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Black Power / Black Consciousness: Pan-African Liberation Struggles

Black Power / Black Consciousness: Pan-African Liberation Struggles

This paper was originally written in 1999.

It is often assumed that events, which take place on two different continents involving two different people, are entirely unrelated.  Those who benefit most from this narrow view would prefer that observers continue to think this way, that events are always isolated and need to be looked at strictly within each one’s specific context alone.  Such is the case when discussing the resistance movements of Africans in the United States and Africans on the continent of Africa. In this particular example, the Black Power Movement (BPM) in the United States and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) in South Africa are rarely exposed as being two nearly simultaneous occurrences among two groups of African people responding to an identical European inspired problem.


Taken by themselves historical events can leave the observer confused or lacking enough information from which to glean a succinct understanding as to the causes, ramifications and/or impact of each event.  However, a global comparative analysis of two seemingly unrelated events can often times allow for a greater understanding and can therefore be instrumental in helping an observer draw more relevant conclusions.  In this case a comparison will be made between two African resistance movements that to the naked eye appear to have little in common but when explored in proper context and in the total light of a pan-Africanist view are exposed as being quite similar.  In this case the term pan-African is meant to describe a perspective that includes at its center the experience of African people, and/or descendants thereof, across boundaries, seas and time zones.

Chancellor Williams summarizes the need for a greater or more extended perspective when studying history.  Williams explains the importance of taking isolated events out of their immediate context and showing their relationship to other data taken from an extended study of history.  This way certain truths become more readily available to the observer.  If a student of history studies the BPM or BCM with no reference to events taking place in other regions of the world or events throughout history that led to those movements the observer will never have enough information to properly interpret those events.  This will leave the observer thinking that each occurred in a vacuum.  Such a notion could not be more wrong or more damaging to the important need of interpreting events in relation to one another so that the larger problem of global domination and exploitation can eventually be addressed. Williams writes:
One of the most troublesome facts in the study of history over very long periods of times, such as several centuries, is that a truth may slowly emerge, period after period, until it clearly forms itself into a truth impregnable, a fact nowhere explicitly stated as such in the mass of data covered.1

With this understood we can now embark on a discussion of the BPM in the United States and the BCM in South Africa.  This discussion will show how both were responses to the same problem, how both influenced and were influenced by one another and to show common responses from those whose power would be weakened or destroyed had either movement been allowed to meet its own inevitable end.


The point of this endeavor is not to ignore differences between the African experience in South Africa and the African experience in the United States; however, it is to show that the similarities out-weigh those differences. It is the goal to illustrate that the common experiences fostered and necessitated similar responses.  The similar history includes the increase in calls for freedom both in the United States and South Africa after World War II as colonial rule worldwide was questioned, the attempted struggle for inclusion into each society through appeals to a European moral consciousness and legislative change, mass demonstration and open violent conflict.  Both movements were responses to cultural/psychological repression and European/white dominance and/or apathy towards African liberation and both sought to build movements based on the observed conclusion that European/American/white people would not provide the means by which Africans could attain such liberation.


From the beginning it helps to understand that the creations of the United States and South Africa are all but identical.  Both involved the arrival of uninvited European people, the enslavement and murder of the indigenous population, the importation of enslaved African people, the establishment of a European/American/white ruling regime, the suppression of African culture, and the subsequent abuse, torture, and murder of those who would oppose such systems.  Both nations remained linked by a European cultural bond and economic plan of exploitation for the gain of an extremely small percentage of the population and in both cases that population was overwhelmingly white and male.  And as Eric Williams explains both nations had a very common origin, “when in 1492 Columbus… discovered the New World, he set in train the long and bitter international rivalry over colonial possessions for which, after four and a half centuries, no solution has yet been found.”2


The historical and cultural links between the two nations, their common unholy origins, can be seen through several examples.  The best description available on the bonds between America and South Africa shows how deep the bonds go, how long they have been there and how difficult they will be to loosen.  In the introduction to Loosing the Bonds Robert Massie details the ties between the two nations that have existed since each was colonized by European and largely British people.  Massie explains connections that extend from missionaries to gold-minded business people.  He even describes an American Civil War naval battle that took place off the coast of Table Bay as a result of business connections between South Africa and the American North (despite South Africa’s sympathy for the “underdog Confederacy”).3


