African Awakening: The emerging revolutions

African Awakening is a book about the 2011 African uprisings that the mainstream media didn’t cover properly, such as the April uprising in Swaziland.

The book features a chapter about the uprising in Swaziland in April 2011, written by Peter Kenworthy.

The publisher, Famuna Books and Pambazuka Press, descibes the book as follows:

“What the media has missed – the 2011 uprisings in their African context.
Pambazuka News’s respected writers offer in-the-moment comment and analysis as well as informed reflection. An almanac with its eyes open – Africa’s radical review of the year. The tumultuous uprisings of citizens in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have seized the attention of media analysts who have characterised these as ‘Arab revolutions’, a perspective given weight by popular demonstrations in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and elsewhere. However, what have been given less attention are the concurrent uprisings in Benin, Gabon, Senegal, Swaziland, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda and in other parts of the African continent.

The uprisings across Africa and in the Middle East, the book argues, are the result of common experiences of decades of declining living standards, mass unemployment, land dispossessions and impoverishment of the majority, while a few have engorged themselves with riches.

Through incisive contributions from analysts and activists across the continent, the essays in ‘African Uprisings’ provide an overview of the struggle for democratisation which goes beyond calls merely for transparent electoral processes and constitutes a reawakening of the spirit of freedom and justice for the majority.”

The book includes chapters written by Samir Amin, Patrick Bond, Nigel C. Gibson, Konstantina Isidoros, Firoze Manji, amongst others.

Buy the book from the publisher.

Buy the book from Amazon.

Read the book at Google Book View.

Presentation at Public Debate on DANIDA’s New strategy for Africa, Roskilde University,  14/9-07

by Peter Kenworthy

There are many fine suggestions in the Danish government’s “New Strategy for Africa”. Who with a working knowledge of Africa could disagree with seeing the improvement of educational standards as fundamental to development, wanting to improve Africa’s trade opportunities, or trying to help curb the AIDS pandemic?

What I want to discuss in this presentation, however, is not so much the quality of the suggestions in themselves, but rather their cohesion as an overall strategy and whether this strategy can be realised in practice.

The notion that I have chosen to try and explain this is that of the interrelation or interdependence of the various areas that make up any development strategy, especially focusing on the cultural or psychological aspects of development and the partnership ideal.

The “New Strategy for Africa” seemingly agrees that such issues are relevant in attempting to bring about durable development. The Strategy proposes pursuing a “coherent set of policies” (p.7), and the lengthier draft proposal,  “Making progress in Africa” from May 2007, speaks of a “multi-sectoral and multidimensional approach” that is to address “the entire life situation of individuals needs” (draft p.1).

That the focus in the development world as a whole has widened somewhat in recent years, from a rather narrow and one-dimensional focus that saw economic and financial remedies as sufficient, to one that more willingly includes other areas such as culture and identity, is here apparent. This is so, although the overall focus is still largely upon economic remedies. Such one-dimensionality pre-supposes that all human beings behave in more or less the same way, something that seems unlikely in all but the most fundamental matters.

To me, it is therefore clear that a cultural dimension must be included in any attempted development programme or strategy.

Culture is here defined as customs and specific reactions that a given group employ to deal with a situation at any given moment in time. Cultures must in this respect not be seen as insulated or unchanging, and the varied nature of cultures must further be recognized. Nor must cultural interaction be seen as a one-way street but as one of learning from each other, although I say this without wishing to embrace a cultural relativist notion of all cultures being equally valuable.

This cultural dimension additionally is not to be seen as separate from other parts of social life but as being a dimension of other aspects of development such as economics and politics.

That including a cultural dimension is not sufficient in itself without understanding the interrelation between such areas should therefore also be taken into account.

I will give two practical examples of what I mean by all this: That of education and that of partnership and identity.

The Strategy ties universal education to long-term economic growth and urges African governments to increase spending in this area (p.26). Whilst such an analysis probably holds true, education must also be seen as both influencing culture and influenced by culture. Improved educational standards can serve as broadening the outlook of people and thus of culture, and a given culture can value education more or less positively.

Additionally, the Strategy demands that growth and redistribution is to be based on investment in the private sector (p. 23), on trade liberalisation (draft p.2), and in adherence to a PRSP programme (p.19, 22) that more or less produces the same privatisation and public spending cut-back strategies as its predecessor, Structural Adjustment.

It therefore seems somewhat incompatible with wanting to improve educational standards. This is so because experience with Structural Adjustment has historically led to cut backs in public expenditure, including on education.

