Finding Biko: The Spirit of Black Consciousness Lives Among Born-Free South Africans

An in-depth look into how Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement lives on through the born-free's fallist movements.

“All three of us grabbed Biko and we took him to one corner of the room and ran with him into the wall...His head hit the wall first."

This was Daantje Siebert's confession before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997 about activities that lead to the death of Stephen Bantu Biko.

Naked, shackled and unconscious, Biko, the father of the Black Consciousness Movement and hero of South Africa's liberation struggle, died in a prison cell of brain hemorrhage sustained while in police custody on September 12,1977 at the age of 30.

Steve Biko the Influencer

Before his murder, Biko was the radical, charismatic and spiritual leader of the black consciousness movement. He founded the exclusive black student group, South African Students Organization (SASO) and the Black People's Convention (BPC). The formation of both organizations marked the beginning of the Black Consciousness Movement (BC) and the adoption of the radical new pro-black doctrine of Black Consciousness.

Under the pseudonym Frank Talk, Biko fought for the liberation of South Africans from the chain of servitude in his column 'I Write What I Like.' Due to his political activities, Biko was banned in February 1973. Consequently, he was forbidden to write, speak publicly, talk with media representatives or speak to more than one person at a time among interactions.

Biko remained banned till his death as one of South Africa's greatest sons was arrested under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act on August 17, 1977. He never returned home.

Thirty-nine years after his death, Biko continues to inspire the struggle for freedom in South Africa. This time the struggle is not for freedom from white minority rule but from the dismantling of a system that sentences South Africa's black born free generation to a cycle of exclusion.

Born Free But Still In Rainbow Chains

With the end of apartheid in 1994, the Rainbow Nation myth emerged. First coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Rainbow Nation myth reflects the harmonious existence of the ethnic and racial groups in South Africa within the new democracy. Children born during this period are known as the Born Free Generation.

Despite having no memory of the apartheid era, black South African youths do not consider themselves free or believe in the rainbow concept as they continue to face the same inequalities as the Struggle Generation.

"I think one question we can answer with confidence is that very few if any, young black South Africans believe in the rainbow concept as it has been explained by whiteness," Deshnee Subramany, news editor at The Huffington Post South Africa, tells me about the rainbow concept. "That we are all part of a rainbow nation that means we are all equal, is something not many people I know either, elders and young people, believe in."

Photo by Raz.

The World Bank's statistics on inequality in South Africa confirms Subramany's statement on equality; as South Africa has one of the highest inequality rates in the world. With an income Gini ratio that ranges between 0.66 to 0.70, the top decile of the population accounts for 58 percent of the country's income, while the bottom decile accounts for 0.5 percent and the bottom half less than 8 percent.

In similar vein, economist Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in The Twenty-First Century, states that 60 to 65 percent of South Africa's wealth is concentrated in the hands of just 10 percent of the population. He says this group historically has been predominantly white. “So we are still very much with the same structure of racial inequality that we used to have."

Theologian Ndikho Mtshiselwa traces the level of inequality in South Africa to the presence of apartheid colonial social order which the democratic regime unwittingly administers, instead of changing or providing leadership in their destruction.

The inequality in South Africa has led to a system where two decades after the end of apartheid black South African youths face a system of exclusion that hampers their efforts thrive and prosper.

Consequently, South African youths have taken it upon themselves to expose the limitations of transitional arrangements from which the post-apartheid state was constructed. They demand the happy ever after promised to their parents

Finding Biko: The Spirit in the Fallist Movement

Tell Steve Biko I died fighting for free education —Wits Student

On the morning of March 9, 2015, Chumani Maxwele started a poo protest against colonial legacies he and other black students had been forced to live with. Starting with the statue of Cecil Rhodes, the #RhodesMustFall movement condemned the University of Cape Town's celebration of white culture—its eurocentric curriculum, mostly white governing and the institution's weak financial and mental-health support for black students.

Clad in T-shirts bearing the face of Biko, and chanting songs reminiscent of the struggle against apartheid, students across South Africa marched against the announcement of an 8 percent school fee increase in October 2015 under the banner of #FeesMustFall.