Then there is, of course, Cecil Rhodes’ who is exposed as evil incarnate.  In a chapter titled “Cecil Rhodes: The Symbol of Empire,” Bernard Magubane defines Rhodes’ role as the first man to make imperialism about race rather than nationhood.  Rhodes also extolled the virtues of white world domination through the reuniting of Britain and the United States and brought into existence the De Beers diamond company whose exploitation of African labor continues to this day.4


The American context in which the African experience is to be discussed needs some clarification.  First, as the authors of African Americans and the American Political System5 write frame of reference is of the utmost importance when discussing any topic.  No thought comes without a base or origin and no discussion is housed outside a particular context, paradigm or perspective.  Furthermore, the actions a people take are determined by their understanding of their condition and to that end has it been the efforts of those in power to forever confuse the condition of those they oppress.
Therefore, any description of the condition of Africans in America must be corrected to show that the African experience in America is to be seen as just that, an African experience.  The idea of “African American” or “Black” citizenship or identification in the United States is to be abandoned in favor of a perspective that holds that Africans in America are not now, nor have ever been, meant to be citizens.  “Citizen” connotes equality in opportunity, representation, civil/human rights, etc., none of which, to this day, exist for America’s African population (not to mention Native people, other immigrant groups, the poor, women, etc.).


To summarize the conclusion that Africans in America are just that, African people and not Americans, a parable as relayed by Yosef-ben Jochannan will be referenced.  He says, “if you took two rabbits… and put them in an oven, then opened the oven to find more rabbits would you then say that the rabbits had biscuits simply because they were born in an oven?”6 It is simplistic but relevant and applicable to the American context. Africans born in the arbitrary boundaries of the United States do not by mere birth, despite claims to the otherwise, become American.  Instead, the process of teaching the myth that Africans are Americans has been a long and painful one but it makes it none the more true.  It is the image that those in power would prefer the world to believe.  If those who are oppressed understand the true nature of their condition and their relationship to those who oppress them their actions will subsequently change to reflect that understanding.  The colonial status of Africans in America has been attested to by several scholars and thinkers and will prove invaluable to the current discussion.

Among those who have commented on this reality is Pansye Atkinson.  Discussing the issue from the standpoint of education she writes that:


The psychological occupation of Black America by White America is an ongoing phenomenon resulting, in large measure, from the mechanism of cultural repression which permeates the institution of education in the American system of internal colonialism, whereby Black America exists as a domestic colony of White America.7

Similarly, Atkinson describes the thought of Leronne Bennett, Jr. and Harold Cruse who both agree.  She quotes Cruse as writing that; “the only factor which differentiates the Negro’s status from that of a pure colonial status is that his position is maintained in the home country in close proximity to the dominant racial group.”8


Kwame Toure and Charles Hamilton have also done well to describe the true colonial relationship Africans have to the United States. They note that the only real differences can be broken down into several aspects.  One difference is that population size and percentage of both colonized Africans and European settlers differs between the African continent and the United States of America.  Another is the fact that in traditional colonial settings the colonized produce cheap raw materials that are then shipped to a “Mother Country” to then be shipped back as manufactured goods and sold to African people at enormous mark-ups.  In America this relationship remains true except that the cheap exported goods are the labor Africans provide and there is no need to cross national boundaries to find the “Mother Country” to which Africans are subjected.


However, most importantly, Toure and Hamilton note that the basic or fundamental relationships between colonial power and those colonized remains true here in America.  The primary areas of control in the colonial setting, political, economic and social, are all in tact in the United States.  Politically, the system of indirect rule is in effect.  That is that African communities, even those with African figureheads, are controlled by European/American/white administrators.  Economically, the African community in America sees no more of its produced wealth benefit its own community than in any other colonial setting.  From the days of enslavement through to today African labor produces wealth for other communities while relegating African people to substandard living, no real wealth, poor education, etc.


