Biko decried ‘blood-thirsty’ capitalism
Marking 44 years since the death in police custody of Steve Bantu Biko on September 12, internationallyrenowned educational activist and researcher Julian Kunnie looks into the legacy of the Black Consciousness Movement leader in a series of articles, this being the second.
PHILOSOPHICALLY, Steve Biko’s movement was key in the building of black self-esteem and mental liberation of the colonised.
This was especially for the youth and workers who viewed themselves through the eyes of the oppressor. They internalised the values psychologically and materially of white colonisers, prerequisites for any oppressed people, particularly black, who often tragically believe that their way out of the morass of racist oppression and economic subjugation is through imitating white capitalist and elitist culture.
Biko was the opposite, a grassroots activist who spent time talking to marginalised black workers and the impoverished.
When one looks at the cultural way of living for Biko and others in the Black Consciousness Movement, it’s clear that individual materialistic and monetary gain was not the manner in which they lived. They always shared the little resources, food, shelter, and other amenities they had with those in need.
The constant rejoinder that we hear from so many petit-black middleclass people today when they insist “we just don’t have the money to assist … or make a difference” was never the custom of adherents of the Black Consciousness Movement then.
In a real sense, though black people lived in a flagrantly and violently racist capitalist society in which the white minority and a tiny fringe black elite benefited, the Black Consciousness Movement members practised a “community socialism”. They never drew away from the deeply impoverished and always mobilised resources for the neediest.
What a far cry Biko’s life and others of the Black Consciousness Movement were then from the gluttonous, parasitical, egotistical, and vampiric culture evident in post-apartheid South Africa for the last 27 years.
The ANC as the leading force in the government continues to engage in the same economic, cultural, social and educational practices of their erstwhile white colonial oppressors: predatory capitalism, preying upon the working class and under-class unemployed and impoverished urban and rural black majority.
In this vein, the very same organisation that claimed liberation from the yoke and manacles of apartheid exploitation and repression, has mimicked and parroted the identical value system of their oppressors. This echoes what radical African historian and scholar Chinweizu wrote in 1974 when he penned The West and the Rest of Us: White Predators, Black Slavers, and the African Elite.
In September, 44 years after Biko’s torture and assassination, South Africa continues to wallow in the charade of “freedom” and “democracy” in the “rainbow nation”.
The rainbow is a beautiful symbol of the power of the sun and the Earth and the sky; it ought not be degraded by being exploited by capitalist opportunists.
The glaring reality that the black and white elite capitalist-owned media, economy, banks, land and other means of production in South Africa obscure daily is the intensification of the immiseration of the impoverished people that worsens by the day with the gross devaluation of the rand.
The country’s currency and economy is thus in line with predatory imperialist financial institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the International Trade Organisation, and large western banks and transnational corporations.
South Africa’s economy is a titivation of any sensible and authentic economy. An economy exists so that it serves to meet the needs of all of its people, rather than a paltry elite.
Consider two elements in this denunciation of South Africa’s slave system of racial capitalism and exploitation and knowledge distortion.
The first is the Covid-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc on South Africa and the world, with thousands of cases recorded each day, over 84 000 people dead, and a lockdown of major sectors of the economy that has devastated the black working class, particularly women, families and children.
A recent report in the South African press noted that 1 million people have died over the past year or so in South Africa, a sizeable number for a country of 60 million, which implies that the majority of people died not because of the pandemic but other health, environmental and personal factors and from natural and unnatural causes.
The leading natural death causes were:
Diabetes mellitus. Cerebrovascular diseases. Other forms of heart disease.
HIV disease. Hypertensive diseases.
Flu and pneumonia. Ischaemic heart diseases. Chronic lower respiratory diseases. Malignant neoplasms of digestive organs.
Two subsidiary questions thus remain: first, why has the South African regime paid virtually no attention to these ill-health causes of death? And second, why has the government not provided adequate nutritional funding support and interventions and other health educational programmes, among the destitute and those desperately undernourished or malnourished due to lack of adequately nutritious food?
After all, the ability of people to prevent such serious diseases as listed here depends on the ability of one’s immune system to stave off such illnesses, for example, HIV, that afflicts 13.7% of the people – far more than Covid-19, with the latter that even Stats SA acknowledges is still “marginal” compared to other diseases.
Interestingly, HIV is no longer the focus of the news media and government, though it kills and debilitates millions of people, particularly black families. Further, why is it that the life expectancy of South Africans is only 64.6 for females and 59.3 for males, and the country suffers an infant mortality rate of 24.1 per 1 000 births?
Compare this to socialist Cuba, where the infant mortality is 4 per 100 000, lower than in the US, and the maternal mortality rate is 39 per 100 000, compared to 119 per 100 000 in South Africa.
This is where Biko’s call for a socialist dispensation in South Africa needs to be evoked: Cuba’s phenomenal health achievements, including having the most doctors in other countries with doctor shortages, South Africa one of these, along with its educational output and literacy that exceeds that of the US (54% of adults between ages 16 – 74 in the US read below a sixth grade level) since Cuba’s literacy rate is 99%.
Steve Biko decried capitalism as a parasitic and blood-thirsty system that colonised people of colour especially, and exploited black labour to enrich capitalist conglomerates and elitist tycoons. Capitalism thrives on profit and the enslavement and coercion of cheap black labour, a slave system at its core, even in the 21st century.
The apartheid machine understood Biko’s revolutionary orientation toward socialism and the redistribution of land and wealth, hence he had to be removed from the scene in the quickest way possible.