Also in the same year, #OpenStellenbosch protested against the use of Afrikaans as the main language at Stellenbosch University. In the documentary Luister, black students testify to their painful experiences of Afrikaans being used on Stellenbosch campus, in residences and in the town to exclude and marginalize them.

Unquestionably, to a keen observer of South Africa's history inherent in the #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall and #OpenStellenbosch fallist movements, this political awakening similar to that found among youths in the Soweto Uprising of June 16, 1976.

Photo by Raz.

This is South Africa's born free generation's way of embracing Biko's philosophy of Black Consciousness which states that "the black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity."

“The Black Consciousness philosophy is reappearing in varied and interspersed manifestations," author and critic Perfect Hlongwane tells me. “BC philosophy is seen in the fallist movement traceable to University of Cape Town's #RhodesMustFall struggle by students to remove colonial monuments and edifices Biko often quoted."

He believes the Black Consciousness philosophy was used on campuses across the country to keep main political parties ANC, DA, and the EFF from hijacking the free education project.

“Black consciousness is about ensuring the end of white supremacy," Subramany, explains to me when I asked her what black consciousness meant to her as a young South African.

“It's about making sure that black people can live freely, with our own love for each other and our differences without whiteness dictating the terms."

Speaking with Dr. Anne Heffernan, a post-doctoral researcher in the History Workshop at the University of Witwatersrand, on the reemergence of Biko's ideology among South African youths, she says:

“Young people today who are disaffected by many of the compromises made by the ANC and its allies, and by the resulting endurance of economic (though not political) racial segregation, are looking to some of the political philosophies that operated in tandem with the ANC's charter during the anti-apartheid struggle for solutions to enduring race-based inequality."

Heffernan further notes that students are reprising and remaking Black Consciousness for their own contexts rather than importing it wholesale from the 1970s and 80s.

University of Cape Town removes statue of Cecil Rhodes; 9 April, 2015 (Photo: Sydelle Willow Smith)

“The black consciousness that I have seen articulated on campuses in particular at Wits draws on some of the philosophies that influenced Biko and his contemporaries (Frantz Fanon has been a big intellectual influence), but also on newer theoretical frameworks like Kimberle Crenshaw's concept of intersectionality," Heffernan says.

In addition, the resurgence of student politics has brought with it a renewed political discourse about fashion and culture: “That has some echoes of the 'Black is beautiful' campaign pioneered by Black Conscious activists in the 1970s," she adds.

Biko's spirit continues to empower black South African youths in their struggle against the colonial matrices of power which eluded the making of the post-apartheid state and their quest to restore black pride.

Mandela stated in 2000 that "Freedom alone is still not enough if you lack clean water. Freedom alone is not enough without light to read books at night, without time or access to water to irrigate your farm, without ability to fish to feed your family."

Likewise, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, re-echoes Mandela's thoughts as she says freedom without dignity, and equality is not enough.

In recognition of the above, black South African youths challenge the unfinished struggles of freedom and decolonization within the university highlighting commodified education and the exploitative labor system brought to the fore by Biko.

Of what Biko might have thought of South Africa today, Ramphele states that "although Biko would be proud of what South Africa has been able to achieve…he would be saddened by where we have fallen short—in the area of tackling HIV/Aids, [and] in the area of tackling the inequalities in our society."

As a parting shot, Hlongwane reminds me that all rainbows have no black in it. “So, the youth see the rainbow nation concept as an attempt to relegate the indigenous culture to a rank below that of rampant western/white value systems. And they reject that attempt."

All opinions expressed are of the individual respondents and do not represent the opinion of the institutions they are affiliated with.

Still from "Kasala!"

Meet The Nigerian New Wave Director Behind the Film 'Kasala!'

One of Naija cinema's new wave, Ema Edosio talks about what it took to film her exciting new film in the streets of Lagos.

Ema Edosio is the director of "Kasala", a comedy set in present day Lagos and centers on the lives of four young men who go on a joyride to a party in a Honda Accord one of them has taken from his boss Taju without permission. Their evening is ruined when one of them crashes Taju's Honda breaking the windscreen and denting the car's body. With just four hours before Taju returns home, all four boys hustle around Lagos to raise money for the car repair.