Socially, Toure and Hamilton explain how in another time racial marking played an enormous role in enslavement and the capture of escaped Africans.  In this time, and in theirs’, these same kinds of racial markers are used to track down “rogue” Africans on the New Jersey Turnpike or in front of their own homes.  Little has changed. In the end though, as Toure and Hamilton also say, “it is the objective relationship that counts, not rhetoric (such as constitutions articulating rights) or geography.”9


Like America the colonial status of Africans in South Africa differs slightly from the “traditional” colonial model.  In South Africa because of competing European factions Africans have two separate European oppressors to appease.  The Dutch settlers (Boers, Afrikaners) who claim a South African history and right to land, power, etc. form one group and the British form yet another.  The Afrikaners parallel the American colonial masters in that they export wealth generated by their African colonial subjects but do so within the same boundary.  The British, however, play the more “traditional” role of colonial power as they export wealth back to the “Mother Country.”  In both cases, though, the relationship remains constant.  Africans in both South Africa and the United States watch as European/American/white leaders determine the political outcomes for Africans.  If not carried out this way they administer through African leaders who have little or no real power as they control little or none of the real wealth or land of their respective countries, i.e. “indirect rule.”


In both the United States and South Africa Africans who have historically provided the labor that has produced the enormous wealth of these nations remain largely cutoff from the wealth they have generated.  Land and wealth are in both cases distributed unequally in gross proportions leaving little or nothing for African people in either case.  In America where the true measure of wealth is found in stocks 20% of the population controls 97%, where the richest 5% control 86%.10  In South Africa, where raw material producing land has more influence than in America, Europeans hold 87% of the land.11  Suffice it to say Africans in either case are enormously weakened by the stranglehold Europeans have over the economic power of their respective nations making political power all but nominal.


This is the reality that not only exists now but also confronted those who would form the BPM and BCM.  From here we will examine both movements from not only the general era in which they took off but from the examples left by their respective leaders.  Though he did not live to see the full development of Black Power consciousness Malcolm X was its spiritual, political and cultural hero and leader while Steve Biko was the same for South Africa’s BCM.  Through them both movements saw their greatest spokespeople and leaders and as such they will represent each movement herein.


Again, both movements were the result of Africans in their respective captive environments abandoning older forms of struggle and accepting new cultural and political strategies to create change.  The BPM in the United States came as a result of some Africans making a break from the traditional style of integration-based Civil Rights strategies as those proved too slow in addressing the needs of African people.  Similarly, the BCM sought to address the myths of an integrated effort to liberate African people in South Africa and Malcolm’s leadership notwithstanding; student-activists largely inspired both.


One of the fundamental tenets of each movement was their adherence to an all Black or nationalist ideology.  Malcolm X, whose political ideology flourished after his exile from the Nation of Islam (NOI), employed a variant of Black nationalism that he said entailed a political, economic and social philosophy.  On April 8th, 1964 he explained that for him Black Nationalism meant African people in America would “gain complete control over the politics and politicians of our own community.”  Economically, this philosophy meant that Africans would control the economic of their community by controlling “the businesses and the other things which create employment so that we can provide jobs for our own people instead of having to picket and boycott and beg someone else for a job.”  Socially, Black Nationalism meant for Malcolm addressing what was “destroying the moral fiber” of the African society.  This referred to solving problems such as drug addiction, adultery, drunkenness and anything that weakened the African family and that in the end forced African people “into other societies where we are not wanted.”12


This basic philosophy, mixed with the racial pride and self-reliance attitude that Malcolm inherited from a long line of African nationalist thinkers such as Edward Blyden, Alexander Crummell, Henry McNeal Turner, through to Marcus Garvey, appealed to many of the newcomers to the Civil Rights Movement (CRM).  They had begun to realize the nature of their relationship with the United States, that is a colonial relationship that was never designed to allow for true advancement for its captives.  They may have not expressed their feelings in those terms but that was certainly the sentiment.  The early CRM was primarily a southern driven one where attitudes and problems of the South were what governed the actions taken.  But by 1965 when 80% of the African population lived in cities and 50% were in the North attitudes changed.  As Julius Lester wrote:
Now it is over.  America has had chance after chance to show that it really meant “that all men are endowed with certain inalienable rights.”… Now it is over.  The days of singing freedom songs and the days of combating bullets and billy clubs with love… Nothing kills a nigger like too much love.13

And at the forefront of this sentiment was Malcolm X.

