayanda Kota. The real threat to the BC bloc began when, in 2010, debate was silenced with purgings. It began when comrades Ntsika, Lola, Noxolo and others were removed for refusing to be narrow nationalists. It began when the late Mzimkhulu Nyeka was being called a "bitch" by Andile's bulldogs. A man above 50 being called a "bitch" by little children because he questioned Andile's absolute authority! That was when the BC bloc was being destroyed, not today when legitimate questions are being asked about Andile's authoritarian personality cult.
BC was never about a personality cult. It was never about the crude anti-whitism in which whites are called 'pigs' and 'dogs'. It was never about trying to use intimidation and slander to crush any person or organisation that questioned the absolute authority of The Leader. Andile Mngxitama is not the new Biko. He is a thug who is only concerned with building his own power as a media personality.
There are many organisations and individuals that are seriously trying to build on the legacy of BC. Some of them are at the coalface of real struggles that aim to build real confidence and power in black communities.
Never again will I sweat and fight battles of individuals as if defending them means defending the revolution. Let the revolution itself decide who its heroes are!