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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

The struggle in South Africa is the most important battle of the century for Black people – Assata Shakur

AssataAssata Shakur is a founding member of the Black Liberation Army, a former Black Panther, the godmother of Tupac Shakur, and the first ever woman to make the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list.

In 2013, Shakur was tried and convicted for the murder of a white state trooper in 1973. Her case became emblematic of race relations and police brutality.

Some label her a ruthless killer, others cite her as the victim of a systematic campaign to suppress black nationalist organisations.

Shakur’s biography, Assata: The FBI’s most wanted woman, was first published in 1987, and released in a new edition last year, with a South African introduction by William Gumede.

Read an excerpt:

Freedom. I couldn’t believe that it had really happened, that the nightmare was over, that finally the dream had come true. I was elated. Ecstatic. But i was completely disoriented. Everything was the same, yet everything was different. All of my reactions were super-intense. I submerged myself in patterns and textures, sucking in smells and sounds as if each day was my last. I felt like a voyeur. I forced myself not to stare at the people whose conversations i strained to overhear.

Suddenly, i was flooded with the horrors of prison and every disgusting experience that somehow i had been able to minimize while inside. I had developed the ability to be patient, calculating, and completely self-controlled. For the most part, i had been incapable of crying. I felt rigid, as though chunks of steel and concrete had worked themselves into my body. I was cold. I strained to touch my softness. I was afraid that prison had made me ugly.

My comrades helped a lot. They were so beautiful, natural, and healthy. I loved them for their kindness to me. It had been years since i had communicated with anyone intensely, and i talked to them almost compulsively. They were like medicine, helping me to ease back into myself again.

But i had changed, and in so many ways. I was no longer the wide-eyed, romantic young revolutionary who believed the revolution was just around the corner. I still appreciated energetic idealism, but i had long ago become convinced that revolution was a science. Generalities were no longer enough for me. Like my comrades, I believed that a higher level of political sophistication was necessary and that unity in the Black community had to become a priority. We could never afford to forget the lessons we had learned from COINTELPRO. As far as i was concerned, building a sense of national consciousness was one of the most important tasks that lay
ahead of us. I couldn’t see how we could seriously struggle without having a strong sense of collectivity, without being responsible for each other and to each other.

It was also clear to me that without a truly internationalist component nationalism was reactionary. There was nothing revolutionary about nationalism by itself – Hitler and Mussolini were nationalists. Any community seriously concerned with its own freedom has to be concerned about other peoples’ freedom as well. The victory of oppressed people anywhere in the world is a victory for Black people. Each time one of imperialism’s tentacles is cut off we are closer to liberation. The struggle in South Africa is the most important battle of the century for Black people. The defeat of apartheid in South Africa will bring Africans all over the planet closer to liberation. Imperialism is an international system of exploitation, and, we, as revolutionaries, need to be internationalists to defeat it.

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“We are All Fighting the Same System” – Lessons for Liberation from Assata

AssataJustin Adkins has written an article about how reading Assata: The FBI’s most wanted woman by Assata Shakur challenged him and gave him hope.

Shakur is still considered a risk to the country in which she was born even though, Adkins says, there is “no physical way” she could have committed the crimes she is accused of.

This might be understood as a hopeless situation, but Adkins believes Shakur’s story brings consciousness of a special type of freedom: “The freedom is that when you have nothing to fear, because there is everything to fear, then you are free to be yourself. There is nothing to fear because you clearly can’t control the government, and the government can frame anyone.”

Adkins says he learned from Assata that the knowledge that “we are all fighting the same system” is an important beginning to achieving liberation for all people.

Read the article:

We need to wake up as a nation. Assata reminds us, not just for our own liberation, but also for the liberation of all people. I fight for the day that all people are free. I don’t fight for democracy but for freedom. An international focus is especially important in our current world, more than Assata could have imagined in 1984 when she wrote her book. It is imperative that we fight for the workers who make our clothes in Bangladesh, grow our food in Mexico, and put together our technology in China. We can no longer put this off.

