On Tuesday 9th October 2012, Frantz Fanon Foundation was invited by Mr Nkosinathi Biko, CEO of the Steve Biko Foundation (SBF) to attend the first Steve Biko Memorial Lecture in the UK.
Frantz Fanon Foundation has been represented by Esther Ojulari, a practitioner in the field of international development and human rights with a focus on Afro-descendant rights and children’s rights. She has worked for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Geneva assisting the Secretary of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent both in drafting the Programme of Action for the International Decade of People of African Descent and with research, report writing and logistical support for the Working Group’s official country missions. She is currently working with the OHCHR co-authoring a practical guide for UN agencies on People of African descent and the Right to Development.Esther holds a BSc in Sociology from the London School of Economics focusing on race, ethnicity and multiculturalism, as well as Spanish language and society in Latin America. She also holds an MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights from the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS), University of London in which she focused on Afro-descendant children’s rights in Latin America and was awarded the Albie Sachs Award for best dissertation 2009/2010. Esther is currently studying for her PhD at ICWS analysing how international development approaches and policies in Latin America impact on the rights of Afro-descendants.
Steve Biko Memorial Lecture in London : legacies alive for young activists of today
The Steve Biko Memorial Lecture is a “platform for discourse on the past, present and future of Africa which reorients discourse about the continent and provides space for African thought leaders to reflect on what they believe to be the most relevant issues facing Africa and its relationship to the community of nations.” Through a new partnership between the SBF and the London School of Economics (LSE), University of London, this was the first in a series of lectures to be held at the University, and what better way to keep the legacy of Steve Biko alive for students and young activists of today ?
The first UK lecture entitled “Black Consciousness, Black Theology, Student Activism and the Shaping of the New South Africa” was delivered by Professor Barney Pityana, a founding member of the Black Consciousness Movement and close confidant of Steve Biko.
In his lecture Professor Pityana gave an in-depth account of the influences and inspirations that guided the Black Consciousness Movement. He spoke of how at the time of its emergence in the 1960s university students such as Steve Biko were well aware of the oppression and injustice facing indigenous Africans in their country and of the long history of struggles for self-determination. In his words “it was the worst of times and it was the best of times.” Apartheid was now well in place, numerous activists were in jail in Robin Island or in exile around the world and segregation in higher education undermined the very notion of universities as places of independent thought. But in reaction to this it was also a time for the emergence of new ideas, a reclaiming of African culture and literature and new forms of resistance.
In this context Black Consciousness emerged as a challenge to Apartheid. It was influenced by processes of independence that other African states were undergoing, by the Civil Rights movement in the United States of America, by the student revolts in parts of Europe and the resistance to the Vietnam War. Underpinning the ideology of the movement was also European philosophical thought such as Hegal’s notion of consciousness and Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man.
Professor Pityana spoke of the great influence of Frantz Fanon on the Black Consciousness Movement. Fanon gave Biko a tangible critique of post liberation practices across Africa which warned against situations of new forms of subjugation with little difference from the oppression experienced under colonial rule. Fanon gave Biko the analytical tools to critique various manifestations of social control and to understand the mind of the oppressed, the strategies of the oppressors, black people’s participation in their own oppression and the role of liberals in denying the oppressed to be their own liberators.
Professor Pityana spoke also of the role of the church in the movement and how rather than wholly condemning it as an oppressive institution, Biko sought to understand the black relationship with the church. He acknowledged the importance of the church for many African people who chose to sincratise Christian beliefs with African culture and practices and as such black theology provided a framework for liberation with which Christians could engage.
Central to Professor Pityana’s discussion was the instrumental role of students and young people as agents of social change and of their close relationship with their communities and their roots. The community development work they carried out, whether literacy training, running medical clinics, building schools or agricultural projects was not merely charitable but operated in partnership with the communities. It installed in the students an affinity with the communities and a role as liberators which, coupled with the training and debate sessions they held, lead to the formation of much of the core of the Black Consciousness leadership.
Professor Pityana finished his lecture asking how young people and students today can shape their own destiny in South Africa. In the current context of transport strikes, mining strikes, crisis in the education system and high rates of unemployment, there is a need for a strong youth leadership. Young people and students have a vested interest in how their society is governed and it is essential to develop an environment where lifelong learning becomes part of culture so that they can contribute to society and development. Yet Professor Pityana felt the main youth parties in the country which claim to advance themes of the liberation movement lack strong ideology and leadership or have been marginalised.
Indeed, it would seem that in many societies today the experiences of young people are so far removed from the struggles of previous generations and the undervaluing of education or lack of educational opportunities means in many cases youth movements are not what they once were. Of course young people today are living in different contexts to those of their predecessors, but it is nevertheless important to ensure the ideas and experiences of great activists and thinkers like Steve Biko and Frantz Fanon are available and accessible so that they may find relevance for their own contemporary situations. Institutions like the SBF and the FFF can be instrumental if these processes. Through educational activities such as the Steve Biko Memorial Lecture the legacies of great thinkers and activists can be kept alive to inspire today’s young activists as they face their own struggles in new world contexts.
The France Fanon Foundation is delighted to have been present for the first of the Steve Biko Memorial Lectures at the LSE which will hopefully be the first of many sessions contributing to the education of today’s and tomorrow’s young activists.