What was black consciousness and how did it influence the Soweto Uprising?

African higher education in the 1960's

  • New momentum developed in universities after the Extension of University Education Act in 1959
  • Bantu Education was highly criticised as it was designed to cut down the African elite's ambition however also greatly extended higher education for black people. 
  • The nationalists realised that whites couldn't provide enough skills for economic development 
  • They also realised that for separate development to work, there would need to be officials and professionals. 
  • Aim: create ethnically specific universities that used the African languages and identification with the homelands. 
  • Many Africans seeking higher education were directed towards Turfloop --> Became a melting pot. Many came from ANC/PAC families 
  • By the late 1960's, the students were very politicised 
  • Many people came from Christian backgrounds
  • Students heard of North American civil rights successes and slogans from MLK 
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Steve Biko and SASO

  • Steve Biko = medical student at University of Natal 
  • Part of National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) and Christian movement 
  • Very inspired by these ideas
  • NUSAS was a student union (supposedly non-racial) but dominated by white people 
  • Eventually, after the University Christian Movement was banned, the South African Student's Organisation was founded (SASO)
  • This was a new phase of South African resistance
  • Took up African ideas used earlier in ANC Youth League and PAC --> Elements of black and liberation theology.
  • African Nationalism +  American Black Power = black consciousness
  • Biko said that black people should lead themselves and not be lead by whites
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Black Consciousness

  • Less of an organised political movement and more of an intellectual orientation. 
  • Self-assurance in being black at a time when white South African society was in power
  • An attitude of the mind 
  • Decided to use the term black - probably from the US and to move away from terms like 'Bantu' or 'coloured' 
  • Black Universities (e.g. Turfloop) produced many activists --> Ironically the apartheid universities gave them this opportunity 
  • Some of SASO's leaders were arrested in the early 70's but they maintained a strong presence on black campus' 
  • In Durban, SASO organised a protest despite a government ban - moved from ideological mobilisation to confrontation 
  • 1972 = A Black Consciousness Movement and a Black People's Convention was launched 
  • Ideas had been drawn from Africanist ideas from PAC - distanced themselves from banned party though  
  • Movement of the youth - students
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The Mobilisation of School Children

  • 1975 = momentum of protest was shifting to schools 
  • Number of children at school was expanding (1 mil - 3.5 mil between 1950-1975) 
  • This expansion put strains on staff and building space 
  • Soweto classes were 60+ children 
  • Bantu education had lead to increasing political potential 
  • High school students were still a minority for people their age though - had to face gangs that dominated the streets (tsotsis) - violent, aggressive and hostile 
  • School students faced a real danger of violence from these gangs - therefore had to fight both gangs and the gov —> Black consciousness gave them a stronger sense of identity 
  • By 1976, they were combining against the gangs - formed self-defence units 
  • Prepared to use violence 
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The Soweto Uprising

  • 1794 = the Transvaal Bantu Education Department decided to expand teaching in Afrikaans at African Schools 
  • Afrikaans was seen as the language of the oppressor - the language of racism 
  • English was seen as the language of advancement, a global language and the language of BC 
  • Now African children would have to master two languages in addition to their first language 
  • In May, SASM (South African Students Movement) tried to organise boycotts in protest 
  • 2,000 marching pupils were confronted by 50 police —> Stones thrown and police dogs released (a few dead and a few wounded) 
  • Pupils then attacked government buildings and killed two officials. Gov responded with force
  • Overall; 138 were killed in first few days
  • Pupils boycotted school, tried to destroy gov buildings 
  • June: other uni students marched in sympathy and Turfloop students tried to burn down the Afrikaans department on their campus 
  • Gov inquiry calculated that 575 people died in the uprising —> most violent episode since Sharpville 
  • Attracted global attention. 
  • In order to avoid arrest, 4,000 youths fled the country 
  • Many joined the Mk 
  • Student leaders were imprisoned on Robben Island 
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The death of Steve Biko

  • In 1973, Steve Biko was banned - made to live in Kingwilliamstown (Eastern Cape) 
  • Maintained a strong profile through his writing 
  • In 1977, he broke his banning order and left Kingwilliamstown and was arrested, interrogated and beaten 
  • He was taken to a prison hospital and died 12th Sept 1977
  • Police claimed his death was due to a hunger strike - more likely that he died from his injuries from police brutality 
  • International disproval 
  • Funeral attended by 10,000 + people.
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