Biko, consciousness, oppression and the South African Media.

Black consciousness recognised two forms of discrimination or oppression against black people:

1. Institutional oppression e.g, laws that restricted blacks from travelling or residing in certain areas, poor education and laws that protected white workers more.

2. Oppression by way of attaching good to all that is white and bad to all that is black.

The term black in this post is used inclusively to refer to all people who were oppressed by the apartheid system in South Africa. It therefore includes people who today would be more commonly referred to as Indians and coloureds.

The origins of the black consciousness movement in South Africa are usually traced to the break of SASO (South African Students Organisation) from NUSAS (National Union of South African Students) in 1969.  The break was caused by the fact that on one hand some members supported NUSAS’ liberal non racialist ideal while on the other hand some, mostly black students including Steve Biko, felt that this way of thinking was out of touch with the reality of South African society at the time.

This group felt that white students were part of the section of society privileged by apartheid intentionally or unintentionally due to the pigmentation of their skin. It was therefore felt that white students could not continue to lead an organisation concerned with championing the cause of black students and black people in general when they were not oppressed or exploited by apartheid in the same way black people were. Steve Biko was one of the founder members of SASO and was elected its first president.

Black consciousness can be defined as the state of awareness by black people of the need to come together so as to defeat all that holds them in a position of perpetual inferiority in relation to the white man socially, economically and politically (Biko 1987). Black consciousness seeks to infuse in black people a pride in who they are.  The black consciousness movement espoused by Biko defined black people as all those socially, economically, legally and traditionally discriminated against in South African society.

South Africa’s history has resulted in identity being understood very much in racial terms. A lot has changed in terms of politics and this is evidenced by black people’s dominance in this field (Steenveld 2004:102). In terms of the economy very little has changed because economic power is still dominated by white people and this is reflected especially in media staffing, ownership and media products. The media industry in South Africa is controlled by a few largely white owned media companies (Steenveld 2004:102).

While institutional racism still exists, the democracy now available in South Africa means that to a large extent, ideas about inferiority and superiority amongst different races are changing. It is no longer acceptable in our broader society to attribute superiority, intelligence and rationality only to people of certain skin pigmentation. The role of black consciousness in changing these ideas is important.

In South Africa, in a media environment where media production is accused of becoming more and more westernised, it is important to question the dominance of certain ways of thinking over others even after the end of apartheid. Black consciousness therefore still has relevance in helping black people shape and negotiate their identities. This is especially important given that definitions of who is black in post-apartheid South Africa are also changing. So this blog is a small step for me, a black student of culture and media, in my attempt to break into the African media.

 


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