My boss jokes that my favorite word is intersectionality. It is not my favorite word but it is a damn good one. However, you can’t just throw it around. It means that the struggle is interconnected. If you fight from an intersectional focus you have a lot of work to do. It’s not just that race, class, gender and sexuality are connected, intersectionality includes a global outlook. It is a fight that also needs to be framed in climate justice. The world’s poor will suffer the effects of climate change first, which is mostly people of color, and if you really believe that climate change is real… in the end, the earth will be too hot to sustain life, all life.

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Watch Joaquim Chissano, Former Mozambiquan President, Present the 16th Steve Biko Memorial Lecture

Voices of Liberation: Steve BikoThe 16th Annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture was recently delivered at the ZK Matthews Hall at the University of South Africa in Pretoria. Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique, presented the lecture.

The former statesman was welcomed to Unisa by Vice-Chancellor Mandla Makhanya, expressed pride at the university’s partnership with the Steve Biko Foundation. It is the first year that the lecture has been held in Gauteng.

Obenewa Amponsah, CEO, of the Steve Biko Foundation, spoke about the impact of Steve Biko’s legacy and the continuing significance of his ideas for South Africa, Africa and the world. She said: “There are 1 000 of us, or so, physically here in ZK Matthews Hall; many around the world are joining us virtually to think about what Biko meant in 1977 and what he means to each of us today”.

Chissano spoke about the essential characteristics of liberation movements in Southern Africa in Biko’s time, and the importance of Biko’s idea of black consciousness, as opposed to mere awareness of being black.

The lecture was streamed and broadcast live, and has been shared on YouTube by SABC:

YouTube Preview Image

The Steve Biko Foundation has shared a transcription of Chissano’s speech, as well as Amponsah’s Remarks.

Read Chissano’s speech:

As we meet here today, we should remind ourselves that we are living in an asymmetric world where Africa and its resources continue to be plundered and the plight of the African people continues to be reality. As we gather for this 16th Annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture we are all conscious of the fact that Africa is the only continent with the potential of remaining the bread basket of the world. However, for this to happen we need to rescue the noble ideals of Black Consciousness, which will enable us to gain consciousness of who we are, what we represent and the imperative need to embrace democracy, fight corruption, fight impunity, promote integrity, and end the scourge of perpetual conflict on the Continent. Maybe I should illustrate this with an example which comes to my memory just now when we say that for us to be the bread basket of the world we need to rescue the noble ideals of Black Consciousness; we have to know who we are.

It reminds me of an episode whereby we, African Statesmen were meeting with some European Statesmen and we were discussing the New Partnership for African Development, which is now called NEPAD. And suddenly one among us Africans started thanking the Europeans for the noble idea of NEPAD which he said came from the Europeans who were in front of us. He started praising them, congratulating them and addressing all the contributions of our thoughts to them. I remember that I had to intervene to remind the person who was speaking that the idea never came from the Europeans; the idea had come from eminent leaders like President Mbeki, President Obasanjo, and President Bouteflika. It were Africans who created the idea of what brought us to NEPAD. So I felt that it was lack of pride in ourselves; we did not know what our capacities were; that we were capable of having very noble ideas. So we have to rescue the noble ideas of Black Consciousness.

Perhaps at this stage I should point out from the outset that in the invitation extended to me to deliver the 16th Annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture, fortunately or unfortunately I was left to cherry-pick my own topic but obviously within the framework of the life and legacy of Bantu Stephen Biko. Upon reflecting on the history of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, I came to the conclusion that there were distinctly two schools of thought about the Black Consciousness Movement. The first included those who considered the movement as a revolutionary movement that played a critical role in the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa, and by extension, the struggles against Portuguese colonialism in Mozambique and Angola and indeed the struggle against the unilateral declaration of the independence or UDI in Rhodesia now Zimbabwe. The second school of thought in my view was made up of those who saw no specific role or relevance of the Black Consciousness Movement in the specific struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa or the overall continental struggles against colonialism towards the social, political and economic emancipation of the black majority on the Continent. This school of thought characterized Black Consciousness as a wish-wash concept imported from some Africans in the Diaspora with no specific role or relevance to the liberation struggles in Africa, and in particular to South Africa and Southern Africa.