Early on it was Communism and not Black Nationalism that threatened the American establishment.  But this would change as Malcolm began to split with the NOI and expand his own political ideology.  At this point he began to attract more and more attention from grassroots organizers and Civil Rights activists.  Clayborne Carson explains that as Malcolm began to become more of a free thinker after 1963-1964 his agenda began to merge with a new militant youth movement that had already begun in the CRM.14
This was when Malcolm and young militants within the CRM began to challenge the old establishment of African leaders.  Malcolm had long been critical of civil rights leaders but he was now free of the constraints placed on him by Elijah Muhammad and the NOI.  He began to not only be critical of leadership but made his criticisms ring louder by backing them with active work of his own and by showing a willingness to engage in dialogue with and become supportive of those he criticized.  Whereas once the NOI had forbidden direct involvement with the political movements of the times Malcolm was now free to engage and engage he did.  He shared a speaking engagement with A. Philip Randolph, debates with leaders of the NAACP, Bayard Rustin and wrote several invitations to Martin Luther King, Jr. that initially were all refused.15  Malcolm had now begun to truly popularize a theoretical, practical and political plan of action that would influence for years to come the BPM in all its variations.


As mentioned, the CRM was experiencing radical change as many became aware of their colonial status.  In a chapter titled “Turning Point, 1963: The Year of De Lawd” Debbie Louis explains the transfer of attitude in the CRM movement to more radical nationalist tones.  She explains that up until 1963 the CRM had proven itself incomplete as far as addressing all the concerns facing a colonized people. Several realities began to gain acceptance.  It became clear to many that at that point the CRM had proven to be little more than a middle class movement, not something for the masses of poor African people.  It became clear that the government was not as concerned with improving or enforcing the rights it felt did (and do) not belong to captives, that vicious white responses were systemic rather than simply systematic and that grassroots organizing and thought was quickly becoming the dominant trend.  Quoting Whitney Young, Jr. Louis writes that, “the opening of a restroom in a Southern airport couldn’t mean less to the lower class Negro.” The focus now was on “fundamental social, political and economic change.”16


The 1963 March on Washington became the symbol many needed to see to realize just such a reality.  As Louis notes, Malcolm was spokesperson for a more militant element who were the original planners of the march that was supposed to be “on” Washington not merely “in” Washington.17 Malcolm explained how the march was co-opted by wealthy white leaders in order to pacify what was supposed to be a movement that crippled Washington, DC, but became little more than a peaceful gathering.  He made it clear that John F. Kennedy, and Stephen Currier got the civil rights leadership, the Big Six, together and paid them $1.5 million to take control over the march.  He would say, “they didn’t integrate it, they infiltrated it.”18 Interestingly enough, someone to whom he was diametrically opposed supported Malcolm’s version of events. Kennedy’s then White House advisor, Arthur Schlesinger would write a strikingly similar account in his work A Thousand Days.19 This was more than enough for many, particularly young up and coming militants, the time was ripe for change.


It was at this point that the organization that would become the voice of Black Power in the United States would meet its ideological father.  In 1964 the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was the most militant of the civil rights organizations and was becoming increasingly frustrated with the purely nominal gains being won by the movement.  John Lewis, a member of SNCC and veteran of the CRM, had during the March On Washington his own voice censored when he was made to remove parts of his speech that were critical of the American government and that supported more militant action.20 This may have made him warm to the thought of a Malcolm X.  And as it happened both he and Kwame Toure, another young member of SNCC who was fast growing tired of the direction of the struggle, would in the same year of 1964 meet Malcolm X and have their views on him change.


