Biko had antidote to Verwoerd dogma
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.