The united or unified Black Consciousness Movement is set to launch soon, possibly in next month.
The core of the story is not new; it has been a long and winding road towards unity for Azapo, the Socialist Party of Azania (Sopa) and the Black People’s Convention (BPC). The intent was expressed as far back as 2000, and there have been previous announcements indicating that progress has been made.
But now, and with Ishmael Mkhabela facilitating, the process has apparently moved past the point of no return. And with the launch, the main leaders – like PAC leaders when it launched in 1959 – will feel the pressure to perform and deliver.
The launch is a major achievement given the many differences that lay like potholes and snares along the path. Past hurts, angry divisions, the bitterness of jilted partnerships, prima donna-ism, clashes over what needs to be done – these were all there.
The parties are in some ways splinters off the same block; and apart from needing to sort out a common vision and a shared strategic view of SA, had to overcome (or at least manage) significant personality tensions during the talks.
I will be watching the launch with a hawk’s eye. I am less interested in who the leaders will be, the name of the new animal (both contentious issues during the talks, I am told) and where funding will come from. I am far more interested in what niches the new body will seek to occupy and what programmes are to be implemented.
Leaders involved in the talks have pointed to tensions and divisions in the ANC and the ANC’s tripartite alliance, and emphasize that now is a good time to form a strong, credible left-of-centre opposition. They even point to events unfolding in Zimbabwe – and have declared that a new force such as BCM would be ready to harvest the tons of disillusioned voters that the ANC would be shedding when a similar fracturing of the ruling party happens here. Regarding the next elections, some BC voices say: “Many former ANC supporters will be looking for a party to vote for in the next elections, and we’ll be there,” while others say, “I fear the unification has come too late to make an impact on the next election.”
However – as a strategy – capitalizing on the weakness of another party is insufficient. You also have to be clear about what you are “for”.
Thus, as the launch date approaches, one might ask:
- Will the main focus for the new entity be formal politics and fighting elections? (Indications are that the new formation will definitely take part in the next elections).
Will it, alternately, place more emphasis on an identity as a cultural-political movement, working primarily in the realm of ideas, education, consciousness, etc?
- Will the new player adopt a primary focus area and if so, what choice will be made between focus areas such as service delivery to the poor; justice and human rights issues and the challenge of ensuring access to justice for all, and; effective government institutions (and accountability in these terms)?
- Will it take part in government, if given the opportunity to do so, and as a key black consciousness figure, Mosibudi Mangena, a minister in Mbeki’s Cabinet is doing?.
Will it regularly take part in or initiate social mobilization, or will it eschew mass action in favour of using national parliament as a platform?
- Will leaders continue to throw around terms such as 'Scientific Socialism' as a key reference, as some did in early stages of the talks? And if so, how will they translate such a term so that it has practical relevance in the light of the day-to-day struggles of the marginalised? Does adherence to such an ideology mean, for example, that BCM will prioritise alliances with trade unions and privilege labour issues?
- What does black consciousness mean (BC) today? [In its hey day, BC played a key role (See my blog entitled Finding the ‘fit’ between Biko’s ideas and the Tambo path to freedom, 19/09/07). Together with worker and trade union action, it ignited resistance in highly repressive times when the struggle was at its lowest ebb. What will be its key message today? Now almost everyone can be ‘black conscious’; anyone can make a fist – even companies (that want to reach the mass market), mainstream radio stations, clothing brands, advertisers, fly-by-night colleges, funeral parlours, and so on].
The various parts of the BC movement are already scarred by their past encounters with such questions. Misreading the mood of the people, Azapo boycotted the first election - and arguably lost ground among the electorate. By the time they joined the electoral system, they could only muster enough support to win one seat in parliament.
Around 1994, Azapo was the main flag bearer for black consciousness. Then Lybon Mabaso, citing differences, broke away to form the Sopa in 1996. The party split further when some opposed (and Mosibudi Mangena accepted) an offer to participate in Mbeki’s government after the 1999 elections. Those unhappy with Mangena’s strategic stance formed BPC.
All the protagonists have since kissed and made up; but the new leaders will have to do more than hug each other and smile for the cameras on launch day and after. They will need to speak with one voice on strategic issues, display respect for a collective and shared leadership, and consistently demonstrate healthy ways of debating and reaching agreement when major differences arise.
As always, I ask: What do readers think? Will the new body make a major difference to the political scene in Mzansi? Please add your comment.