Apartheid and Black Consciousness: An unexplored angle


by Joseph Secrève

The late 50’s and 60’s were interesting times worldwide. Dramatic shifts took place and people of various nations and convictions were busy experimenting with new identities and freedoms. An important milestone was the progressive decolonisation of Africa, and Africans themselves, some gleefully and others dauntingly, waited to see what would happen next.

Many sub-Saharan nations unfortunately fell into disarray shortly afterwards, marked by tribal war, mistrust, and virtual anarchy that followed after the abandonment of colonial rule. African tribesmen scrambled to lay their hands on industries left behind by their former colonial masters, and in no small measure were rival tribes killed off by the new black rulers, while often being hailed in the West as great liberators. Robert Mugabe’s killing spree of tens of thousands of Ndebeles serves as a case in point, albeit in the 1980’s.

Due to the unique history of the Afrikaners, South Africa did not follow the same route. Especially under National Party rule when Verwoerd became Prime Minister in 1958, the country took a turn for the better, becoming the second fastest growing economy in the world. This obviously did not go unnoticed and British journalist Lord William Deedes enviously remarked how Africa became poorer while South Africa – against all expectations – worked its way up the ladder to rank amongst formidable world powers.

Yet, regardless of all these developments, South Africa was not free from underlying skirmishes. Black liberation elsewhere inspired many black youths in South Africa to challenge white authority, and a foremost activist and founder of the black Consciousness Movement Stephen Bantu Biko was to become its martyr thanks to Helen Zille’s efforts.

A closer look at the works of Biko and especially his spiritual father, the Antillean psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, reveals a surprising peculiarity though. Fanon’s prime objective was to help blacks rediscover their true identity, which was alienated from them when they were caught up under colonial rule. To Fanon it was important that contact with whites should be avoided, as white influence had psychologically “emptied blacks out” and filled the void with white stereotypes of them; either the “good negro”, always obedient and smiling, or the “bad negro” being unpredictable and dangerous. Regardless of whether whites acted racist or altruistically towards blacks, both actions stem from a sense of white superiority, filling Africans with feelings of inferiority and apathy, reinforcing the notion that they are in a constant state of servitude with no authentic identity. This analysis by Fanon later led to Biko’s well-known slogan that the most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. This explains why Biko openly scoffed white liberals in his collected essays I Write What I Like, claiming their insincere love of Africans originates from enmity of their own fellow whites and not from a true understanding of the African. Liberals, Biko claimed, cared for Africans only if their own (white) interests weren’t at stake.

In his essay Black Skin White Masks, Fanon more fully expounded his weariness of interracial contact between blacks and whites, claiming that a woman of colour seen with a white man shows contempt for her own race, while a man of colour seen with a white woman longs to be white and seen as their equal. Either way, a healthy development of the African identity is compromised.

As one probably has surmised, there is not much difference between the thoughts expressed by the founders of Black Consciousness and those expressed by the New World Order’s public enemy number one, Hendrik Verwoerd.

Verwoerd’s speech which arguably had the most damning effect on him was his claim that there was no place for the Bantu in the European Community above the level of certain forms of labour. A quote that has been taken completely out of context. In his next sentence, he continued that within their own communities however, all doors were open. Verwoerd argued that a European education for the African would show him the green pastures of Europe but prohibit him from grazing there.

The “green pastures” part is often misunderstood, but could be explained by means of an analogue: Imagine, after years of dismal failure in a certain fictitious country’s educational system, a conscientious educator returns from a foreign nation with impeccable standards in education. Let’s say this latter country is Japan. Enthused by what he saw, he now eagerly wants to copy the Japanese model and educate his nation in the same way. This entails that pupils are to be taught in Japanese, their writing, language, literature and mathematical system. As one would expect, this would lead to a high dropout rate due to the completely alien education that has no bearing on the daily lives and surroundings of the pupils involved. Not to mention the fact that the parents are incapable of lending their necessary guidance. On the other hand, let’s further assume that there are a scant few learners who did manage to do exceptionally well. In fact, they performed so well that the Japanese government offers them a stipend to study and work in Japan. Once they set foot over there, they will notice that the Japanese on the streets, the business culture, street culture, youth culture, university culture etc. are, regardless of their learned knowledge of local customs, foreign to them. They are confronted with a whole barrage of unspoken rules and codes which have traditions dating from long ago. Where they prefer to kick a football around in their spare time, the Japanese would rather play handball and computer games. Where they would laugh at certain acts of foolishness, the Japanese would be grossly offended. Where they would be offended by being pushed into crowded trains by station masters, the Japanese would consider it polite to allow more passengers on board. Throughout their stay, they’ll notice how the slight differences in customs could be a source of major frustration in their daily routine. Because of this, their performance, albeit well-meant, would simply not measure up to Japanese standards. Their whole understanding of Japanese language and customs would amount to no more than acting, since their real life cultivation lies elsewhere. Their authentic self-expression is not appreciated as they are accustomed to, causing them to become jaded, apathetic and at a loss, lowering their involvement with society even further. At the end of the day this whole ambitious plan to educate in Japanese has not borne much fruit, both for the dropouts as well as the excellent. It has taught them the ways of the Japanese, but by the very nature of cultures themselves, prohibited them from becoming full participants. From here onward, complaints of discrimination would become the norm, including various psychological illnesses. In a real life example, the suicide rate amongst black South Africans has trebled since the demise of apartheid. For those unfortunate souls, the struggle to fully imbibe Western norms and customs came at too costly a price.

