When Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) commander-in-chief Julius Malema arrived to give an address at the Tshwane University of Technology main campus in the wake of the 2015 Student Representative Council elections, the South African Students’ Congress (Sasco) disrupted the meeting, arguing that the EFF had not booked the venue. In all radical traditions, and in keeping with the spirit of the Freedom Charter, opening the university to radical and diverse views is a significant part of its own transformation. Rather than trying to police access to university premises, Sasco should have, in keeping with radical traditions, listened to what Malema had to say then taken to the stage to robustly argue the points.
Instead, in front of the police and campus security, Sasco members assaulted their way into an EFF public meeting, pushing towards the stage where Malema was about to give his address. Malema said: “Fighters attack.” The result was that ordinary students, as well as EFF members, pushed back and managed to shove Sasco members to the fringes. Relegated to the outskirts of the large crowd, Sasco members then resorted to throwing stones, injuring both students and journalists alike. Still, the police arrested no one.
Many painted this event as “black-on-black violence”, saying Malema’s call for fighters to attack showed a lack of black consciousness. In this piece I will argue that this is a debilitating statement to make to black activists; that they must not defend themselves when attacked by other blacks because they hold a different political view. It denies the right to violent self-defence for activists of decolonisation; in fact they are advised to “run away”.
This argument says that when engaged in the struggle for decolonisation, or the liberation of black people, you must never be violent to other blacks. This is because the objective is to unite blacks, thus, when they attack you run away. This is flawed on many levels, the least of which is that it treats blacks as homogeneous and this goes against all of Steve Biko’s work on the black condition and how we must engage in the politics of decolonisation.
To rule over natives, colonisation actually uses other blacks to defend, advance and maintain itself. This practice of colonial rule leads to internal complications in the black liberation struggle. Once blacks go against the very black bodies used by colonisation to manage itself, colonisers can say “look they are killing each other”. They use this to justify white supervision – “because blacks cannot rule themselves”. Incapable of self-determination, they quickly revert to the barbaric ‘states of nature’ colonisers found them in – they eat each other.
The idea of barbarism or cannibalism serves as an important basis for why colonisers think they need to regulate relations on the continent; blacks are just part of the things and animals in a broader jungle called Africa and, like animals, they need supervision. This is because blacks are, like animals just a skin, just a body, with no capacity for civilisation.
The black, as an animal, therefore becomes the domesticated animal, but remains an animal nonetheless. When left alone, the animals will finish off each other. At times, some narrow nationalists marshall the idea of self-determination as part of trying to prove to the white world that we are not animals; it says let us prove that we can rule ourselves. But this is as unimaginative as colonialism itself.
In fact, Frantz Omar Fanon says the process of colonial rule is so complete that it instilled deep in the native’s psyche the idea that if whites were to leave, things would return to that uncivilised animalistic life. This is why the question of the unity of the African oppressed is of paramount importance.Yet, for its creation and continued existence, colonialism depends on blacks.
The process of de-colonisation is therefore confronted with a complication in its aim to liberate blacks. The question is: What about those used by colonisation to fight black and resist the liberation struggle; that is, to resist resistance? In the classical analogy of WE du Bois – we can say, what do you do with the slave in the house, or the house nigger?
Biko was conscious of this internal complication about the collective subjects of emancipation because he was also confronted with the most systematic adaptation of the house nigger – the infamous bantustans. Bantustans were the perfect manifestation of how Apartheid caused ethnic collective identities to come into being, and managed blacks by keeping them apart from each other. The tricameral Parliament, which elevated Indian and Coloured folks is another use of house nigger collectives through which Apartheid sought to manage blacks using other blacks.
Historically, colonisation was constituted through the governmental logic of “black-on-black rule” going back to its founding moment in the age of “slave capture”. We know that many slaves who ended up in the Americas only met whites at the harbour; their violent capture and transportation to the ships was carried out by other blacks. This means, the very founding act of colonial rule was to initiate “black-on-black violence”. This is why we say that in order to be, colonial rule cannot imagine, sustain and evolve without equally causing, normalising and entrenching black-on-black violence.
Here, Biko’s definition of what it is to be aware of the place of blacks in the colonial symbolic, economic, social and gender structure becomes meaningful. “Being black,” he says, “is not a matter of pigmentation … (but) a reflection of a mental attitude.” He adds that blacks are those who fight against the use of their blackness as a means of their oppression. “Black violence” following this definition of being black must therefore refer to that violence done to resist the use of our pigmentation as a means to mark us out as subservient beings.
This is because there are blacks who do not act as if they are conscious of “being black”. Biko says they “look black”, black as a matter of pigmentation, but he refers to them in the negative “non-white”. Biko says this is because “to merely describe yourself as black is to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness” as means of oppression. Thus, the precondition for being black is to fight against being reduced to your body, that your pigmentation must not determine your place in the world.