One might here more specifically point to the more recent structural adjustment-like liberalisation policies in South Africa, a country that the Strategy sees as a role model for other African countries (p.10). These policies have led to widespread privatisation and cut-backs on (especially higher) education, making it unaffordable for most if not all poor people. At the same time neither foreign nor local investment in South Africa has flourished as promised, growth increase has been unspectacular, and inequality has increased.

There would therefore seem to be a discrepancy between in effect forcing African governments to cut back public spending, and advocating increased spending on education, and thus a lack of focus on the interdependence and multidimensionality of components of the overall strategy.

As for partnership and identity, I wish to draw attention to the contradiction between the partnership discourse employed by the Strategy and the continuing colonialist discourse that is to be found inside the aid industry.

I think here not only of development organisations as a whole but also of individual aid workers, many of whom, according to studies, still see Europeans as belonging “to a higher level of development” (Baaz: 39), leading them not to expect too much of the African partners because of their alleged “backward position on the evolutionary ladder” (Baaz: 42). The danger of homogenising the alleged backwardness of Africans and subsequently imposing cultural norms upon them by such organisations or aid workers is thus overwhelming.

Not only is a focus on culture and identity therefore important in its own right, but one should also acknowledge the link that exists between it and for instance economics. This link can be seen in identities, for example, of an active donor-Self and a passive partner that “inform the distribution of economic resources and the organisation of the economic sphere”. This in turn feeds a discourse of aid dependence that can easily lead to a “restrictive policy when it comes to financial support” (Baaz: 13) or a lack of eagerness to wholeheartedly embrace the partnership ideal.

The link between identity and economics can also work the other way round. It can be seen in that the continuing economic inequality between Africa and the West perpetuates respective inferiority and superiority complexes and in the image of the passive, starving African. Eradication of any notion of an automatic sense of white superiority and black inferiority is therefore a precondition for true partnership. Cultural factors in development are thus not simply a question of the suitability or lack hereof of African culture to whatever notions of development a given donor sees fit to employ, but also of a European culture that has historically defined itself in opposition, and above, African culture.

If such cultural and identity-related matters are not acknowledged and integrated into a given development programme, if conditionality is upheld, and if Eurocentrist ideals are continually seen as universal, the partnership ideal will prove difficult to achieve in practice.

As I have hopefully managed to allude to in this brief presentation, what one might call a multidimensional or integrated approach to development is needed to avoid having contradictory or mutually incompatible components spoil the coherence and viability of an overall strategy, such as the New Strategy for Africa.


Baaz, Maria Eriksson, “The paternalism of partnership”, Zed Books, 2005

Kenworthy, Peter, “Bikoism or Mbekism”, Roskilde University, 2007.

Bikoism or Mbekism?

– The role of Black Consciousness in Mbeki’s South Africa

by Peter Kenworthy, Roskilde University, June 2007

1.1 Summary

A combination of European administrators, an indigenous elite and colonialist discourse upheld colonial rule. The colonialist discourse that engulfed all colonies was extensive, drawing on both non-cultural explanations such as racism, and cultural such as Eurocentric universalism to justify colonialism. Resistance to colonialism therefore required an imaginative reconstruction and a transcendence of colonial discourse as well as resistance to its more physical and material legacies, also because the material and non-material elements of colonialism are mutually constitutive and interconnected. As Postcolonial theory further acknowledges, the legacy of colonialist discourse continued to influence the perceptions and self-image of both coloniser and colonised after actual colonialism had ended.

Although South Africa’s colonial period was in a sense unique because of the “internal” nature of its colonisation, until the late forties and even into the sixties the nature of exploitation of its indigenous population was relatively unexceptional compared to that of other African countries and colonies elsewhere. The combination of the decolonisation of most other colonies in the late fifties and sixties and the increasingly rigid nature of apartheid laws in South Africa changed this.

Black Consciousness was a response to the increasingly rigid nature of apartheid that according to Biko had caused the black defeatism, lack of pride and dependency upon white liberals that was evident in the lack of black liberation activity inside South Africa in the late sixties. Whereas Biko’s goal was a non-racial society, his solution was two-tiered, blacks having first to regain pride and confidence in themselves by acts of self-sufficiency, this being a pre-condition for a successful second tier, that of actual liberation and material and political improvements. After the elimination of apartheid, Biko’s Black Consciousness envisaged a non-racial society and an integration that fused the lifestyles of the various groups.

