TODAY marks 41 years since the sad passing of Steve Bantu Biko. He was beaten to a point of brain damage, leading to his death in a cell, naked and alone in shackles.
But despite his gruesome death, Biko shines through the history books as the founding father of Black Consciousness.
Black Consciousness stood against black self-hate, the eagerness to please white people, the inferiority of blacks in the presence of Caucasians and the inherent belief that everything white is right and that black is wrong. Among many other things.
In the past few years, there’s been a growing sense of pro-blackness among black people all over the world over.
Whether it’s through the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, the EFF bringing back the conversation around land in Mzansi, South Africans’ growing appreciation for fellow Africans on the continent and in the diaspora or even blacks being conscious of the importance of supporting each other. These goings-on are inspired directly or indirectly, by the words Biko spoke nearly 50 years ago, .
Black people are being fortified by his words. Words he uttered because he liked it, but also because it was and still is important that black people hear them. It’s really mind-bending that he was just 29 when he died.
Here are some of Biko’s finest quotes:
“The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. So as a prelude whites must be made to realise that they are only human, not superior. Same with Blacks. They must be made to realise that they are also human, not inferior.”
“I would like to remind the black ministry, and indeed all black people, that God is not in the habit of coming down from heaven to solve people’s problems on earth.”
“What Black Consciousness seeks to do is to produce real black people who do not regard themselves as appendages to white society. We do not need to apologise for this because it is true that the white systems have produced through the world a number of people who are not aware that they too are people.”
“Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.”
“Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time.”
“It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realize that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality.”
“It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die.”
“You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can’t care anyway.”
“People must not give in to hardships of life. People must develop hope.”
KASI lama kasi can never be a hood’s nickname. Everyone rightfully punts their neighbourhood as the coolest black area. But each township in South Africa has a nickname, approved by its people, which sometimes ties to the history of the place.
I was chilling with a fella this past weekend who told me he was from Vutha. You know when you’ve heard something before, but don’t know exactly know what it is. I went blank and asked where that is. “It’s Daveyton,” he said.
“Because it was the first township in Gauteng to get electricity,” he said. I thought he was bullshitting me, really. I’ve met many people who’ll talk-up their hoods, to a point of which they get frustratingly economical with the truth. But after doing some research, I found that, what he said is true.
Established in 1952, after about 151,656 people were moved from Benoni, to what we know today as Vutha or Etwatwa. It was indeed, the first black area to access ugesi.
The president of the Greater Alexandra Chamber of Commerce (Galxcoc), Mpho Motsumi last year bemoaned to the media, while taking them around the construction site of the R500-million Alex Mall in Tsutsumani Village. What got the business man cranky, was that people still call Alex, Gomorrah- ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ a biblical reference of place linked to hell because of the prevalence of debauchery in the area. Rappers like Flabba popularised the name in recent times, but it’s been a name associated with the township for decades now. There was a time when Alex had a high crime rate, a coupled with the lawless gangsterism that was in the area-despite political movements happening there.
Some nicknames aren’t linked to the township’s past, but are just tweaked so to make the place a tad bit cooler. I’m not certain whether it was a collective agreement but, shortening hood names seems to be the winning formula in most parts of Pretoria. For Mamelodi there’s Mams, Soshanguve which is situated on the north is commonly known as Sosha, even to us who don’t call it home. While the ‘Ga’ in Ga-Rankuwa seems a waste of two precious seconds, so Rankuwa is the more efficient one for residents.
Sowetans have also opted for something similar. Calling the south western townships Sotra. While the number of townships within that area, have nicknames of their own. Guguletu in Cape Town also just switched the swag and just called it, Gugs.
In KwaZulu-Natal, KwaMashu is nicknamed Es’nqawunqawini while Clermont is known as Es’komplazi. Ekurhuleni Township Tsakane, which is a Tsonga word for happiness and joy, is nicknamed Mashona.
