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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Black Consciousness Movement (BCM)

The Black Consciousness Movement is an umbrella term used to describe the black consciousness ideology and the different organisations and groups centred around it. The ideology was propagated in the sixties, mainly by students. They formed numerous organisations through which to channel their black consciousness propaganda. Steve Biko, who died in custody in September 1977, was a major exponent of the black consciousness philosophy.

Some of the most influential black consciousness groups, such as the Black People's Convention (BPC) and the South African Students' Organisation (Saso), were banned in October 1977. Subsequently the Black Consciousness Movement has been used as an umbrella term to de-scribe the different groups or organisations such as Azapo and National Forum which replaced the banned organisations.

Black consciousness can be described as an awareness among blacks that their human identity hinges on the fact that they are black. Blacks (which, in this definition, include Indians and coloureds) are proud of their skin colour, and aware of the fact that they have their own black history and culture, differing from that of whites. They no longer accept being judged according to white values and norms. This means that they must psychologically liberate themselves from the "slave mentality" created by "institutionalized racism" and "white liberalism". In essence, black consciousness is an attitude towards life. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for whites to be included in black consciousness groups.

Seen from an ideological perspective, black consciousness is an eclectic philosophy it reflects a variety of conceptual constructs and guide-lines borrowed from diverse sources, including Marxism-Leninism, Pan-Africanism, nationalism, African socialism and even welfare capital-ism. According to some exponents of black consciousness, black theology is also an integral part of the movement. Seen against this background it is clear that it is extremely difficult to describe precisely the philosophical underpinnings of the doctrine.

Following the October 1977 bannings, the main black consciousness organisations were persistently harassed by the police. Accordingly the ideology, initially intended to create an awareness of oppression among blacks, systematically shifted to black liberation and the repossession of land. After the October 1977 bannings, an overseas arm was established in 1979 which served as an umbrella organisation for the various black consciousness groups. Called the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania (BCMA), this external wing helped to radicalize the BCM.

The BCMA's point of departure was that black consciousness was a "liberation ideology" and that it was based on the principles of "scientific socialism". The BCMA also made itclear that it considered the "op-pressed black worker an important factor in the liberation struggle and the creation of a democratic socialist Azanian state". Accordingly it tried to unite overseas liberation movements such as the ANC and PAC. Leadership problems and disillusionment about the effectiveness of the BCMA resulted in the organisation taking a back seat for the greater part of the eighties.

The chairman of the BCMA, Mosibudu Mangena, based at the organisation's Harare head office, made numerous attempts to achieve peace between the ANC and PAC. In 1990 these attempts gained new momentum. The BCMA holds that a united front of the different liberation movements must be formed, but is opposed to negotiations with the South African government. Believing that the armed struggle should be continued, it sharply criticized the ANC for holding talks with the government. The organisation is in control of the Azanian National Liberation Army (Azanla) of which a number of members were arrested in South Africa in 1990. The BCMA claims that there are three demands which are non-negotiable:

     One man, one vote.

     Redistribution of land.

     Redistribution of wealth.

In South Africa itself the BCM fulfilled a coordinating function from 1987 to February 1990. Being an umbrella organisation with no rigid structure it could function in the place of affected organisations such as Azapo. Imraan Moosa, chairman of the BCM, is sceptical about the South African government's peace attempts. His view is that "good leaders" should see black unity as the first priority. (Moosa re-signed from Azapo in 1990 because he felt the organisation had moved too close to the ANC and PAC.) The organisation has had a great impact on black youth, possibly because it is more radical and unyielding in negotiations. Azapo is probably one of the organisations which identifies most closely with the notion of black consciousness.

The radical viewpoints of the Black Consciousness Movement have led to violent clashes between its sympathizers and Charterists. (The Charterists are also known as the "populists". Populism is a Lenin-orientated ideology which states that cooperation between parties and classes is acceptable in order to establish a socialist dispensation. It does not see workers as having the same significance as do the "workerists".) The accent on black unity has compelled the BCM to continually try to make peace with ANC representatives. It seems a difficult task, however, as the unbanning of organisations like Azapo and Azayo in February 1990 has resulted in the BCM becoming less cohesive.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.