I Write What I Like
Steve Biko: Black Consciousness in South Africa
It is a stark indication of black nationalism’s tortuous crawl toward an independent South Africa that the question of how to regard whites opposed to apartheid still—after thirty years—engenders more rancor within nationalist circles than does the conduct of whites defending the laager itself. The gulf between the multiracial African National Congress (ANC) and the “exclusivist” Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) has never been wider nor the differences more bitterly divisive. Both movements were outlawed in 1960 and forced into exile or underground. Since then, the realization by the leaders that violence is now the surest method of contesting white rule has prompted them to seek arms from conflicting international camps—thus further increasing the risk of factional war, should the white citadel start to crumble.
Many of the leaders of ANC and PAC have been put out of political action: the ANC president, Nelson Mandela, is serving a life sentence on Robben Island. The PAC leader Robert Sobukwe, who died last year, spent the final seventeen years of his life in prison or under “restriction.” The two organizations are now primarily exile movements, based in such African countries as Angola, Zambia, Mozambique, and Tanzania. They are kept alive largely by funds from outside South Africa, often from global or African rivals.
The roots of discord between ANC and PAC reach deep into the past and reflect a gap between two utterly different schools of thought. As Gail Gerhart describes it in her finely charted navigation down the twisted and often murky channels of South African nationalism, the essential issues have remained the same at least since World War II, and extend beyond the history of rivalry between ANC and PAC right through to the uprising in Soweto and the stand taken by Steve Biko before he was killed. The problem has in no manner been resolved by the spread of “black consciousness,” in the form advocated by Biko and others. Moreover, the gap between the two schools of thought has been widened not only by tactical differences—over how to rid South Africa of its present rulers—but also by sharply divergent visions of what postapartheid South Africa should be.
From its inception in 1912, ANC was a reformist party led chiefly by members of the emergent black professional class—often teachers, lawyers, clergymen—who demanded advancement for blacks into white society, but who hardly questioned the essential values of white society itself. It was argued that the decency of “good” whites, especially liberals and those active in the churches, would surely be able to instill “common sense” into white society as a whole, and would persuade white government gradually to open economic and political avenues to blacks, as “equal partners.” Integration was the ANC aim. And in the words of the first ANC president, Rev. John Dube, “race co-operation must be the watchword.” Reformism was slowly abandoned in the face of steadily increasing repression by white governments after 1948, but a heavy strain of liberalism remained within …