One of the aspects of the philosophy Malcolm helped develop was its pan-African and/or global perspective.  This would be of extreme importance to Malcolm and the subsequent BPM.  This belief took Malcolm on several occasions to the African continent where, oddly enough, he would meet John Lewis and other members of SNCC and begin to have a direct link and influence over that organization.  Not only had Malcolm begun to influence the thought of Africans in America he had a similar affect on Africans on the continent.  While in Ghana, only a few days after Malcolm had left, John Lewis told that after meeting with some Africans there he had been alerted to Malcolm’s international influence. Lewis had been told that, “look, you guys might really be doing something – I don’t know, but if you are to the right of Malcolm, you might as well start packing right now, ‘cause no one’ll listen to you.”21 After meeting Malcolm later in Kenya Lewis reported that there would be an attempt to increase involvement with each other’s organizations.  Lewis writes, “we departed with Malcolm giving us some contacts and the hope that there would be greater communication between {Malcolm’’ Organization for Afro-American Unity OAAU} and SNCC.”22


It is this sort of influence that led to Malcolm X becoming a prime target of government espionage and tyranny culminating in his assassination on February 21, 1965.  By this time the FBI had altered its view on Black Nationalism and made it and its followers a primary target of their Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO).  Malcolm had successfully internationalized the struggle linking the African struggle to those on the continent, Central and South America and in Vietnam.  He had reorganized the movement to cover all aspects of struggle. He attacked on an international capitalist power structure, he called for a nationalist self-reliant movement for all African people, he called for self-love, pride and an emphasis on the importance of historical consciousness and awareness.  He made it clear that African people would be made free “by any means necessary.”  This was his clarion call to those who realize then and now that, as Clayborne Carson notes, “all effective political movement combine elements of persuasion and coercion.”23


Malcolm X’s influence over the lives of those who would attempt to carry on his legacy after his death was profound.  Perhaps no other organization adhered to his philosophy more than the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the words of one of its founders summarize that reality well.  In the second paragraph to Seize the Time, the work describing the origins of the BPP, Bobby Seale explains the importance of Malcolm’s legacy to that organization.  He writes that after word of Malcolm’s death came down he said, “fuck it, I’ll make my own self into a motherfucking Malcolm X, and if they want to kill me, they’ll have to kill me.”24


Malcolm X would set the tone that echoed throughout the subsequent BPM and that would catch the eye and in some ways influence a similar movement burgeoning thousands of miles away.  As young militants in South Africa began to emerge under a new political strategic philosophy of Black Consciousness a theoretical bridge had been built connecting the likes of Frantz Fanon to Malcolm X, to Steve Biko.


Though the two never met in person, Malcolm X and Steve Biko did meet on a theoretical plain.  Both men would independently read works such as Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth whose words opposing colonial regimes certainly had a similar affect on both anti-colonial leaders.  More directly though was the fact that Biko himself, rising to political leadership in the years after Malcolm’s death, became well versed in the literature of the African struggle in America.  He read Malcolm’s Autobiography, Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice and Kwame Toure and Charles Hamilton’s Black Power.25  Through literature and ideology the two men were tightly linked.


This link began to develop as Biko’s politics did.  Through his early days of organizing he encountered a radical pastor named Basil Moore.  Moore who had been following Black Power developments in America felt that it meshed well with the BCM in South Africa.  Moore was particularly drawn, as Biko would later become, to the Black Power spin-off of Black Theology, a movement led primarily by James Cone whose message was essentially that the African struggle must relate “the forces of liberation to the essence of the {Christian} gospel, which is Jesus Christ.”26 Biko would later ask for as much material on Black Power as could be brought to him27 recognizing the powerful similarities between both colonial conditions and the means by which they could combat them.


