Stephen (Steve) Bantu Biko was the most prominent leader of the Black Consciousness Movement although the movement was made what it was not by him alone. The movement was encouraged by the discontent of students into a political force unparalleled in the history of South Africa. The developments that emerged in the culmination of apartheid led Biko together with his peers to respond with philosophical edifications as a fighting tool. Biko was a member of the SRC at University of Natal (Non-European section), first president of SASO, Chair of SASO Publications, Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) leader, and banned person, political prisoner which led to his death in police detention.
The arrest of Black Consciousness leaders in Durban and all over the country was preceded by the banning of the pro-Frelimo Currie’s Fountain Rally organised by Black Peoples Convention (BPC) and South African Student Organisation (SASO) to celebrate the acknowledgment of Frelimo as the genuine government of Mozambique in September 1974 while a rally organised by Portuguese in Johannesburg to protest against Frelimo was allowed to take place without any official interference. The Black Consciousness leaders were charged but 4 were subsequently discharged either before the trial began or early in its course months before they were held without trial in solitary confinement in Pretoria. The trail of these leaders dragged on through most of 1975 and all of 1976 and was concluded with nine of the leaders being found guilty of one or more charges under the Terrorism Act which amounted to a minimum sentence of five years; some had sentences of six years on Robben Island.
During his trail Steve Biko gave a brief explanation of the link between SASO and the Black Consciousness Movement. He said “SASO is a black student organization working for the liberation of the black man first from psychological oppression by themselves through inferiority complex and secondly from the physical one accruing out of living in a white racist society”. Biko was asked by the defense lawyer Advocate David Soggot to explain the concept of Black Consciousness in relation to SASO and he said:
“I think basically Black Consciousness refers itself to the black man and to his situation, and I think the black man is subjected to two forces in this country. He is first of all oppressed by an external world through institutionalised machinery, through laws that restrict him from doing certain things, through heavy work conditions, through poor pay, through very difficult living conditions, through poor education, these are all external to him, and secondly, and this we regard as the most important, the black man in himself has developed a certain state of alienation, he rejects himself, precisely because he attaches the meaning white to all that is good, in other words he associates good and he equates good with white. This arises out of his living and it arises out of his development from childhood.”
The quintessence of Black Consciousness according to Steve Biko is the awakening of the black man’s understanding of the significance of “the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their operation, the blackness of their skin and to operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.” The Black Consciousness philosophy aims to make evident that the perpetuation of the conception that blackness is an aberration from the “normal” which is white is a lie invented to rescind all forms of black confidence. This Philosophy maintains that showing no gratitude by being in a hunt for the white man’s approval, the black men insults “whoever created them black” and it seeks to show the appreciation of the deliberateness of God’s plan in creating black people black. Black Consciousness is the realisation of the black man’s pride in him, his value system, his culture, his belief and his attitude on life.
Steve Biko argued that the struggle for emancipation cannot be separated from the consciousness of the self. He theorized that seeking to reform the system is equivalent to the “acceptance of the major points around which the system revolves.” Thus black people must refrain from such undertakings. He suggested that black people must be encouraged to transform the system completely and make of it as they wish hence there first needs to be present the realisation of the black man’s consciousness.
The Black Consciousness Movement’s philosophical grounds are relevant to the South African society to date. There is still a need for the black man to realise the essence of elevating his own position “by positively looking at those value systems that make him distinctively a man in society.” There is still a need for the eradication of the cultural and other forms of dominance of the particular group which are now in power. The words of Steve Biko should continue to inspire the black man to seek that which he deserves. It is imperative that we understand that:
“The philosophy of Black Consciousness therefore expresses group pride and the determination of the black to rise and attain the envisaged self. Freedom is the ability to define oneself with one’s possibilities held back not by the power of other people over one but only by one’s relationship to God and to natural surroundings. On his own, therefore, the black man wishes to explore his surroundings and test his possibilities, in other words to make his freedom real by whatever means he deems fit. At the heart of this kind of thinking is the realisation by blacks that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. If one is free at heart, no manmade chains can bind one to servitude, but if one’s mind is so manipulated and controlled by the oppressor as to make the oppressed believe that he is a liability to the white man, then there will be nothing the oppressed can do to scare his powerful masters. Hence thinking along lines of Black Consciousness makes the black man see himself as a being complete in himself. It makes him less dependent and more free to express his manhood. At the end of it all he cannot tolerate attempts by anybody to dwarf the significance of his manhood.”