Taju, who is a struggling butcher, is faced with a big problem of his own: his debtor has just given him an ultimatum to pay back money he's long owed. Bitter and frustrated, Taju's retribution will be double-fold, if he returns home to find his Honda is damaged. The four friends do not need more another reason to expect the worse from Taju if they're not able to fix his Honda before gets home in the next four hours.

"Kasala" is a vivid portrayal of contemporary Lagos and a riotous combination of physical comedy, inventive turns of phrases combined with fluid camera work and committed performances from some of the young and bright African acting talents.

Written by Temi Sodipo and directed by Ema Edosio—who is also the cinematographer and editor—"Kasala" was chosen for the closing gala of the 2018 edition of Film Africa in London this November, out of a total of 39 films from 15 countries.

Edosio flew into London for the film's UK premier at the Rich Mix cinema to a largely pan-African crowd who lapped up the rollicking comedy. Ahead of her trip to the UK, Okay Africa spoke to Edosio about her debut feature, the joys and challenges of shooting on location in Lagos and the rise of Nigeria's so called "Naija New Wave" cinema.

Photo courtesy of Ema Edosio

The fast pace and energy in Kasala is constant all through the film. Was this a deliberate injection or did it come as a result of the writing?

I worked as a video journalist for the BBC and I would go into the streets of Lagos to film, and I would see everything that made Lagos what it is: the traffic, the smell, the dirt, the vibe, the energy, the people. And I wanted to make a story that is authentic and that is the reason why I decided to make Kasala this way.

All the four friends and main characters jell naturally it would seem. How did you get them to work well together?

When I conceived of the film, I knew that I didn't want to work with any "known" faces. I knew that I wanted unknown actors. So I put out an audition call and these boys worked into the room and I told them to read together. And immediately it was like magic.

Why do you think they're largely unknown to the majority of Nigerian movie watching audience?

I think one of the reasons is there's not a lot of movies written about young people. Most of the scripts are for a certain kind of male character: the superhero who goes to save the damsel in distress, and the hunk and a lot of roles are not written for these amazing actors and that's why they're largely unknown.

Tomiwa Tegbe who plays "Effiong" is a good comic actor and has been in "On The Real (Ebony Life TV)" and "Shuga (MTV)". What does Kasala bring out in Tomiwa Tegbe that these other directors and film material that do not?

The thing that made Tomiwa Tegbe and the rest stand out in Kasala is that I gave them freedom to act and I wasn't micromanaging them. They became very comfortable in order to do their best to the film.

The cast as a whole is largely new and young with Jide Kosoko easily the most experienced. Why did you cast him for the role and not yet another "unknown" face?

The reason is I couldn't afford to hire known faces to work in the film and I honestly didn't have the budget. I [also] wanted to bring in a sense of familiarity and that is why I got Jide Kosoko. Even though they're guys are unknown, and they're are fantastic "here is someone you know who is in this movie playing with these amazing actors" which is why I worked with Jide Kosoko.

The different locations in the film are those of back corners, mechanic garages, meat market, communal flats most of which have the red and brown of rust and decay gives the cinematography a visual harmony. How much attention did you give to finding the right locations?

I think I made Kasala with a vengeance. I've had the privilege to work with Ebonylife tv which was beautiful but Kasala kept pulling me in: the people I met in the streets, the things I'd done on the streets of Lagos, the visual aesthetic kept pulling and I decided to make that. I wanted to see Lagos, I wanted to see barbwires. I wanted to see gutters, I wanted to see the people. I knew that the location was a character on its own. And I wanted to be able to find the right location that would be able to represent that boys and the lives they live in Lagos. I'm forever grateful for the people there who let us film there.

Your camera adopts the often frenetic pace of the film and is rarely still for long. Why this visual approach?

I'm very influenced by Guy Ritchie, Edgar Wright, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. And I would always say to myself that "these characters in their films can be Nigerians". I think that the camera should be fluid, breathe, move with the audience showing us "oh yeah this is a wide, oh yeah this is a close up". My influence by these directors was what I put into Kasala. And this is what made the film dynamic.

Are there any interesting, unplanned events during shooting which you could share with our readers?

