On a cold rainy day in Soweto, the Black First Land First (BLF) movement was formally launched. The May 14 conference was attended by more than a thousand delegates from across the country under the theme “Black Agenda for Black Liberation”.
The meeting was addressed by a range of speakers including Pastor Xola Skhosana, of the Way of Life Kilombo in Khayelitsha, and veteran social and women’s liberation activist Bev Ditsie, who both emphasised the point that democracy didn’t liberate black people.
The main objective of the conference was to adopt the Black Agenda, the policy statement of the BLF. It contains important and innovative proposals, including how to undertake a land revolution. The problems of South Africa are all traceable back to land dispossession, which began in 1652 with the arrival of white settlers. BLF sets itself apart from Freedom Charter-oriented organisations such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who qualify the land demand by excluding land “in use” from expropriation and occupation. BLF goes back to the original Africanist position that all land in South Africa is stolen property and must be returned without paying compensation.
BLF rests on two philosophical pillars: Pan-Africanism, honouring the contributions of Robert Sobukwe, and Black Consciousness as espoused by Steve Biko – hence its policy excludes white people from membership just as Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) did. According to this reading, the 1994 democratic process changed nothing for black people. It merely inaugurated a new veneer for the colonial white supremacist reality with new managers who happen to be black.
The Black Agenda outlines how to decolonise education in the long-term. To resolve the education crisis, including the low quality education for black children in townships, squatter camps and villages, the Black Agenda proposes – in a five-year period – the use of Zimbabweans with minimum qualification of O and A levels to co-teach with South African teachers in subjects such as English, physics and maths. In terms of its long term goals, the Black Agenda suggests total decolonisation of education and closing of the gap between manual and mental labour. Grade 12 learners under the Black Agenda shall be skilled enough to produce food and build houses among other skills.
On housing, the Black Agenda proposes that townships be eradicated through various interventions including decongestions, demolitions and upgrading. The problem relating to the over-housing enjoyed by whites must be solved through taxation of “extra rooms” or, failing that, subdivision of houses for black occupation. A radical proposal is to establish new settlements based on the community centre concept. These centres shall operate as a “one stop shop” for government services and community needs, including services such as child care, laundry, canteens, libraries, clinics, theatres, computer labs and gyms. In this way, the burden of domestic work and child rearing shall be lifted from the shoulders of women. This is consistent with the African idiom that “it takes a village to raise a child”.
On health, the Black Agenda recognises that the main source of ill health is the food people eat, which is produced by the food industry that controls the medical industry. This cycle of disease and profits has to be broken if people are to be healthier. The key to this process is food sovereignty, which means people know and are in control of what they eat. Furthermore, alternative and indigenous knowledge systems must be used to improve the healthcare system. The Black Agenda notes that as long as healthcare is driven by profits, there is no possibility of developing healthy societies.
Marijuana is given a prominent place in the Agenda, as a plant with medicinal possibilities as well as for industrialisation and cultural reproduction. There is a warning that the decriminalisation of the herb is only likely to happen after rights to it have been secured by white monopoly capital. The Black Agenda notes that in the United States more than 24 states have already legalised marijuana for medicinal uses and more than four states have done so for recreational use. The Black Agenda asserts that the only reason the herb has not been decriminalised in South Africa is because of “colonial stupidity”.
The conference adopted a further range of resolutions including that BLF shall participate in the coming local government elections. It noted that bourgeois elections will not bring change but that such participation must be undertaken to enhance revolutionary mobilisation. The approach to electoral politics is described as the notion of using politics to end politics. This resolution was intensely debated and was resolved by a vote of 40% against participation in the elections and 60% in favour of participation. This indicates that there is a strong anti-participation element in BLF.
The conference took a tough stance on the cancerous US chicken imported into South Africa. It was resolved that an official warning be sent to all the outlets that sell the chicken, warning them to remove the poison from the shelves. Failure to heed this warning shall trigger direct action, which may include operation “take out cancer chicken”. As part of the Buy Black campaign, which was also endorsed, the conference encouraged black people to raise their own chickens and replace the chicken from the US.
The conference noted that banks, the media and the government are in alliance to perpetrate enslavement of the people through the unjust money system run by the banks. This alliance has seen, for instance, the unjustified attack on such self-help schemes as MMM with the hope of collapsing them. BLF will join hands with those fighting against the freezing of accounts of people by banks because of their alleged participation in MMM (it has been described as a “pyramid scheme”). Furthermore, the poor must be allowed to seek alternative self-help mechanisms for financial independence. The conference further noted how government bails out banks and other private sectors each time they go under because of bad practices. Why not bail out the poor? The conference also resolved to support the establishment of a black bank, which must operate on a different system than that of the current exploitative banking system.
A resolution on anti-imperialism noted that the media is captured by imperialism and the opposition parties are part of the imperialist regime change strategy. This strategy seeks to re-establish the hegemony of white capital over the economy and in particular to destroy the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) process. This explains the coup in Brazil and the calls for a coup by representatives of white capital such as Johann Rupert in South Africa. The main political propaganda strategy of the regime for South Africa is to paint President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family as the enemy so that attention is shifted form white capital and imperialism. The slogans Zuma Must Fall and Gupta Must Go are designed to give legitimacy to the campaign, just like the campaign in Brazil.
BLF also took on a mandate to engage in processes of widespread consultation to bring together, under the Azanian Front, all existing Black Consciousness and pan-Africanist formations – the emphasis being black unity against white supremacy and white monopoly capital, the primary contradiction that must be resolved in South Africa, at the core of which is land return.