If Tembisa was a gang, those thugs would tattoo 1632 on their bodies. What is it? Tembisa’s postal code my friend. Insipid as a postal code is, the youth in Tembisa, particularly those in the Hip Hop community, popularised it in the mid-90s. Tembisa’s older generation and also those who aren’t in the Hip Hop community,still prefer to call it Mambisa. Other hoods that have gone with the number are Kagiso with 1754, Thokoza 1421 or Vosloorus’s 1425. I’ve found that this is a trend, also adopted by Hip Hop heads in other hoods. A random person doesn’t say they are from 1563, they simply say they are from KwaThema, or just Thema.
The common thread in all these townships, sadly is that they were formed after black people were forcefully removed from some areas, to be crammed in one place right near their modern day fields of slavery. But black people have taken what was meant to trap and prison them, and found the beauty in it.
How does one begin to commemorate a giant such as the late Veronica Sobukwe?
A woman whose contribution and selfless sacrifices have been erased and hidden from the public eye, so much so that we know her only as a wife rather than the strong, resilient and fighting activist that she truly was.
Born on July 27 in 1972, Zondeni Veronica Mathe was born in Hlobane (now known as Kwa-Zulu natal).
Her contribution to the liberation struggle began in her youth, where she was at the forefront of championing a labour dispute between nurses and hospital management. At the time she was a trainee nurse at the hospital and due to this strike she was expelled from Lovedale College, the (Fort-hare) ANCYL deployed Veronica to go and deliver a letter to Walter Sisulu informing him of the unhappy nurses and their cries. It was at this time that she and Robert Sobukwe, built a close bond, and in June of 1954 Veronica became Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe as she and Robert Sobukwe got married.
From the days of her youth, it is evident that Veronica cared about people more than she cared about herself. She continued to be the backbone and strength of the community, as she selflessly served and gave hope to the hopeless black community. Like many other unsung heroines, she carried the burden of a fatherless community on her back, she was the embodiment of courage to the women whose husbands were in prison or dead somewhere in South Africa.
Whilst being the strength of the community, she was raising her children, alone as her husband was in prison on Robben Island.
She was consistent in fighting a white-racist apartheid regime, and evidently so when she would challenge the government under the leadership of Voster and his collective, demanding the release of her husband and other prisoners. She wrote endless letters to the offices of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice, her letters were not only rejected they were ignored. She fought to keep the name and legacy of Robert Sobukwe alive.
During the TRC in 1997, she again challenged the apartheid regime, questioning the death of her husband. She believed that the government had poisoned his food and as a result caused his untimely passing. She was determined to fight for her husband.
It is heart-breaking that the names of great women such as Veronica, Albertina Sisulu, and Winnie Mandela are erased, that the history books in schools mention them as wives and mothers-that their immense contribution the liberation movement and the liberation of South Africa is downplayed.
Mma Sobukwe never turned a blind eye on the needs of the black people, and selflessly ensured that she did what she could to ensure that they were met.
Today we see her images flooding social media and the media at large, because the society we live in recognizes people when they’ve passed on. If only people could take time to truly get to understand her immense role in the struggle and fall in love with her downplayed legacy. If only young people could take upon the heavy baton she has now left behind.
Mma Sobukwe had to live in the time where she witnessed the freedom she fought for being tainted. Where young people are imprisoned and deprived of an education for fighting for equal and free education, where young girls live in fear of men in their own country and where children still live in fatherless and motherless households.
Mma Sobukwe has been consistently isolated and neglected, from the time her husband was imprisoned, to the time he was announced dead all the way to when she was announced dead, on August 15 2018 at the age of 91.