Just as Malcolm represented those frustrated with a CRM that had been in their minds bought off and pacified so to did Steve Biko represent youthful militants whose patience with South Africa’s repressive government was near an end and whose previous leadership had been quieted.  By the early 1960s Africans had suffered much violence at the hands of the white regime of which the Sharpeville massacre is but one example.  In addition, both major resistance movements in South African, the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) had been banned leaving a relative “political vacuum”28 open for something new. Also like the emergence of the BPM the BCM came as a result of many Africans in South Africa desiring a break from white dominated social movements and moving towards thoughts of nationalism.


Sipho Buthelezi writes that, “there are few, if any, historical examples of students successfully leading major movements of social change.”29 Depending on how one defines “successful” there are two major exceptions to this rule.  He mentions one, the South African Students Organization (SASO) which became the fountainhead of Black Consciousness and a leading political organization that ran independently from older organizations.  The other, which he does not mention until later, is SNCC in the United States that became the fountainhead of Black Power and also ran independently of older organizations.  Both movements were student inspired and represented refusals of previous ways of struggle.


SASO began as a movement to bring about African independence in struggle from the multiracial National Union of South African Students (NUSAS).  Early 1960s attempts at forming all-Black student organizations failed and NUSAS was left as the leading student organization.  However, like multiracial organization in America whites found themselves in almost all leadership positions to the dismay of a growing number of African people.  Because NUSAS had its power base on white campuses like Rhodes University and the University of Witwatersrand, whites usually ended up in positions of leadership so when it sought to speak out for non-white campuses it did so from a largely uniformed position.30


SASO, formed in 1968, became the vessel through which its first president Steve Biko could relay the message of Black Consciousness.  Black Consciousness was meant to address what Biko felt were the two greatest problems facing Africans in South Africa; white racism and African acceptance of oppression.  Whites were all benefactors of a white supremacist system yet white liberals continued to presume that they were best prepared to speak on behalf of oppressed African people and sought to lead these poor downtrodden Africans to liberation. This, as the case in the United States, was unacceptable to Biko, as it was unacceptable to those coming to power in the BPM in America.


When faced with accusations of being a racist for wanting to have an all African liberation movement Biko responded by defining racism as “discrimination by a group against another for the purposes of subjugation. In other words one cannot be a racist unless he has the power to subjugate.”31 This is astoundingly similar to the definition Kwame Toure and Charles Hamilton would come to in their seminal 1967 work Black Power.  They would write that, “by ‘racism’ we mean the predication of decisions and policies on considerations of race for the purpose of subordinating a racial group and maintaining control over that group.”32
Secondly, Biko felt that African acquiescence to white domination was equally troublesome.  This was among the primary focuses of Black Consciousness, to alert Africans to their own strength, history and culture.  Biko would explain that, “we cannot be conscious of ourselves and yet remain in bondage.”33 Just as John Henrik Clarke would say, himself having served in Malcolm X’s “historical cabinet,” that “a historically conscious people cannot be oppressed,”34 Biko realized this and sought to make consciousness his major emphasis.  To this end he even felt that political organization could wait.  Consciousness had to be fostered before there could be any political organizing or, he felt, what was organized may not be fruitful.35


One difference between the development of the BCM and the BPM that is interesting to note is that Malcolm had similar thoughts on consciousness but was in a slightly different environment.  Though Malcolm was concerned with consciousness and proper direction in struggle once free from the NOI he moved immediately into creating the Organization for Afro-American Unity (OAAU) to address the political needs of his people.  This is most likely a result of there being far more open political activity in America than there was in Biko’s South Africa at the time SASO came into being.  With the ANC and PAC banned and no other major political movement actively working perhaps Biko’s strategy was more viable than it would have been in America.  With no organizations being openly active Biko may have felt a tactical withdraw in order to build a solid consciousness was best, whereas this would have surely failed in the openly active and political American environment.


As mentioned earlier, Malcolm’s pan-Africanist viewpoint forced him to connect the struggle of Africans in the United States to the struggles of all Africans and oppressed people worldwide.  This philosophy influenced directly SNCC and indirectly (perhaps through SNCC and the BPM) SASO and the BCM.  As C.R.D. Halisi writes, “each in its own way {SASO and SNCC}, these two student organizations were largely responsible for internationalizing the concept of black power.”36 Summarizing the similarities between the two groups Halisi offers several factors the two had in common.