Says Fanon: “Overnight the Negro has been given two frames of reference within which he has had to place himself. His metaphysics, or, less pretentiously his customs and the sources on which they were based, were wiped out because they were in conflict with a civilisation that he did not know and that imposed itself on him.”

Instead of permanent servitude, Verwoerd gave them the opportunity they were eagerly waiting for, i.e. a place of their own that they could fill in and develop according to their own cultural guidelines while slowly modernising them in ways that they could absorb. By limiting the African in white areas, he intended to heighten the attractiveness of the homelands where Africans were freer to hone their skills in accordance with their culture.

Afrikaner anthropologist Werner Eiselen, who served as educational advisor to Verwoerd, compiled a report as to the best route to take to educate the African within his own culture, and one recommendation was to educate Africans in their mother tongue, at least throughout their primary school years. These findings were strikingly similar to Fanon’s opinion wherein he stated that he “…should like nothing more nor less than the establishment of children’s magazines especially for Negroes, the creation of songs for Negro children, and, ultimately, the publication of history texts especially for them, at least through the grammar-school grades. For, until there is evidence to the contrary, I believe that if there is a traumatism it occurs during those years.”

This helps explain why only in exceptional cases were Africans allowed to study at white institutions. The intention was to take their education back to their own people to help them further along. In 1955, during National Party rule, the first black doctor graduated at the University of the Witwatersrand. The general argument that apartheid outright deprived Africans of privileges, especially under Verwoerd, does not hold water. A fuller understanding of the ideal that they wanted to achieve would undoubtedly have helped to ease racial tensions.

Another rationale for segregated education was demonstrated in 1986 when a small group of white students enrolled at the Medical University of South Africa, located in the former homeland of Bophuthatswana to study medicine. This did not go down well with the African students. Even though the whites were outnumbered by far, their fellow African students refused point blank to share lectures with white students, openly protesting their presence on campus.

For many years the notion has been held that the ideals behind apartheid were completely at variance with the ideals behind African liberation. These abovementioned quotes and occurrences however demonstrate that the ideals pursued by Verwoerd and many Afrikaner nationalists were much more in step than is generally assumed. After all, Afrikaners, who have no other country to turn to, certainly have no interest in stirring animosity amongst a majority of the country’s people. The formation of the homelands was South Africa’s response to decolonised Africans elsewhere who had started claiming a piece of land for themselves as a protective measure against future invasion. Not to mention the creation of homogeneous groups for Africans where they could live their own culture and develop stable identities.

In short, South Africa had a choice between either the formation of stable and homogeneous units, or to abandon this project wholesale and flood the cities with large numbers of low skilled African labourers, creating a Brazilian style ghetto where crime, disease and xenophobia run rampant. Due to demographic factors, pressure from within and outside, and the gravitational pull of the cities, the grand apartheid plan had finally caved in, along with years of vicious propaganda stating that Afrikaners are the chief cause of this mayhem. In reality, all their efforts were designed to prevent the current level of national decline.

Ultimately, the abolition of apartheid had little to do with the liberation of blacks. Destroying the Afrikaner power base was the primary concern for the Afrikaner’s traditional enemies, i.e. the British elite and international banking cartel. Where Africans had homelands to escape to, Afrikaners today have no choice but to flee abroad or to accept second class citizenship in the country of their birth. As Verwoerd stated fifty years ago, ethnic integration has no added value and only leads to situations where various groups become locked in constant competition for political power. This is where a major difference between Verwoerd and Biko came to the fore: Where Biko argued that a complete ethnic integration was possible and minorities would become non-existent, Verwoerd went the other way, claiming that ethnic tensions would never be abolished entirely, and whites were the ones who really needed protection.

If one considers how affirmative action, black economic empowerment and various attempts to bar whites from the job market are still the norm today almost twenty years into ANC rule, one could only conclude that Verwoerd’s prediction was more accurate. In fact, not only whites are targeted, but other non-white groups are next in line to be overwhelmed, judging by the way Africans are bussed into the Western Cape to swamp the local coloured population, who form one of the last ramparts against total ANC domination.

In the end, post-apartheid South Africa has never lead to non-racialism, but only served to escalate racial tensions further.  With an approximate 80 thousand Afrikaners murdered since political takeover – much more than the 1,5 to two thousand blacks killed by the erstwhile security forces, the situation has indeed become atrocious for them, yet, to no-one’s surprise, hardly a whisper from the leftist press is ever heard about this.

Little doubt exists as to the ANC’s sanctimonious embodiment of black consciousness. They have in fact not only betrayed the whites, but the true believers amongst the blacks as well; the irony being that Verwoerd supported their legacy more than Zuma and his ilk ever did.

To quote Verwoerd’s son Wilhelm, the keeper of his father’s legacy: “There were discriminatory aspects but they were also intended for the benefit of the black people. He [Verwoerd] had a lot of support among the blacks. It’s only these ANC types who are now in power who were trying not only to take a piece of the cake but the whole cake. They of course didn’t support him, but the more traditional people who attached value to their chiefs and customs – they found him to be the best minister that they’d ever had.”

And this constitutes the legacy of a true nation builder.

Joseph Secreve lives in Amsterdam, and is a regular columnist for PRAAG.