Read Obenewa Amponsah’s remarks:

Historically, one of the most common requests from SBF constituents was for the lecture to travel outside of the Western Cape; by becoming part of the UNISA family—the largest tertiary institution in Africa—we at SBF are pleased that through the university’s extensive network of campuses, over time, the Lecture will have the opportunity travel to communities the length and breadth of South Africa; and even as far as Addis Ababa.

With that said, please know, Vice Chancellor, that we are delighted that tonight as we embark on this new partnership, we do so in the nation’s capital: where 38 years ago, just a few kilometers away, Biko died in detention. Our gathering here tonight, nearly four decades later, is evidence of Biko’s prophetic words, that, “it is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die.”

This evening, as we consider the contemporary relevance of Biko’s legacy, I would also like to extend my heartfelt thanks to President Chissano, for honoring our invitation to deliver this, the 16th Annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture.

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“It is Our Duty to Fight” – The Words of Assata Shakur Inspire American Student Protestors (Video)

AssataIn a recent display of support for students in Missouri in America, students in Iowa gathered in solidarity against discrimination, hate, and racism.

Matthew Bruce, an Iowa City student, led his peers in a rallying cry borrowed from Assata Shakur, the activist and author of Assata: The FBI’s most wanted woman.

The rally was attended by more than 100 students, as well as a number of university staff. It is possibly the start of a worthwhile transformation in American universities, and a continuation of Shakur’s legacy.

Watch a video of the protests, shared by KCRG:


Read the article accompanying the video:

“It is our duty to fight, it is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other, we have nothing to lose but our chains,” the group chanted. Words originally said by activist Assata Shakur, and echoed today during a protest led, in part, by Matthew Bruce, a UI sophomore.

“We’re out here first and foremost to show we’re here with them in spirit,” Bruce said, referring to Mizzou students. “It’s also to show the university that it’s not something we’re going to stand for. If something were to happen at this university we would expect more than what has happened from Mizzou’s administration.”

Earlier this week, several students voiced concerns that the University’s response to a Klu Klux Klan statue, placed on the pentacrest last December, was not enough.

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Michael Schmidt Interrogates the Mandela Cult, Promise and Perdition in A Taste of Bitter Almonds

A Taste of Bitter AlmondsBest Red is proud to present A Taste of Bitter Almonds by Michael Schmidt:

When Nelson Mandela took the oath as South Africa’s first democratically-elected president in 1994, it symbolised the triumphal defeat of almost three and a half centuries of racial separation since the original corporate raiders of the Dutch East India Company planted a bitter almond hedge to keep indigenous people out of “their” Cape outpost in 1659.

The subsequent expansion of Dutch, Batavian, then British settler colonialism over the territories that centuries later were forced by Britain to form a sub-imperialist corporate entity called “South Africa” has usually been retro-projected as a simplistic tale of white-over-black – but this ignores the multiracial nature of both the colonial elite and its underclass of servants, soldiers and slaves. The dispossession by genocide at the hands of Boer, British, Bantu and Griqua of the indigenous Bushmen – a term they themselves prefer to the pejorative “San”, meaning vagrant – has been airbrushed out of the South African consciousness, as has the certain knowledge that all South Africans, including the author, are racially interrelated, creating blind spots that were viciously exploited by white, and now increasingly, black racist nationalists with the rise in 2014 of right-wing populism.

The Mandela moment had deep global resonance and for a few years thereafter the “Rainbow Nation” was the world’s darling with the stories produced by journalists signalling in a breathless flood the dramatic changes of the transition – but in the world’s most unequal society, for the majority of its people, being excluded from a dignified life remained the rule over 1994 to 2015, and a taste of bitter almonds remained. Some of the most obvious – yet usually ignored – elements of continuity from the colonial, dominion and apartheid past in the democratic era include the intolerable official burdening of all young children by insisting on classifying them by race, the cynical unwillingness of the political elite to adequately redistribute to the hard-toiling poor the ill-gotten gains of the past especially land and corporate wealth, and the weird mimicking by today’s town planners of separatist apartheid urban geography. As one interviewee put it about his racially segregated town in 2001, it is as if the ghost of BJ Vorster – the prime minister whose regime invaded Angola and crushed the 1976-1977 Insurrection – still stalks the hills.

