Could Biko, too, have switched camps?

If Steve Biko had lived, he might have been very; helpful in resolving ideological differences and divisions within the black community. That is the assessment of the Reverend Frank Chikane, general secretary of the SA Council of Churches. Chikane joined the SA Students' Organisation at Turfloop in1972.

"We did not see Saso or black consciousness as anything more than a general mobilising organ of the people internally and never took sides between the liberatory organisations like the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress," he said. "It was left to individual students or members of Saso who, when they went into exile, made their own choice." But some of Biko's former-colleagues say if he were live today, he would be espousing prosessive views.

Aubrey Mokoena, national coordinator of the Release Mandela Campaign said the man closest to Biko was the Reverend Barney Pityana – who has moved from the Black Consciousness Movement to the ANC. So have a number of others. As vice-president of the Students Representative Council at Turfloop in 1970, Mokoena headed the local branch of the South African Students Organisation.

"I worked with Steve Biko from 1970 at personal political and community levels. Biko had a high regard for Mandela and he worked with many progressive whites including Bishop David Russell, Archbishop Denis Hurley, Donald Woods and many other progressive whites who had a proven track record of dedication to the struggle." 

Mokoena believes that Black Consciousness "was a means to an end and not an end in itself. "To Biko, black consciousness was not anti-whitism. Whites would live with us as South Africans and not as a privileged or preferentially treated people." Mokoena said black consciousness was not meant to be a third force in the struggle, a rival to both the ANC and PAC. "Neither was it meant to be a revolutionary force."

He said the Black Peoples Convention's viewpoint was that black consciousness should prevail even after liberation."However SASO's viewpoint was upheld. Saso was the author of black consciousness and had given birth to the BPC, so we had to guard the basic tenets jealously that there should be no departures or deviations from them."

The general secretary of the SA Catholic Bishops' Conference, Fr Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, said Biko's "big heart broad vision and commitment to justice qualified him for a special place within the progressive democratic movement". "None of us can be dogmatic about the political ideology which Biko would have followed, were he alive today," he said.

"But what we can say with a fair measure of certainty is that Steve was a democrat in the fullest sense of that word; he fought for an undivided, non-racial South Africa. It is tragic indeed that he didn't live long enough to develop some of his political ideas."

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail


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