The Baton passed over (A letter to Veronica Mathe)
Oh Mama Azania, Imbi Lendawo, when you die they flood your images on social media but they failed to celebrate you when you were alive, they let your contribution and existence fade into thin air They ignored your sacrifices They feared the legacy you were to leave behind, the baton you would pass over to another generation of women
Your life teaches us to be women of courage, of fortitude, of resilience and of strength, to fight fire with fire, to fight fearless. uQinisile mbokodo
Mama Lendawo Imbi, you lived in a time where you witnessed the freedom you fought for bought at the price of gender based violence, and wrapped in patriarchy. Mama you witnessed the freedom of your people tainted by corruption and self-seeking leaders Mama you witnessed the black nation dying, the young people imprisoned for fighting for their educational rights, whilst rapists and criminals roam free. They failed to put in words your immense contribution The baton young women carry in their hands is heavy, but we will fight patriarchy, mama we will tackle, and champion gender based violence, we will expropriate the land.
May you stir up in us your courage, strength, selfless, compassionate and caring nature, to conquer, to challenge and to shake this world We will not weep for you, we will ensure your feared legacy continues to shake tectonic plates, we will ensure the history books don’t forget your name. Qhawekazi, siyaku bonga.- Boitumelo Thage
NEVER have we seen, at least in recent history, South African females channelling the spirit of the women in 1956 as they did yesterday with the Shutdown marches that took place throughout the country.
A noble initiative organised by ordinary women, that charged females in South Africa to shut down the country by staying away from work to march against women abuse that the country has disgustingly and embarrassingly gotten use to.
“…Only to have one of the female march marshals to say ‘Leave her, let’s go comrade’ and for the life of me I couldn’t fathom what she said….”
Whether you were in Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, Nelspruit or even Maseru in Lesotho- all women were invited to join this historic and important occasion. The marches were delivering 24 demands to the government, including President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Thousands of women were part of the procession in Pretoria, which Palesa Makua was part of. It had women gather at the old Putco depot, where they walked to the Union Buildings to leave their demands at the President’s office. Makua caught up with the march in town. “The atmosphere was so intense…heavy…somewhat triggering. Not merely the physical presence but also the virtual world made sure that we knew we were not the only one,” says Makua.
“I also imagined how the older generation eyabo Mama Lilian Ngoyi and her likes felt when they marched. Even though it was for a different cause but still, the fact that women stood together side by side was absolutely moving and heartfelt.”
There was adequate police presence that helped regulate traffic. But at the arrival to the Union Buildings, a scuffle broke out between police and women protesters. Protesters refused to hand over a memorandum to Minister Naledi Pandor on behalf of the government and demanded President Cyril Ramaphosa personally receive their demands.
Makua, who is also the founder of the Her Skin Speaks exhibitions, was disheartened by the inhumane act or lack of sympathy, by some of the women marching. En route to the Union Buildings, the marching females came across a woman from Venda who was robbed. “She was promised a job interview, only for it to be a scam. She had nothing but her qualifications with her.”
The traumatised lady was crying hysterically as Makua and her friend walked past her, then approached to find out what happened. “Only to have one of the female march marshals to say ‘Leave her, let’s go comrades’ and for the life of me I couldn’t fathom what she said. I mean, we are claiming to march for women who are victims and here is one, a practical example and we’re told ‘move along comrades’ I was so livid and sad. My friend gave her money to get home and we caught up with the march.” Makua says.
“To me, that showed just how much middle class these marches have become. Ignoring the primary women who are actual victims. Even the language we use to communicate our cries, does not accommodate women and children in the townships who had no idea what actually happened today.” Among those in attendance in Pretoria, was the mother of Thembisele Yende who was murdered at Eskom in 2017.
There were schisms days prior to the march between #Totalshutdown organisers and the ANC Women’s League Young desk. The Total Shut Down march organisers made it a prerequisite for women to be draped in black with a touch of red, to which if not heeded, you wouldn’t be able to be part of the march. The ANC women’s league young desk had apparently also planned a march for August first. The ruling party then proposed the idea to march together with the momentum-gaining Total shutdown, but instead they would wear ANC doeks with all black attire. That didn’t go well with the Shutdown group, as they are an apolitical movement that had strict rules against party regalia. Also, the Total Shutdown made it clear that no men should be part of this march, which the ANCWL also disagreed with.