In the year of South Africa’s troubled coming-of-age, veteran investigative journalist and anarchist activist Michael Schmidt brings to bear 21 years of his scribbled field notes to weave a tapestry, employing veteran war correspondent Martha Gellhorn’s “view from the ground” technique: here in the demi-monde of our transition from autocracy to democracy, in the half-light glow of the rusted rainbow, you will meet neo-Nazis and the newly dispossessed, Boers and Bushmen, black illegal coal miners and a bank robber, witches and wastrels, love children and land claimants. The themes covered in A Taste of Bitter Almonds include the self-exclusion of criminals and of the racist white right, the deadly divisions of so-called faction-fighting and xenophobia (the latter more correctly described as genocide), the tough experiences of social outcasts and gender pioneers, the inequitable treatment of timber, asbestos, chemical and mining workers and the sea-changes in organised labour, and the intersections of race and poverty, and of land and identity – especially for Bushmen and the other victims of robber-baron apartheid capitalism – under the African National Congress’ “national democratic revolutionary” state.

Controversially, Schmidt argues that the distorting lens of the Mandela cult has allowed the continuities between autocracy and democracy to go underreported and largely unchallenged, and asks why we seem doomed to perpetuate divisions of race, culture, class, age, and gender. Yet with most tales of our democracy focusing on what academic Patrick Bond called the “elite transition”, this book is a selection of journalistic back-stories on reporting on the elephant in the room – the elite-poor class divide – detailing the contest between what Landless People’s Movement activist Mangaliso Kubheka described in 2004 as the helicopter-borne President Thabo Mbeki “coming down from the skies” to beg for his organisation’s votes, standing against whom was the organic poor-class leadership of what Peter Dwyer of the Alternative Information and Development Centre described as “the auntie in Chatsworth who says ‘No!’”.

And yet, despite all the examples of shattered lives given in the text, a bright thread of promise runs through it: for instance, it is uplifting to note the iron resolve of black women sawmill workers to unionise despite working for R11 a month in appalling conditions, or that though their feet are often in the mud, our Born Free youth have their eyes on the stars and have achieved tremendous gains in fields as diverse as dance and astrophysics. As with the Japanese art of kintsugi, in which ordinary broken crockery is repaired with slender seams of gold, not only restoring its prosaic functionality, but elevating it to high art by granting it a new beauty-in-brokenness, Schmidt argues that it is only by paring away the myths of our transition and revealing the scars of our continuity, by integrating our pain into our pride, that we can restore dignity to our extended family, all our people, and rise above the damage of the past.

“Michael Schmidt will challenge you in this book. He will enlighten you too. You will want to embrace him for going so far out on a limb with his truths. You will also want to punch him in the face for some of those revelations, and draw blood. There is, however, one thing you will never do. You will never say of this man: ‘Michael Schmidt never was any good as a writer.’ He gripped my attention … and never let it go.” – Eric Miyeni, author of O, Mandingo! The Only Black at a Dinner Party

A raucous, rollicking yet lucid ride into South Africa’s often violent, absurd and hilarious past, racing into its schizophrenic, disoriented present and pointing towards its equivocal future. Schmidt, using a motley cast of characters, paints the country’s rainbow in shades of grey … yet the Technicolor remains.” – Darren Taylor, Voice of America (VOA) Africa features correspondent

About the Author

Michael Schmidt is an experienced field reporter, with a reputation for producing unique and challenging copy, having worked for 19 years on some of South Africa’s leading print titles including This Day and Sunday Times before going into journalism training in 2008. He has worked across Africa, Central and South America and elsewhere. He has an interest in extra-parliamentary politics, and conflict reporting in transitional societies. He is a non-fiction author, published in Germany (2008), the USA (2009, 2013), Brazil (2009), and Quebec (2012). He is currently working on six more books, including Drinking with Ghosts: The Aftermath of Apartheid’s Dirty War (South Africa, 2014), and a multimedia project on massacre and memory, with Lebanese writer Rasha Salti.