The ANC of Thabo Mbeki that achieved actual political power after the dismantling of apartheid saw things the other way round, striving to end apartheid whilst giving little thought to racialism until well into the nineties. Mbeki’s ANC thereby ended up with an “over-racialised” view of South Africa, advocating an Africanism or Afrocentric universalism and group-orientated multiculturalism that has seen a resurgence of exclusionism.  Additionally, Mbeki combined an individualistic economic liberalism with that of centralist, top-down style leadership that was opposed to the communalistic mixed economy, bottom-up approach of Black Consciousness.

In reality the psychological aspects are interconnected with the political and economic. Only an integral solution that attempts to deal with all aspects and include some of the insights of both Bikoism and Mbekism will consequently be successful. Having accepted this, Biko seemingly understood the necessity of an integral solution better than Mbeki because of what he saw as the interconnectedness of psychological matters, social change and liberation.

1.2 Introduction

South Africa’s first proper democratic elections in 1994 were seen as a watershed in the history of the country. Centuries of colonialism and decades of apartheid were to be transformed into a truly democratic and non-racial society of equals. Separate development was to be replaced by that of a collective development without reference to race.

A little over a decade later the change that was hoped for by the majority who were disadvantaged under apartheid has not come about, the many post-1994 improvements notwithstanding. Whilst a relatively small black middle class has materialised, most blacks are as poor as under apartheid and black and white socialising is no more frequent than before. There are obvious reasons for this lack of equality and integration. Addressing the material concerns of the disadvantaged was and is a gruelling task, made worse by the fact that the coffers that the African National Congress (ANC) inherited were not bulging as expected, but virtually emptied by the apartheid regime’s increasingly desperate attempts to keep the apartheid state afloat. Additionally, the educational standards of many young blacks were hampered by the deliberately substandard Bantu-education and the subsequent refusal by many blacks to attend school and be educated to become second-rate citizens.

The question is consequently not whether or not the task of bringing about a non-racial South Africa is daunting, but what the best way of achieving it is. In other words, can the development that South Africa has made since 1994 be improved upon by employing another outlook than that of the present South African government. In the seventies, the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) of Steve Biko had a different view of how to bring about true liberation. The movement saw dealing with the psychological aspects of apartheid such as inferiority complexes as vital, initially by way of black introspection; as well as promoting equally distributed wealth and a people-centred leadership. The detention, banning, imprisonment and murder of the majority of its leaders stifled the impact of the movement, and the momentum of the liberation movement returned to the non-racialist ideology of the ANC and United Democratic Front (UDF) in the eighties.

In the post-apartheid era, Mandela’s reconciliatory approach was replaced by Mbeki’s focus on economic remedies, and programmes such as that of Black Economic Empowerment revealed an increasing willingness to devise methods to specifically deal with the disadvantaged black community. In additionally employing an increasingly Africanist rhetoric, Mbeki would seem to concede that non-racialism has not succeeded in South Africa today. But are his somewhat blurred and contradictory references to the concepts of “African” and “black”, seen as inclusive in some instances and exclusive in others, helpful in attaining a non-racial society that was the goal of the ANC as well as that of the BCM?

An important question is thus whether Mbekism deals adequately with the legacy of apartheid or if Black Consciousness can provide better or complementary solutions to some or all of these problems. The answering of this question that is attempted in this thesis is not only relevant to a narrow South African context, but also globally, as South Africa can be seen as an embodiment of the North-South conflict. Whether South Africa can solve its problems of race relations, economic differentiation or other matters discussed in this thesis is consequently of interest at the individual level (because of the pervasiveness of colonial discourse and the complexes that this produces), the nation level (because most other countries are multi-ethnic and multi-cultural) as well as at the international level (because of the interdependence of contemporary international society). If post-apartheid South Africa can succeed in transforming itself into an inclusive society of equals it can teach all societies a lesson by “provid[ing] evidence for the fact that heterogeneity does not preclude harmony”.  Biko acknowledged the representative nature of South Africa in stating that “South Africa is but a microcosm of the global confrontation between the Third World and the rich nations of the world”, as does Mbeki in recognizing the need to “end apartheid globally”.

6.4 The future

Mbeki’s future goals, mentioned in his State of the Nation Address on the 9th of February 2007, include amongst other things speeding up land redistribution, identifying defects in poverty reduction strengthening national belonging, reducing crime, intensifying the campaign against HIV and AIDS and increasing access to education. Whereas these are all necessary steps to improve the lives of poor South Africans, an overarching and integral strategy that acknowledges the interdependency of South Africa’s problems is necessary to be able to achieve these goals.

