Business Day

Biko had an­ti­dote to Ver­wo­erd dogma

- Kenosi Mos­alakae Houghton

DEAR SIR — Tony Leon writes of Hen­drik Ver­wo­erd that “the fall five decades ago of this gi­ant — or mon­ster — passed with lit­tle fan­fare” (Snap­shots of greed, ges­tures of change, and gen­uine hope, Septem­ber 12).

I am more sur­prised that he ap­pears obliv­i­ous of the 29th an­niver­sary of Steve Biko’s as­sas­si­na­tion on Septem­ber 12. Quite ironic that the real ide­o­log­i­cal ad­ver­saries in SA were in fact Biko against Ver­wo­erd.

While Ver­wo­erd preached the in­fe­ri­or­ity of African peo­ple (he called them Bantu) and used the power at his dis­posal to ac­tu­alise his opin­ion of them, Biko gen­er­ated the Black Con­scious­ness phi­los­o­phy, a di­rect an­ti­dote to the Ver­wo­erd dogma, and em­barked on pro­grammes to pump life into the “empty shells” re­sult­ing from Ver­wo­erd’s shenani­gans.

While Ver­wo­erd died con­tent that any “rev­o­lu­tion­ary” at­tempt from the “Bantu” had been crushed, fol­low­ing the Rivo­nia Trial, with all the “ter­ror­ists” sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment, Biko’s death in 1977 trig­gered the dis­man­tling of Ver­wo­erd’s Afro­pho­bic le­gal ar­chi­tec­ture.

From 1978, “petty apartheid” was dis­man­tled, in­clud­ing the open­ing of “white” schools and univer­si­ties to black peo­ple, black trade unions, and the con­sti­tu­tion changed to the tri­cam­eral va­ri­ety. In fact, the Na­tional Party was no longer on an apartheid agenda by the end of the 70s as it was then chant­ing “adapt or die”.

Twelve years of Vorster’s rule did not “sim­ply in­ten­sify the re­pres­sive state ap­pa­ra­tus in­au­gu­rated by Ver­wo­erd”. Vorster suc­ceeded Ver­wo­erd on the strength of quash­ing the “com­mu­nist threat” as “jus­tice min­is­ter”. Black peo­ple were not just pas­sive re­cip­i­ents of re­pres­sion.

Biko be­gan his cru­sade on black univer­sity cam­puses two years af­ter Ver­wo­erd’s death. The spark he il­lu­mi­nated caught up in­cre­men­tally in black so­ci­ety. Noth­ing il­lus­trates the con­tain­ment of fear in the black com­mu­nity bet­ter than the stag­ing of a rally in Dur­ban to cel­e­brate the lib­er­a­tion of Mozam­bique in 1974. The ar­rest of the rally or­gan­is­ers from the Black Peo­ple’s Con­ven­tion and the South African Stu­dents’ Or­gan­i­sa­tion led to the big­gest po­lit­i­cal trial af­ter the Rivo­nia Trial.

The ef­fect of Biko’s in­flu­ence on high school pupils in the town­ships cul­mi­nated in the 1976 riots.

There may have been a mas­sive flight to ex­ile, but no lib­er­a­tion army ever con­quered even a square mil­lime­tre of South African ter­ri­tory. In the 1980s, the Nats were pre­par­ing for a set­tle­ment that would en­sure con­tin­u­ing white dom­i­nance.

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