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“I am a 20th-century Escaped Slave” – Assata Shakur Appeals to the Media to Speak for the Voiceless

AssataAlterNet has shared an article by Assata Shakur, in which she shares her story and appeals to people in media who care about social justice to be a “voice for the voiceless”.

The opening line: “My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th-century escaped slave.” powerfully introduces the reason for her appeal. She writes about her involvement in the Black Liberation Army, and how this made her “a ‘shoot-to-kill’ target” for the FBI. She became the victim of arbitrary violence and a “witchhunt” that drove her to exile in Cuba.

Although she is safe from harm at the hands of the United States government, Shakur says she has never been given the opportunity to tell her side of the story, and continues to be victimised by the “establishment media”.

Read the article:

Like most poor and oppressed people in the United States, I do not have a voice. Black people, poor people in the U.S. have no real freedom of speech, no real freedom of expression and very little freedom of the press. The black press and the progressive media has historically played an essential role in the struggle for social justice. We need to continue and to expand that tradition. We need to create media outlets that help to educate our people and our children, and not annihilate their minds. I am only one woman.

I own no TV stations, or radio stations or newspapers. But I feel that people need to be educated as to what is going on, and to understand the connection between the news media and the instruments of repression in Amerika. All I have is my voice, my spirit and the will to tell the truth. But I sincerely ask, those of you in the black media, those of you in the progressive media, those of you who believe in true freedom, to publish this statement and to let people know what is happening. We have no voice, so you must be the voice of the voiceless.

Also read:

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Andile Mngxitama and MJ wa Azania Clash Over Steve Biko’s Legacy

Voices of Liberation: Steve BikoAndile Mngxitama, ousted EFF leader, recently wrote an article for The Sowetan with social-activist Zanele Lwana about the legacy of Steve Biko.

In the article, Mngxitama and Lwana write that all political parties in South Africa want to associate themselves with Steve Biko, but are not prepared to live out the “revolutionary thinking and exemplary selfless leadership” that he stood for.

The authors outline what it is that Biko stood for, and why his ideas are desperately needed in contemporary South Africa. They assert “Only Biko’s ideas can help blacks to fight for real liberation that is based on the return of land to black people.”

Read the article:

What are the main lessons we take from the life and teachings of liberation struggle icon Steve Biko?

This question is important if we note that South Africa is a country with a chronic shortage of leaders with principles and a clear vision. Our country is cursed with political leaders who put themselves first. As a result of this poverty of ethics in our politics, we have seen recently unprincipled attempts by all the political parties to appropriate Biko’s image.

Following this article, MJ wa Azania wrote a piece for Rand Daily Mail criticising the way Mngxitama has taken hold of Biko’s legacy. The article ironically reinforces the idea that everyone uses the great Black Conscious Movement leader’s ideas to suit their own agenda.

Mngxitama is a man of contradictions. If indeed Julius Malema’s lifestyle was anti-black, then why was Mngxitama willing to collect a salary from an anti-black leader’s political organisation?

His political activism is not about taking the struggle of black people forward; it is not about black consciousness. It is a political scam. His is an attempt to sustain his lifestyle and garner donations and handouts using a black skin as a justification.

Biko wouldn’t have wanted to be represented by a person who is blown by the wind, moving from one political ideology to the other.

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Dear Brother Fanon … Reading Black Skin, White Masks in the Context of #Luister and #RhodesMustFall

Voices of LiberationThato Magano has written a piece in the form of a letter to Frantz Fanon, over 50 years since the publication of his seminal work, Black Skin, White Masks.

Magano considers the recent upsurge in student movements at tertiary institutions, such as Rhodes Must Fall, Rhodes So White, Transform Wits and Open Stellenbosch, in the context of two recent events.

The first event Magano considers Mbe Mbhele’s controversial proclamation during the Ruth First Lecture: “fuck off white people, fuck off”, and the second being Luister, a documentary detailing experiences of racism by black students at Stellenbosch University.