That such a strategy is not being pursued can be seen in Mbeki dissociating South African crime from politics or the legacy of apartheid, implying that crime has nothing to do with the poverty or psychological problems of poor South Africans. Hence crime is to be fought with “effective organisation, mobilisation and leadership of the mass of law-enforcement, intelligence and corrections officers, and functionaries of the justice system”, as well as by “modernising … border control”, “further expanding … the South African Police Service”, building “more corrections facilities” and generally making “life more difficult for the criminals”.

Although Mbeki, by measuring “the success of [South African] democracy” against “the quality of life of the most vulnerable in [South African] society”, at least seems intent on finding a solution to important social problems such as crime, it is hard to see how this will be possible to a larger degree than presently, especially while he is still following the dictates of GEAR and NEPAD that are largely to blame for the lack of poverty reduction or not sufficiently prioritising AIDS Black Consciousness, on the other hand, related crime directly to poverty. Biko insisted that although “no-one ever attempts to relate [crime] to poverty, unemployment, overcrowding, lack of schooling and migratory labour” poverty “is the basis of the vandalism, murder, rape and plunder”. Any solution to the problem of crime would thus have to go beyond that of the symptoms of crime and deal with its root causes.

That South Africa has retained much of apartheid’s socio-economical structure and psychological problems confirms that Black Consciousness has not yet served its purpose. Instead of the struggle achieving the liberation of both the oppressed and the oppressor, the ANC might have simply replaced one elite with another, the possibility of which both Fanon and Biko warned about. Where Biko claimed that true liberation needed social change, the ANC government ensured “that property rights were respected and orthodox economic policies were adopted”. The belief of Black Consciousness that blacks must build up their own value systems  and that they must participate both politically and economically in the power structures of South Africa is therefore belied by GEAR, the fact that white businesses was able to retain their power over the economy and the tokenism of BEE.

But are more left-leaning policies a credible alternative to Mbekism? Anisur Rahman suggests that the “romantic collectivism” that much of the left has previously embraced is unrealistic, at least in the present conditions of market hegemony, and should be replaced by a “pragmatic collectivism” that attempts to progressively change the system, calling “for strategies for the people to develop power over the market”. Biko’s Black Consciousness and African Communalism can perhaps be seen in this light: as a moderate left-leaning alternative to the economic neo-liberalism of Mbeki that bases its practical policies on the fact that “Africa is still a communal society”, not on rhetorical references to a concept of Africanness such as that of Mbeki’s African Renaissance. The communalistic notions of solidarity and ubuntu already exist in South African society, in the present South African constitutio and in Mbeki’s world outlook. This does not necessarily mean than notions of solidarity and ubuntu are paramount in practical government policies or in all parts of South African society, however, according to Mbeki, in fact, “the traditional value system of Ubuntu had been greatly eroded” Nor does it mean that they are easily achieved in the future, especially if they are counteracted by policies such as GEAR and BEE that work against such solidarity. What it does mean is that anyone attempting to use a communalistic approach to try and solve South Africa’s problems are on solid ground constitutionally, as well as culturally. Ubuntu or Black Communalism should not only be seen as an already existing basis of South African cultural heritage on which a future society can be built, but as a target that has yet to be reached, however. That Mbeki and other ANC members still fail to acknowledge the intellectual contribution of Biko as well as the potential positive role of Black Consciousness in contemporary South Africa  is consequently problematic in two ways: Firstly because Biko has a different vision of how to achieve a non-racialism in South Africa that has so far been elusive, and secondly because he outlines a South Africa that is essentially built around the concept of ubuntu.

7.1 Conclusion

As with all other former colonies, especially those on the African continent, South Africa still has a colonial legacy. Whereas this legacy is believed to be different to that of most if not all other postcolonial nations because of apartheid, it is in fact surprisingly similar to that of other countries with a history of colonialism. The main difference was that the South African white colonisers, especially the Afrikaners, unlike most other colonisers had created an identity that was separate from that of the “mother country” and that South African colonial oppression increased during the fifties and sixties where most other African colonies gained their independence. In doing so, the Afrikaner-dominated National Party instigated a uniquely rigid structure of separate development, that of apartheid. As was colonialism, apartheid was built on the premise of racism, denigration of black history and culture, white superiority as well as on the physical subjugation of its black citizens. Resistance and transcendence of the legacies of colonialism and apartheid in contemporary South Africa therefore requires confronting both its material and psychological aspects.

