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Black Consciousness Movement

    The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) was a movement which called for non-violent black resistance to the National Party government's apartheid regime in South Africa In contrast to organized political groups such as the African National Congress the South African Communist Party and the Pan-African Congress The BCM was not a single party but rather a loose grouping of intellectuals artists and activists united in ideology Like those groups the BCM had its roots in the South African Student Organization (SASO) The group was the motivating force behind the 1976 Soweto riots

    Steve Biko and the formation of a black man's consciousness

    The Black Consciousness Movement started to develop during the late 1960's The movement was led by Steve Biko a black medical student and Barney Pityana Unlike ANC leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Albert Lutuli Biko was could not be said to be a discible of Gandhi On the contrary Biko followed the lead of Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire in his concern for the exestential struggles which shape existance both as a human and as an African (see Negritude) His aim then was to restore black consciousness and African conciousness which he felt was lost under colonialism
    Biko saw the struggle to restore African conciousness as having two stages "Psychological liberation" and "Physical liberation" The non-violent influence of Gandhi and Martin Luther King upon Biko is then suspect as Biko knew that for his struggle to give rise to physical liberation it was necessary that it exist within the political realities of the apartheid regime and Biko's non-violence may be seen more as a tactic than a personal conviction Thus Biko's BCM had much in common with other left-wing African nationalist movements of the time such as Amilcar Cabral's PAIGC and Huey Newton's Black Panther Party


    Biko began gathering like minded people to discuss the praxis (or implementation into practice) of these ideas One of the major events that helped to spark the Black Consciousness movement was the Sharpeville Massacre of March 1960 The event caused many blacks to start considering active resistance to apartheid
    The Black Consciousness Movement was a movement which called for black pride resistance to the policy of Apartheid freedom of speech and more rights for South African blacks who were oppressed by the white Apartheid regime The group defined black to include other "people of color" in South Africa most notably the large number of Indians The movement stirred many blacks to "wake up" to the reality of Apartheid seeking "not black visibility but real black participation"
    The gains it made were widespread across South Africa Blacks finally felt a sense of pride to be black and the movement helped to squash the inferiority complex that was felt by many blacks at the time The group formed Formation Schools to provide leadership seminars and placed a great importance on decentralization and autonomy with no person serving as president for more than one year (although Biko was clearly the primary leader of the movement)
    The Black Consciousness Movement was the inspiration behind the protests against apartheid which led to the Soweto Riots The protests began when it was decreed that black students be forced to learn Afrikaans and that many secondary school classes were to be taught in that language The protest began as a non-violent demonstration before police opened fire on the crowd killing hundreds of youths
    The movement's actions led to the imprisonment of Steve Biko who became a symbol of the struggle Biko died in police custody on September 12 1977 It should be noted that Steve Biko was a non-violent activist even though the movement he helped start eventually took up violent resistance White newspaper editor Donald Woods supported the movement and Biko whom he had befriended by leaving South Africa and exposing the truth behind Biko's death at the hands of police by publishing the book Biko
    In the wake of the Soweto Riots and Steve Biko's death many leaders of the movement joined the more mainstream ANC rejecting the loose structure of the organization along with its radical and Marxist tendancies One month after Biko's death the South African government declared 17 groups associated with the Black Consciousness Movement to be illegal although organizations heavily influenced by BCM continued to exist and be created including the Azanian People's Organization (AZAPO) which included Bishop Desmond Tutu

    Black Consciousness in literature

    A major field of The Black Consciousness Movement was literature Many writers and black intellectuals worked hard in the academic and philosophical area A number of writers wrote poems decribing the frustration they felt This poem by James Mathews is an example of these feelings:
    Freedom's child
    You have been denied too long
    Fill your lungs and cry rage
    Step forward and take your rightful place
    You are not going to grow up knocking at the back door


    This poem by an unknown author has a rather confrontational look:
    Black man Black nation
    Arise arise from the slumber
    Prepare yourself for war!
    We are about to start

    Mandlenkosi Langa's poem: "Banned for Blackness" also calls for black resistance :
    Look up, black man quit stuttering and shuffling
    Look up, black man quit whining and stooping
    raise up your black fist in anger and vengeance

    Related groups

    • African National Congress
    • South African Communist Party
    • Pan-African Congress
    • South African Student Organization
    • South African Student's Movement
    • Black People's Convention
    • Black Allied Worker's Union

    See also

    • Apartheid
    • Steve Biko

    External links


    1. Companion to African Philosophy edited by Kwasi Wiredu William E. Abraham Abiola Irele Ifeanyi A. Menkiti Blackwell Publishing (2003)
    2. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience edited by Kwame Anthony Appiah Henry Louis Gates (1999) Basic Civitas Books
    3. John Brewer After Soweto: An Unfinished Journey Oxford: Clarendon Press (1986)