Read the article:

Reading you brother Fanon, you seem to suggest that these actions of revolution and decolonising, as inherently focused towards the enhancing of black life, are ultimately actions seeking the affirmation of black bodies by the other that is white, on the basis of ethical sensibility. I had been excited that these student led movements were saying that decolonisation must happen, that they were prepared for the revolution and that they were not appealing to the sensibilities of whiteness in any way. That after many years of calling for transformation of our relational, social and economic spaces, the call for decolonisation was one stemming from a position of self actualisation, where the black body will finally have the opportunity to self determine without white influence.

Yet, you remind us not to lose hope and be quick to declare “that the black man feels inferior” however, to see that “the truth is that he is made to feel inferior” and “that the black problem is not just about Blacks living among Whites, but about the black man exploited, enslaved, and despised by a colonialist and capitalist society that happens to be white.” You also remind us that “after having driven himself to the limits of self-destruction, the black man, meticulously or impetuously, will jump into the “black hole” from which will gush forth “the great black scream with such force that it will shake the foundations of the world”.”

I ask you then brother Fanon, should we not see these actions as the beginnings of ‘the great black scream’ that is to shake the foundations of the world? Is the threat of an utterance such as Mbe’s, telling whiteness and white people to ‘fuck off’, an act of agency that is not an appeal to ethical sensibility? Is it not that the disruption of spaces and the betraying of the “’the white family as the educating and training ground for entry into society’ as ‘the family structure is internalized in the superego … and projected into political [though I would say social] behaviour’” a critical act in removing the gaze of whiteness that pervades the experience of being black?

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What Would Steve Biko’s Message be to South Africa’s Super Wealthy?

Voices of Liberation: Steve BikoTutu Faleni, a Democratic Alliance member of the North West Provincial Legislature, has written an article about the legacy of Steve Biko.

Faleni believes Biko and Black Consciousness are “more relevant to us as South Africans than ever before”.

According to Faleni, the central tenet of Black Consciousness, namely that the politically oppressed and economically exploited need to “change their mental attitude to free themselves from all forms of subjugation”, speaks to all South Africans about what can be done to lift people out of poverty.

Read the article:

Poverty and inequality have reduced most of the people to a state of economic exclusion and human degradation.

We need to articulate and act on the legacy of Steve Biko so that it prickles our consciences and propels us to collective action aimed at drastically narrowing the gap between the extremely rich and the poor. The warning to billionaires by American presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is relevant to the South African situation, that is: “Your greed is destroying South Africa, and we are going to end your greed!”

This would be Steve Biko’s message to the super wealthy people of South Africa. Such a warning should not only be a veiled threat but be accompanied by fierce contestation around what would be the best economic policies that would liberate our people from the degradation of poverty.

Biko’s legacy directs all of us to review the deteriorating economic situation in our country, which has left many families without food on their tables.

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What Do Steve Biko and Black Consciousness Have to do With #Luister?

Voices of Liberation: Steve BikoVoices of LiberationMashupye Herbert Maserumule recently wrote an essay for the Rand Daily Mail on why the “influence of Steve Biko is as apt today as it was in the 1980s”.

Maserumule observes that Black Consciousness seems to appeal to the “country’s black youth born after the end of apartheid in 1994” and quotes Frantz Fanon, who said: “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it.”

Maserumule refers to the controversial language policy at Stellenbosch University and says that the students represented by the Luister documentary are fighting to “restore and assert black pride — the essence of Biko’s philosophy of Black Consciousness”.

Read the article:

This much is evident in the accounts of 32 students at the University of Stellenbosch in the online documentary #Luister. “Luister” is Afrikaans for listen.

The struggles of the born-frees beg the questions:

Hasn’t the struggle generation betrayed its children with the architecture of the post-apartheid state?
Did it err when it focused more on political transformation to the detriment of social and economic dimensions?
Hasn’t the “Rainbow Nation” invention unwittingly normalised coloniality?

The cries of black students expose a failure to adequately situate the theoretical and strategic policy orientations of the post-apartheid transformation agenda in Biko’s Black Consciousness philosophy. As long as black pride is not attained in post-apartheid South Africa, Biko’s philosophy remains relevant. Its transcendence continues to connect generations.

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