Secondly, the ”‘non-whites” want to be integrated into and benefit from the colonial system. We can imagine the aesthetic, linguistic and spiritual adaptations blacks make out of self-hate or hating who they are. The black who softens his or her hair, or shaves it off, or tries to whiten their skin, or demonises indigenous spirituality as witchcraft can achieve this, although not all the time, without spilling blood.
But the worst form of labouring for colonial integration is when they spill black blood and manage black suffering.This is why Biko says: “The fact that we are all non-white does not necessarily mean we are all black … any man who serves in the police force or security branch is ipso facto a non-white.” So, for Biko, non-white is the position colonisation gives to all of us; it is based on the idea that our position is a position of having a permanent desire to be like whites, which is impossible to fulfil. This is the position of not being like whites. To be black is the conscious act of fighting, refusing, rejecting colonisation, colonial integration and colonial patronage: it is fighting against being a “not”, an opposite/negative of what is.
In the 1980s anti-Apartheid activists torched the houses of black policemen in the townships and went up against criminals who used to terrorise black communities, and exiled councillors who were trying to legitimise colonial rule. Apartheid’s response to this violence was to say: “Look, black-on-black violence.” Yet violence had existed within black communities long before political parties were fighting each other in the townships, or before violence in townships was politically motivated.
We can remember the criminal gangs like Amalaita in Durban and Johannesburg in the early 1920s who caused terror amongst black communities. In fact the spread of crime and “bo-tsotsi” in townships is often seen as one of the reasons the Apartheid government rolled out mass education in the 1950s. It was to discipline the delinquent black youth who were embracing crime as culture, as a fashionable way of living.
Thus, “black-on-black violence” was used in public discourse to describe politically motivated black violence in the 1980s. The phrase later attain international recognition with the Boipatong massacre, in which 45 people were killed under cover of night by supporters of the Inkatha Freedom Party. When “bo-tsotsi” kill blacks, it was merely a crime – but as soon as violence within the black community was politically motivated, it became “black-on-black violence”.
Here apartheid and the liberal media were consciously delegitimising the liberation struggle. They were saying that if black liberation organisations think they can rule blacks, why can’t they contest each other without violence? It was also proof that if blacks were to rule South Africa, things would degenerate into chaos. Therefore, all that has hitherto been called “black-on-black violence” is colonial violence par excellence.
Colonial distortions aside, the question remains; What do you do when colonial power forms an iron wall with black bodies which you must go through to fight the system? In fact, colonisation does not even hesitate to use hooligans and gangs to terrorise activists and undermine the struggle as in the case of AmaRussia during the Evaton Bus Boycotts in the 1950s. They can even support political organisations that will defend, protect and advance their colonial white supremacist interests.
Thus, what do you do with house nigger collectives who take up arms to kill the revolutionary, to beat the back community into line? Who infiltrate movements to hand over activists to the special branch and rob the black community of its leaders? This question is even more crucial today, when our state is run by a black collective which presides over colonial property relations and massacres blacks to protect these colonial properties, than when apartheid managed them directly.
To give an answer to this question, it is Biko’s black consciousness that we must return to. It helps us to appreciate this fact and not be patronised into running away from house niggers because that would be to run away from the system itself. Running away from house nigger attacks inevitably serves the system itself and not black unity because house niggers are not blacks, but non-whites – they are the force of colonial governmental sustainability. Biko’s call that we must fight is very specific in saying “against all forces” that want to trap us in the system of black inferiority.
The verdict is therefore simple; Sasco is part of the African National Congress (ANC) house nigger collective whose policies have nothing to do with advancing the black community. While the EFF accepts the democratic terms of engagement, when they degenerate into violence, running away is selling out.
The EFF accepts democratic terms of engagement because we are confident in the supremacy of our argument for economic freedom. We are sure that given the platform which we have created ourselves, our message will win the hearts and minds of the oppressed black majority. Because economic freedom is an idea whose time has come, and no one can stop it.
However, if the police of the post-Apartheid state will not protect our meetings from the violence of ANC hooligans, they leave us with no option but to do it ourselves. The democratic terms of reference require that they protect our meetings, and oppose all forms of political intolerance, including those from the ruling party and its allied forces. Society must rest assured that we shall never accept being bullied anywhere; in Parliament, in universities, and on the streets. Black people have no cheeks left to turn, they are already living under a million slaps.
Following Biko’s black consciousness we know that “black violence” is when blacks fight against “all forces” that seek to keep them on our knees begging for bread, water, and affirmation from the white world. It is the same violence Nelson Mandela had in mind when he said to the Congress of South African Trade Unions: “If the ANC does to you what apartheid did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to apartheid.” This is black violence, only because the path of decolonisation requires nothing less. DM
Commissar Mbuyiseni Ndlozi is a member of the EFF central command team.