Shooting in Lagos is one of the hardest thing to do. You have these agberos [louts] who come to you and literally want to take your equipment. I went with a very small crew and I'm very petite and they would see me and say "who is this small girl? She doesn't have money. Leave her alone, let her shoot". I started bringing them into the film to act and it was very beautiful seeing them react to it. One of the most interesting things is the children in the estates [on location] who act in the film, the joy and the playfulness. In some ways we brought back some joy and some fun into the neighbourhood.

Still from "Kasala!"

Did you worry much about what may be lost to foreign audiences who may not be clued up the pidgin English and "Nigerianisms" used in the film?

You can't come to Lagos and make a film about the slum in English. I felt like the pidgin English was as important as the location. My mind was not about where the foreign audience would accept it or whatever. My mind was "how do I make a film that is authentic to Nigeria? How do I make a film that would show of Lagos?" It would do no justice to use English.

Who are the other key players in Nigeria's "nu wave" film and tv you would like to highlight?

When you talk about new wave key players you're talking about Abba Makama whose film "Green White Green" inspired me to make "Kasala". CJ SeriObasi, ImoEmoren, Jade Sholat Siberi, Kemi Adetiba. So many new directors are springing out nollywood. And they're new directors making amazing stuff. I'm really really excited about the future.

How did you raise the funding needed to make "Kasala"?

When I wanted to make Kasala, it was not the kind of story people would fund. I decided in order to bring this story to live, to use the skills I'd gained over the years—to produce, direct, shoot and edit. Not because I wanted to be in control, because I didn't have the budget. That is the sport of new director coming in now. We're fighting against all odds and it is now beginning to be clear that it's way beyond nollywood. Kasala has been to over 20 international festivals and counting. And there an audience for our films, there's an audience for our voices.

What are you expectations for it at the festival?

I really don't know what to expect. I just hope that they love the film. For the Nigerians in the diaspora,I hope that it brings back memories of Lagos. For black people I hope it gives them a sense of how we are back home to help them connect with us as Africans. For the foreign audience I hope that they see a Nigeria of passion, of community, of tenacity, of brotherhood of love.

"Kasala" will be released worldwide on December 7th


Indomie: Unpacking a Nigerian Tradition

What does Nigeria's way of preparing this beloved brand of instant noodles say about the country as a whole?

Before I came to Lagos in September to begin a collaborative performance project, I imagined all the ways the place would challenge all I had read and heard about it, and all the ways it might remind me of my home, Trinidad and Tobago. Of all the kernels of similarities I've encountered so far, Indomie is perhaps the most intriguing.

Indomie, a brand of instant noodles originating in Indonesia, has become the household name for all instant ramen noodles in Nigeria.

As a child, I would make Top Ramen, but ours was far less intentionally adorned. I had never seen anyone add anything but Golden Ray. I would try to be fancy with my own and add eggs, but they never quite attained Naruto ramen standards.

Indomie was my first meal in Nigeria. I had arrived in Lagos about two hours earlier. In those two hours I had seen something of the character of the city. In the midst of the clouds of dust and engine exhaust fumes I saw a woman almost fall out the car she was getting into, I saw men sitting atop a truck, like wrinkles in the night sky fabric, I saw selling, so much selling and buying and haggling. It seemed to me that everything was happening here.

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Fela Kuti's 'Zombie' Is Coming Out On Limited Edition 8-Track

"Zombie" and "Mr. Follow Follow" are available in the nostalgic 8-track cartridge.

"Zombie," Fela Kuti's 1976 protest anthem and scathing attack on the Nigerian military, is getting an 8-track re-release.

Knitting Factory Records, Kalakuta Sunrise and Partisan Records have made 300 limited editions copies of Zombie/Mr. Follow Follow which you can pre-order now ahead of its December 7 release.

Fela Kuti's classic song uses zombies as a metaphor for soldiers mindlessly following orders. The song is thought to have triggered the Nigerian government's horrific assault on the Kalakuta Republic, in which the compound burned to the ground, Fela was brutally beaten and his mother, Nigerian feminist icon Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, was murdered.

You can pre-order Zombie/Mister Follow Follow on 8-track now and read more about each song from Mabinuori Kayode Idowu's text accompanying the release below.

Purchase Fela Kuti's Zombie/Mr Follow Follow on 8-Track

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