Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa

The landscape of Black political activity in the 1960s was a very different one from that of the previous decade. The apartheid government had shattered the Black resistance movements, in particular the African National Congress. Those Black leaders who were not imprisoned by the state, fled into exile. A barrage of restrictive legislation, effectively silenced Black opposition through bannings, arrests, and imprisonment of leaders. South Africa's economy grew and for White South Africans, life was good. For Black South Africans, the suffering continued.

Ironically the seeds of Black resistance in the 60s could be found at the 'bush campuses', like those at the University of the North and Zululand University. These institutions, created under the Extension of University Education Act, Act 45 of 1959, became the breeding ground of Black resistance which was to become a force in the 1970's. Influenced by the American Black Power movement, the likes of Malcolm X , and closer to home Frantz Fanon, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyere and Kwame Nkrumah, a new framework of student thinking emerged. The White- dominated National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) was seen as an obstacle rather than a help to the cause of Black students. In 1968, a group of students, a decision was made to break away from NUSAS and in 1969, the South African Students Organisation (SASO) was formed under the leadership of Steve Biko. The emergence of SASO, arguably, gave Black political resistance a much needed foundation in the forced-absence of other liberation organizations.

It main features were

  • That race was the source of continuing struggle in SA and for Black people a reinterpretation of the meaning of blackness,

  • The psychological liberation of the black man, in that the most potent tool in the hands of the oppressor is the minds of the oppressed;

  • The principle of non-violence. Moral superiority, as opposed to armed struggle would bring about change;

  • A rejection of White liberalism as even the best intentioned could never understand the suffering of Blacks;

  • That the history of South Africa needed to be re-written I order for Black dignity to be restored;

  • The influence of Black Theology as the Black man's faith must be retained in order to bolster his resistance to oppression

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