Born in 1946 in South Africa, in the Eastern Cape, Steve Biko engaged in political activism at a very early age, which ultimately caused his permanent expulsion from public schooling. Fortunately, he was able to enroll in and graduate from a private school, from which he entered the University of Natal Medical School to fulfill his life’s ambition to become a doctor. But his interest in political reform always remained strong, and in 1967 he joined the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), a multiracial organization dedicated to African civil rights. Biko soon became disillusioned with the NUSAS, however, when it seemed to him that “whites did all the talking and blacks all the listening.” The next year, he founded and organized the all-black South African Students’ Organization (SASO). While leading SASO, Biko formulated and spread the philosophy of Black Consciousness. The primary goals of Black Consciousness were to forge pride and unity among all black South Africans, to foil the government’s strategy of divide and rule, and to restore confidence in the ability of Africans to throw off their oppression. As envisioned by Biko, Black Consciousness was both a mental attitude and a way of life. He argued that true freedom could only be achieved once blacks realized that “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” By challenging the premises and forces that created identities of inferiority and helplessness, Biko sought to awaken blacks to the potential power within each individual.
The apartheid government first restricted Biko’s activities, then banned all speeches and texts containing any reference to his person or his ideas. For a time, Biko cleverly avoided arrest, and Black Consciousness continued to gain momentum, resulting ultimately in the 1976 “Soweto uprising,” in which student protests against inferior education served as the spark for a massive, violent confrontation between African residents of townships and government security forces. In August 1977, Biko was finally caught at a roadblock, arrested, and severely beaten and tortured in jail over a period of several days. Bloodied, naked, and unconscious, he was then tossed into the back of a truck and driven over 700 miles to Pretoria, where he was pronounced dead at the age of twenty-nine.
The following text, “Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity,” was written by Biko in 1973 for inclusion in a book on black theology in South Africa. In this essay, Biko discusses the origins and expressions of racism and highlights their effect on people’s attitudes and lives. He also provides a clear definition and explanation of Black Consciousness and offers it as a solution to remedy dependency on whites and passivity in blacks. In doing so, he envisions a new identity for South African blacks that will empower individuals and give them the strength and determination to take charge of their own future.
Steve Biko, “Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity,” in I Write What I Like: Selected Writings, ed. Aelred Stubbs. Copyright © 1979 Harper & Row.
Abstract and Key Words
In 1950 the government of South Africa passed apartheid legislation known as the Group Areas Act No. 41, which required South Africans to reside only with members of their own race. At that time, the South African government recognized four racial groups: Black, white, “colored,” and Indian (South Asian). “Colored” encompassed mixed race people, as well as immigrants from Malaysia. Prior to 1950 many people lived in predominantly black, white or “colored,” areas, but mixed residential areas also existed—including a vibrant area of Cape Town called “District Six,” which was razed to the ground, and its non-white inhabitants forcibly removed. After the passage of Group Areas Act No. 41, an estimated three million people were involuntarily moved to segregated areas.
Evidence that imperial expansion in the nineteenth century was not an exclusive European privilege is provided by this painting of the Battle of Adowa in 1896. Under the command of the Ethiopian emperor Menelik II (r. 1889-1913), an Italian invasion force was annihilated. Menelik is at the left of the painting, directing his troops who fire on the Italian forces with cannon and machine guns. Astride a white horse, St. George, the patron saint of Ethiopia, exhorts Menelik’s army to victory. The Italian commander, General Baratieri, is on the far right, ready to order a retreat. The Italians lost 6,000 men in this crushing defeat. Ethiopia would remain independent until 1936.
National Archives photo no. 28-0547M (top); http://www.library.yale.edu/div/exhibits/boxers.htm (bottom)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
While many consider the Cold War to have been a showdown between free market capitalism and state-directed economics, the truth on the ground was often more complex. Here, the American petro-giant Mobil Oil proudly proclaims its support for newly-independent Ghana’s Five-Year Plan to create a socialist “Welfare State.”
National Archives of Ghana (PRAAD)
Ghana Census Office
Abstract and Keywords
The kingdom of Ghana was originally an ancient and medieval Sudanese kingdom on the Guinea Coast with no fixed political boundaries and no single ethnic or national identity. Each community preserved its historical traditions and political autonomy. After what is present-day Ghana became the British Gold Coast Colony in the late nineteenth century, the boundaries of this new entity were set by colonial administrators. Decolonization after World War II brought independence in 1957, the first for an African country south of the Sahara.
The colonial history of Tanzania (then known as Tanganyika) bears many similarities to the experiences of other African colonies. The primary intention of both the German and British colonizers was the extraction of raw materials to be processed and sold in Europe. But although the production of such cash crops as cotton, coffee, sisal, and peanuts was ultimately dependent upon low-cost African labor, there was very little reciprocal European investment in local food production, education, or public health. Overall, the colonial economy in Tanzania (as in most other African colonies) was created by Europeans to serve their interests and their profits, and for many decades Tanzania was a net exporter of goods and wealth to Europe.
When Tanzanians began to demand self-rule in the 1950s, they found a ready leader and eloquent spokesman in Julius Nyerere, known fondly as mwalimu, or teacher in the national language of Kiswahili. Nyerere was born in a small rural village in colonial Tanzania in 1922, and as a young boy, he is reputed to have walked twenty-six miles to attend one of the few primary schools established by British missionaries. His superior academic performance and hard work led to a scholarship to study at Makerere University in neighboring Uganda, and later he became the first Tanzanian to study at a British University (the University of Edinburgh). Graduating with an M.A. in history and economics, Nyerere left Britain and returned to Tanzania in 1952, where he taught for several years.
In the 1950s, Nyerere became increasing involved in the national struggle for Tanzanian independence. In 1954, he founded the Tanganyika Africa National Union (TANU), a broad-based political party that advocated self-rule through national unity and nonviolent protest. After a period of difficult and protracted negotiations, Britain agreed to grant Tanzania complete independence in 1961, and Nyerere was duly elected president in the nations first democratic elections. Serving four successive terms from 1961 to 1985, Nyerere emerged as one of Africas most popular, respected, and idealistic leaders. He was one of the founders of the Organization of African Unity, a leader of the international nonaligned movement during the Cold War, and an active opponent of racism and apartheid in colonial Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) and South Africa.
Julius Nyerere, Socialism and Rural Development, in Freedom and Socialism: A Selection from Writings and Speeches 19651967, 33739, 340, 34548, 35152, 36466. Copyright 1968 Oxford University Press, Inc.
United Nations General Assembly
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, was one of the most significant and lasting results of the Second World War. The League of Nations, created after the First World War, had failed to prevent the beginning of another, even more catastrophic and costly conflict. The United Nations was planned throughout the war as a substitute mechanism for global peace and security, but world leaders also believed that a document was necessary to affirm the rights of individuals throughout the entire world. A formal drafting committee, consisting of members from eight countries, was charged with the task. The committee chair was Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of President Roosevelt and a strong advocate for human rights in her own right. By its resolution 217 A (III), the General Assembly, meeting in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eight nations abstained from the vote, but none dissented.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/)