The ANCWL march took place in Joburg, where ladies and some gents met at Constitutional Hill and marched to the Luthuli House in the CBD and also where a moment of silence was observed.
It’s rather disappointingly childish that one, who endorses the same policies you do, is barred from marching together with you merely because they are wearing different colours. Imagine Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates supporters, arguing about team colours on a march to the Premier Soccer League offices about how the league isn’t commemorating victims of the Ellis Park massacre.
A woman, who said she was ANC’s provincial secretary of the Women’s League in KwaZulu-Natal, was marching together with the Total Shutdown women in Durban. Speaking to the eNCA’s Dasen Thathiah, she said “Yesterday we spoke to them telling them, that this is a united march against gender based violence. [They] said no political regalia is allowed, but we told them that people are from different wards and different branches, some came with their regalia on.”
The sisters of Zolile Khumalo, the Mangosuthu University Of Technology student who was allegedly murdered by her boyfriend a few months ago, were also present in Durban to support the purposeful march.
Makua says another friend of hers, who was in Joburg was prevented from getting on one of the buses that picked people up from their various stations, to the meeting point. “…Just because she wasn’t dressed in black…what the hell is that?”
Except those little big things, Makua believes the march served its purpose. “I actually hope it did. Although we were marching, there were cases of some of the women we marched with, one car got broken into and another stolen. This to me, means even when we are trying to communicate with the male figure, they are still not interested.”
Like Moses who led the Israelites out of Egypt but never saw the promise land himself, so is the late Morgan Tsvangirai, who would’ve enjoyed casting his ballot together with millions of Zimbabweans in today’s historic election.
There was a time when the MDC leader was the only vocal critic of then president Robert Mugabe, when everyone else kept their silence in intimidation. Hearing current MDC leader, Nelson Chamisa’s bravado as he spoke after casting his vote, you get a clear picture of the stark difference between now and what took place a decade ago in that country when they had elections. “I represent the young and the new. My part is to play a positive role, in making sure that there’s peace in this country. Zimbabweans need peace, Zimbabweans need to build their nation. And I know that we’re winning this election…we have won this election, I’m here to confirm that we are ready to lead and ready to govern, we’re ready for a new Zimbabwe,” said Chamisa.
In the 2008 elections, Tsvangirai outpolled Mugabe by 48% to 43%. But Tsvangirai informed the electoral commission that he was withdrawing from the election after citing violence and the intimidation of MDC supporters. Threats of war, the participation of uniformed soldiers in Zanu-PF campaigns, the MDC’s lack of access to the state media, the banning and disruption of MDC meetings and rallies, the disenfranchisement of many voters, the barring of his party from rural areas and the electoral commission’s failure to ensure free and fair polls. Months later, the results came out that Zanu PF won the elections by 90%.
Tsvangirai said 86 people had been killed and 10 000 injured in the violence. About 10 000 homes had been destroyed, displacing 200 000 people.
Today’s elections have a different feel to them. International observers have the liberty to carry out their duties without any intimidation, while local and international media is free to cover every process of the election without looking over their shoulder.
There’s novelty to these elections, as it’s the first time in more than 30 years that former president Mugabe won’t be running for presidency after being removed from power last November by the army.
The aging Mugabe addressed the media yesterday outside his house, where he vehemently said that he wouldn’t vote for his former party Zanu PF. All this because party leader Emmerson Mnangagwa, worked together with the army to remove Mugabe from the presidential seat.
The door of change is opened from inside. And millions of Zimbabweans will have their hands on the door knob of change, as they cast their ballot in the country’s elections today. As a South African, I truly hope this election brings needed change to the people of Zim, as Tsvangirai had always dreamt.