Black Consciousness Movement of Azania (BCMA)
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The Black Consciousness Movement of Azania (BCMA) was the external arm of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), and had offices in Botswana, England, the United States, Canada, France, Belgium and Germany. The aftermath of the June 16 unrest in Soweto witnessed thousands of students leaving South Africa to join liberation organisations (primarily the ANC and the PAC) based in Southern Africa.
The Context: Funding and the Battle for the Soul of Black Consciousness
The Black People’s Convention, the political wing of the BCM and the counterpart of the South African Students Organisation (SASO), decided to set up an external wing outside the country. Offices were first established in Botswana under the leadership of Ranwedzi Harry Nengwekhulu. It was here that the BCMA faced more formidable obstacles in its recruitment drive because the ANC was well established and the exiled Soweto Students Representative Council (SSRC), led by the charismatic Tsietsi Mashinini, commanded the support and following of the majority of students.
The decision to establish an external wing was fraught with difficulties notably ideological and other differences that surfaced between the BC activists and their counterparts in the ANC and PAC. By this time, the older liberation organisations had achieved a degree of relative stability, the ANC more so than the PAC. Tensions between the movements were not only determined by ideological differences but also by competition for resources and recognition from states that were sources of funding and support.
While the PAC had initially secured a greater degree of support from newly independent African countries in the 1960s, by the mid-1970s the ANC was on the ascendancy, recognised by various states where they established bases for military training and insurgent operations. It is significant that the growth of the ANC in Africa in the 1960s is often attributed to Tenyson Makiwane, who later defected to join the government of Independent Transkei
The ANC also had well-established networks, linked to international anti-apartheid movements, in Europe and the US. Through its organisational and structural ties to the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), its cadres received training and support from the Soviet Union. In this context, the decision by BPC to establish a separate political formation was viewed with wariness by the ANC, which tended to regard the new grouping as a possible ‘Third Force’ that would be susceptible to Western imperialist influences.
The BC activists, on the other hand, were motivated by concerns that sprang from their philosophical orientation as well as from their critiques of the ANC and PAC. Life in the ANC camps, many found, was difficult and full of hardships, and the strict hierarchies of military life sat uncomfortably with a generation that valued spontaneity and the critical consciousness espoused by BC theorists such as Biko.
It is significant that following the Soweto Revolt of 1976, contestation for both membership and legitimacy between the ANC and the PAC intensified. Each, claiming to be the legitimate representatives of the masses, sought to grow their membership by recruiting thousands of exiled students. And yet it is BCMA that could, with justification, claim exiled students as their constituency. But BCMA was slow off the starting blocks, taking four years after the uprising to formally launch itself as liberation movement in exile. By this time the South African Youth Revolutionary Council (SAYRCO), claiming to be the legitimate representative of exiled youth and the poisoned arrow head in the struggle against apartheid, had already been launched.
Already the SSRC, led by Khotso Seathlolo after Mashinini had been expelled from the movement, had set up SAYRCO in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, during the Easter weekend of 1979. That SAYRCO’s founding conference was held in Lusaka is curious, as Zambia was known to recognise only the ANC as the legitimate South African liberation movement. Only Nigeria recognised the body as a legitimate anti-apartheid formation. Mashinini was viewed with suspicion by the ANC after he expressed scepticism of both the ANC and the PAC.
Black Consciousness philosophy allowed for a variety of interpretations and strategies to oppose apartheid, and the movement itself had a changing relation to concepts such as class struggle and socialism. Some within the movement were committed socialists, while others used the philosophy to justify a Black entrepreneurial spirit. And SAYRCO, proclaiming itself to be an essentially BCM formation and keen on working with former BCM activists, occupied an ambivalent position about its commitment to class struggle and defined the struggle in racial terms.
Some BC organisations had links with forces that the ANC and PAC regarded with suspicion. According to social scientists such as Davies, O’ Meara and Dlamini, the Black Allied Workers Union (BAWU), a BC initiative, received funding from the AFL-CIO, the US labour organisation, and BAWU secretary general Drake Koka ‘had strong links with various social-democratic organisations in Europe, and particularly, West Germany’.
Davies, O’ Meara and Dlamini regard the period between the Soweto uprising and the banning of the BC organisations in October 1977 as the ‘high point’ of the BC movement. The period, they contend, ‘intensified attempts by various imperialist interests to turn the BCM into a “third force”, as an alternative to the ANC and PAC. While it would be untrue to suggest that these forces in any way controlled the Black Consciousness movement, the Geneva-based International University Exchange Fund in particular gave the BC movement a great deal of support as part of its “third force” strategy.’
From the beginning then, the decision to establish external bases was viewed with suspicion, and presented Western powers with possibilities to co-opt BC activists and temper their left leanings.
The Branches and their Activities
Davies, O’ Meara and Dlamini state that ‘in 1979 the Black Consciousness Movement of South Africa was formed in London, later changing its name to the BCM of Azania’. However recent research indicates that the BCM had started operating before 1979.
Marothodi, C., (2006), “Black consciousness in South Africa”, from World Socialis, [online] Available at:ww.worldsocialism.org/articles/black_consciousness_in_south.php [Accessed on 25 January 2012)
- Overcoming Apartheid, building democracy, "Black Consciousnedss" [online] Available at:overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/multimedia.php?id=28