One of the main objectives of this thesis was to re-evaluate the usefulness of Bikoism and Black Consciousness in confronting material and psychological matters that verifiably still exist in contemporary South Africa. The analysis in this thesis had shown, however, that any exclusive advocacy of Bikoism to the detriment of Mbekism or vice versa is not viable.

To put it crudely, the ANC focused and focuses overwhelmingly on dismantling the material and Black Consciousness primarily the psychological legacy of apartheid, although admittedly Mbeki’s African Renaissance attempts to deal with the psychological aspects of apartheid that the ANC had largely neglected, and the Black Communalism of the Black Consciousness Movement meant to constitute the political second leg of its two-tiered approach. Both organisations thus to some extent neglected to take important aspects of colonialism and postcolonialism into account. The ANC either ignored psychological liberation or believed that it would automatically be brought about by material liberation whereas Black Consciousness assumed that integration would automatically follow in a just and free society, that a process of consciousness-building would be a large part of bringing about such liberation and that the “dirty work” of the armed struggle should be left to the ANC.

Whilst not disregarding the dissimilarities between the two, there is common ground between Mbekism and Bikoism, rhetorically if not in practice. Both speak of the disabling effects of colonialism and the need for retaining the best values of South Africa’s indigenous culture(s) and society such as ubuntu, although Mbeki’s rhetorical commitment to such themes are sometimes in direct opposition to his actual policies of GEAR and NEPAD that signify a highly individualistic political approach.

There are also significant differences, an example of which is the organisational bottom-up approach that Black Consciousness advocated that is contrary to the centralist, top-down approach that the ANC have practised under Mbeki. As indicated above, the Black Consciousness of Steve Biko further maintained that psychological liberation was a precondition for full liberation, and saw proof hereof in the dormant nature of a liberation cause that had neglected to take into account the notions of black inferiority and white superiority that existed, and still exist, in South Africa. Moreover, Black Consciousness adopted a “strategic essentialism” that insisted on a non-racial South Africa that fused the life-styles of the different groups after apartheid had been dismantled whereas Mbeki and the ANC have done virtually the opposite. The latter insisted on non-racialism during the liberation struggle but adopted the Africanist approach of the African Renaissance and Black Economic Empowerment once political liberation had been achieved, possibly in belatedly attempting to deal with the fact that racialism had not simply “withered away” by itself. That these approaches are problematic can be seen in their potential essentialism and reinforcement of racial identification, as well as in the culture of black entitlement and furthering of Afro-pessimism that the latter generates.

Black Consciousness can mainly improve or inform present South African politics in psychological and organisational matters, although admittedly Black Communalism can be seen as an alternative or complementary set of policies that stands in opposition to the individualistic neo-liberalism of the Mbeki administration. Insisting that the eradication of the complexes of white superiority and black inferiority is a precondition for true non-racialism is important if the preoccupation with group and racial identities that continues to exist in South Africa is to be transcended, although this should obviously not lead to a neglect of material aspects of liberation.

A more integral solution to South Africa’s problems than has hitherto been attempted, one that accepts the interrelatedness of the political, social, economic and psychological aspects of South African politics, is of paramount importance. True liberation needs transformation in all four areas if South Africa is not to end up replacing or complementing a white elite with a small black one, something that Biko warned against and which is seemingly already happening. Even so, the “liberal Africanism” of Mbeki is not necessarily to be wholly transformed and replaced for true liberation to happen but must at least be given what Biko calls “a more human face” of indigenous cultural traits, although these must encompass individualism as well as communalism to avoid the reactionary tendencies of pre-colonial societies. Furthermore, if the common humanism that is implied in both Bikoism and Mbekism is to be attained, the goals of the universal must be disengaged from the particularism of Eurocentrism. What is truly paradoxical is that all countries, including South Africa, must nevertheless move through the particular to reach the universal. If South Africa is to succeed in bringing about a true non-racial Rainbow Nation where “heterogeneity does not preclude harmony”, and not simply a multicultural society of parallel communities, however, the dangers of overemphasising black African culture and thereby promoting an “Afrocentric” universalism that both Mbekism and Bikoism can easily slip into are to be avoided as much as the Eurocentrism that it is meant to replace.

Read the whole thesis here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: