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Remembering Soweto: Harnessing black consciousness


2009-06-18, Issue 438

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16 June was the anniversary of the 1976 uprising in Soweto, South Africa. With today's black youth in South Africa finding themselves marginalised in much the same way as those protesting against apartheid policy, Blackwash seeks to commemorate the 1976 uprising and further the development of black consciousness. Inspired by 16 June and the words of Steve Biko, Blackwash encourages young black people in South Africa to take up the struggle to put pressure on the government and create genuine change.

Dear young black person,

Black youth living in South Africa today are in deep trouble. Even though we were promised a better life after 1994 by our black government, many of us still live in squatter camps and small RDP houses because white people still own more than 80 per cent of South African land, land which has been stolen over the last 300 years. As young black people we have to ask ourselves what is stopping our government from improving our lives and is there a future for us if black people do not have land? Will black people not be trapped in squatter camps and townships forever if our government refuses to take our land back from whites?

Many of us do not pass matric because black schools do not have good resources like model c and private schools, just like in the days of Bantu education during apartheid. What have we done to deserve this? Some of us end up in prison because we are forced to steal and do other crimes to survive. Because young black people do not pass at school or do not have money for tertiary education, many of them end up doing crime and being locked up in prison. The poverty of black people means that many of us end up behind bars because we are forced to do what we can to survive and keep our families alive. Why is it that those who stole our land and continue to benefit from that are not seen as criminals? Why is the black person who steals a cell phone, a few thousand, a laptop or a pair of jeans punished more than those who live on stolen land?

Some of us end up doing drugs and drinking a lot of alcohol because we need to forget this hard life. A lot of the time we fight and sometimes even kill each other over small things because there is nothing else to live for. The reason our lives are like this is that white people have been oppressing us and controlling every part of our lives for a very long time. This is why our schools are of bad quality. This is why we are poor and they aren't. This is why we live in shacks or in RDP houses in townships. It is a pity that even our black government does not have intentions to change the bad conditions we live in. But we have not chosen to be poor or black!

The same people who are responsible for the way we live turn around and blame us as if we are personally responsible. We are told to go to church, study hard, play sports, or join cultural groups, but all of these things do not help because our situation does not change. Even when we try, there are no fields or recreation centres in squatter camps and very few in townships. Because of this many young black people cannot use or develop their talents; they end up in shebeens or prison rotting away with those talents.

Some of us do go to good schools, get jobs, funds from Umsobomvu, buy cars or even become famous, but this is a very small number compared to those of us who will live in poverty for the rest of our lives. Also, the few blacks who make it leave the township to live amongst white people and start behaving like them: they look down on black people and accuse them of being lazy (the same way white people have done since they arrived in this country). We must ask ourselves how much longer black people should suffer before things change for us.

With all this in mind, do you really believe our government when they tell us we are free? Where is this freedom they keep talking about when black people are this poor, when black youth is unemployed, in prison or dying from AIDS or drug overdoses?

We are told we are free, but this is a lie. We are told blacks and whites are equal, but we know that whites live better lives than us in our own country. We also know that their lives are better because of the hard work black people do to build their houses, their suburbs, to look after their kids and wash their clothes. White people live like visitors who come to your home, kick you out and expect you to take care of their needs while they live in comfort in your house. They live like gods on earth because there are blacks who are their slaves taking care of all their needs. Why are we this poor in our own country?

We are entertained with TV shows, concerts at stadiums, now the 2010 World Cup so that we forget to ask why we must live the way we do. Most of this entertainment does not confront the truth about our black reality and does not encourage us to stand up and fight for ourselves against our oppressors. But even when black people fight and demand basic things for their survival, the government sends the police to harass and shoot them. We are not told the truth about the history of our country so that we can see how it was sold to whites so they live better. We are told to be patient, but until when? Our parents and grandparents are still waiting. Many of our parents die as slaves in white farms and mines. Where did whites get all this land? If you ask them, they'll tell you they worked hard for it and that black people do not want to work for anything. They will not tell you about the number of our black ancestors who died.

Many of our parents are forced to work so that they can buy food. Most of it is expensive because food companies, which are owned by whites, want to be rich. Forcing black people to starve when their land produces food is one of the many ways of oppressing us. Why is it that we don't have enough to eat when our farms produce enough food, some of which is sold overseas or thrown away so that food prices are kept high? We must take our farms back and demand that the government give us money and equipment to manage these farms so that black people can have enough to eat.

What must we do as the black youth to change this situation and everything else about black life? We must learn from the youth of '76, who were influenced by Steve Biko's Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). The things they learnt through reading his ideas on white power, black identity and black liberation made them decide that they could not carry on being controlled by white foreigners. As 16 June is being remembered, we must go back to Biko's thoughts and use them the same way as the black youth of '76 to stand up for ourselves, think about how we will free ourselves and like them shout 'Black power!' in the face of our oppressors.

There is a lot of fighting we must do before things change in our favour. As Steve Biko said, 'You are either alive or proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can't care anyway.' We must put pressure on the government to change things for the better. If they won't meet our demands, then we must make life for them and the white people they serve difficult.

If as a young black person you agree that the conditions black people live under must change and that we must fight against white power protected by our black government, please contact us because we would like to get in touch with you too.

We must educate ourselves about these things because whites and blacks who benefit from our rich country will not. They want to keep us in the dark so that we carry on blaming ourselves for a situation that they created. We must educate each other so that we can rid ourselves of the curse faced by blacks and young blacks in particular. The government, TV, schools, churches and universities do not teach us the truth. We are on our own!

Yours sincerely and for the love of black people,


* Blackwash [email] is a new initiative committed to black consciousness in post-1994 South Africa.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

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The answer to your many questions lies in the findings
of Prof. John Philippe Rushton's extensive studies on race and behavior.

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