Halisi notes that both SASO and SNCC had once been united with liberal whites but that both would later abandon that philosophy for a self-reliant nationalist one.  Where also the two groups had gained much of their support from segregated college campuses their leadership had come from people who had multiracial coalition backgrounds.  Both groups “formed an ideological bond” based on their common stance against racial domination and their ability to link their respective African struggles to the larger one of the Diaspora.  Halisi makes the extremely important point that while there was no formal link between SASO and SNCC by their mere existence each influenced and supported the other.  This cannot be under-appreciated.  It illustrates the reality that just by struggling where one is she/he may enlighten, inspire and influence others to do the same.  Finally, Halisi explains that, “the identification of the Black American students with African liberation was in part revitalized by Malcolm X’s fervent belief in ‘linking the national struggle to the international one.’”37


Both Malcolm X and Steve Biko were uncompromising, incorruptible figures in the history of the African struggle which has been largely underway since Columbus’ time (invasions of Kemet and Eastern Africa from the earliest times of recorded history notwithstanding).  Their deaths remain shrouded in mystery. Where Malcolm’s assassins remain in prison despite the many unanswered questions about their actual involvement and the roles of the FBI, CIA and the New York City police department, those involved in the assassination of Steve Biko who was killed in police detention (it was nevertheless an assassination!) have since been pardoned (in 1997) as result of their testimony before South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.38 However, this has done little to explain the true nature of why he was killed and to that extent his death remains mysterious.


Both men were killed because they spoke to the heart of the matter.  Both were relentless in their pursuit of true material and spiritual improvement for their people in the hopes that this would bring about the same for all humankind.  As Biko wrote, “any form of political freedom which does not touch on the proper distribution of wealth will be meaningless.”39 Likewise, Malcolm, in his own oratorical style, said nearly the same thing several years earlier.  He explained that, “I’m not going to sit at your table and watch you eat, with nothing on my plate, and call my self a diner.  Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on that plate.”40 Biko would go on to say that, “people are prepared to use any means to attain their aspirations.”41 This is, of course, clearly influenced by the statement made famous by Malcolm that Africans in America would have their rights “by any means necessary!”


Their refusal to acquiesce, settle for legislative promises, work with those not dedicated to allowing Africans the freedom to lead and govern themselves along with the willingness and foresight of these men to connect their struggle to others worldwide made it impossible for those oppressing African people to leave them to continue their work.  Their work remains unfinished and it falls upon those of us still here to pick up where they left off and to continue.

1 Comment

  1. The Black Consciousness and Pan Africanism are closely intertwined and you cannot speak about one with speaking and referring to the other. The only difference is that one emphasizes the land and material acquisitions, whilst the other is its complimentary fusion that emphasizes the psychological and cultural elements of Black Liberation ideology. But in practice the two liberation nuances are indistinguishable two sides of the same coin.

    My point is that today both the material and psychological liberation forces of Africanism are beset with neoliberalism and imperialism and as such they should themselves disambiguate the role of both capitalist and working classes Africans in activating and enlivening pan africanism and black Consciousness. Therefore Until a direct call is made and revolutionary action is taken against the African bourgeoisie conspirators and their imperialists apologists from our people, we will never see Socialist black power or African communist state in par with or surpassing the west or the east nations. In order to achieve this clarity of class antagonism and war against capitalists that are black or white, we will have to point our ideological arsonals unequivocally against our African capitalists, in the same way we fight western or eastern imperialists. If you agree with me then there is no better tool of class war than Marxism and Communism, call it African Working Class Dictatorship if you like.

    We should therefore not speak about pan africanism and black consciousness outside the philosophical purview of socialism and its inevitable war against its mortal enemies, African or white or blue capitalists.

    Leave any exclusion and denuding of Marxism from our own working class liberation ideology to your lost counterparts, the captured black Bourgeois, because it serves them well!

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