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Azapo and Biko’s Black Consciousness – a sorry disconnect


Dr Maruping Phepheng is an author and scholar of the African immigrant and human mobility. His Twitter handle is @MP_Author.

Azapo, thanks to the generous power of Black Consciousness and Steve Biko, should be the most fashionable thing among university students today.

It is 41 years since the brutal murder of Steve Biko, the father of Black Consciousness (BC). Diabolical Gideon Nieuwoudt and his apartheid-era security hoodlums, acting faithfully to advance white supremacy and black oppression, saw to Biko’s death.

Today, interestingly, Gideon Nieuwoudt’s descendants – the ones who are beneficiaries of both apartheid and the post-94 dispensation, want to dictate how the past must be dealt with, revoltingly telling blacks to move on; to leave the past behind. What arrogance!

But who shall we say, today, is the mouthpiece of Biko and BC?

If we were in the late 70s, the 80s and 90s, this question would be purely rhetorical because everyone knew then that the Azanian People’s Organisation, Azapo, was the home of Biko’s BC, and that its activists were competent agents of BC and erudite repositories of what Biko and his cohorts stood for.

That was clear. Back then.

Today is a different place, so different that Azapo seems frozen at the periphery of our otherwise vibrant political landscape. So peripheral is Azapo that one would be forgiven to wonder if we can still say Biko’s BC is a living philosophy. Where, and who, is applying BC today?

It is Azapo’s website which announces that “… as a direct successor to the BPC and the founding organisation of the Black Consciousness Movement SASO, Azapo continued and escalated the mission of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM).”

If this is in fact the case, can Azapo then explain why voters – specifically black voters, are not interested in BC and its founding father? Are the voters not interested in Azapo as an organisation, or in Biko’s BC as a philosophy? Is it both?

How can an organisation that claims to have been formed to “… (propagate) Black Consciousness and organising black people to be a fighting force for their liberation” fail so spectacularly to capture the imagination of the black majority (which is till downtrodden and landless in its country of birth as it was when Biko preached BC)?

Dr Gaopalelwe Motebe, chairperson of Azapo in the Northern Cape, was recently quoted as saying: “Azapo is more relevant now and it needs to permeate all sectors of society to conscientise the black nation so that they can fulfil the definition of freedom.” The question, my good friend Dr Motebe, is how is Azapo planning to “permeate all sectors of society”, and why has the permeation failed thus far?

Practically, what informs Azapo to boldly hold as it does on its website that “(t)o this day, Azapo remains the leading exponent of the Black Consciousness philosophy in South Africa and draws inspiration from eminent sons and daughters of this soil such as Steve Biko, Onkgopotse Tiro, Strini Moodley, Abu Asvat and Vuyelwa Mashalaba”?

It would be understandable if Azapo claimed to aspire to such an ideal. Otherwise how can this claim be true when today, Azapo is not seen in the streets? How can this be true when intellectuals within Azapo are not occupying pages of leading publications, selling BC? Indeed how can this be true when Azapo is not even represented in Parliament?

I believe that Azapo, thanks to the generous power of BC and Steve Biko, should be the most fashionable thing among university students today. Azapo, thanks to the generous power of BC and Steve Biko, should be overriding for every young and old person today whenever there’s a political discussion around a braai during Spring Day, or every weekend during popular “After Tears” socials, or during night life entertainment in Taboo’s VIP section.

We know who speaks, for instance, for the EFF and for the ANC. But who speaks for Azapo? Where does (s)he speak? What is (s)he speaking about?

Let’s be practical for a moment. Since the dawn of democracy, I have personally never been approached by an Azapo agent with the view of selling the organisation as the best political party worthy of my vote. Not once. This has also been the experience of people close to me. On the other hand, I, just like many other people, have for instance been inundated with text messages from various political parties seeking to secure my vote. Why does Azapo not do this?

I hope I am not hallucinating when I say it’s not too late. Azapo is full of intellectuals, and BC is a forceful truth, a philosophy that every black person, young and old, must embrace. Surely, surely Azapo can come up with ways to actually show how germane and compulsory Biko’s BC is to blacks. Surely.

My five-year-old son knows about Zuma and the Guptas, Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC, Julius Malema and the EFF. He knows these people and organisations because his father forces him to watch the 7pm news and, in those bulletins – while all these people and organisations dominate, he has not seen the president of Azapo. He simply does not know if Azapo exists. Presence, or lack of it, is a problem. Is it not, towers?

Biko’s BC is beautiful. It is sexy. It is life. As a black man I no doubt love it. But, let’s face it, the ineptitude of Azapo asphyxiates BC just as viciously as diabolical Gideon Nieuwoudt murdered Biko. DM

Maruping Phepheng is an author and doctoral candidate (UWC)


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