Black Consciousness and Pan Africanism: Synergies for Liberation

Feature Article Black Consciousness and Pan Africanism: Synergies for Liberation
DEC 16, 2022 LISTEN

Some of the leading thinkers of Black Consciousness (BC) would be WEB Du Bois, Carter G Woodson, Malcolm X, Kwame Toure, etc. But the very same intellectuals were also the leading thinkers of Pan Africanism (PA). Du Bois is also known as the father of Pan Africanism. Malcolm X was an unquestionable exponent of BC and Black Power, yet in 1964 he formed a Pan Africanist outfit called the Organisation for Afro-American Unity (OAAU) about a year before his assassination. In his writings and speeches, Toure mentions BC by name and implores us to internalise it. To further show that BC and PA are not mutually exclusive, in 1970 he joined and led Kwame Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanist All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP). In 1971 he collected his essays into a book curiously titled Stokely Speaks: Black Power to Pan Africanism. Black is organically associated with BC in political discourse and praxis. It is an elusive task to resist the temptation to notice Toure’s sequence from BC to PA. His BC was so entrenched that he jettisoned the Black Panther that flirted with whites.

The post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this) fallacy is not the easiest thing to avoid. Because the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) was officially formed in 1968 while the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) was formed in 1959, the erroneous assumption is that the PAC was responsible for the BCM. By the same token, the assumption is extended to suggest that PA is older and as such superior to BC. Once more, let me state that this is a futile inquiry that feeds into the counterproductive egos of the organisations espousing PA and BC. Even so, chickening out of the discourse would merely help to entrench false stereotypes and myths. The historical fact is that African people were shipped out of the continent as slaves to different world destinations. Once dispersed by the enslaving forces, what mattered most was survival in their immediate localities and circumstances – their existential conditions. It could not be Pan Africanism, but Black Consciousness that would be immediately relevant in the particularity of their circumstances. In fact, a careful reading of history and literature may indicate that PA germinated much later as an attempt by BC-oriented activists in search of their kind in distant lands to cement ties of black solidarity. But even in the particularity (BC) of their existential conditions, the enduring chains of solidarity of the generality (PA) of their circumstances brought them together to plot their resistance and liberatory efforts. This is an instance of the contradictions embodied in the chicken and egg conundrum. Mgwebi tells us that:

''According to Padmore, the idea of Pan-Africanism first arose as a manifestation of fraternal solidarity amongst Africans and peoples of African descent. This great idea was originally conceived by a West-Indian barrister, Henry Sylvester Williams of Trinidad who practised at the English Bar at the end of the 19th century'' (Ibid).

Williams was instrumental in organising the first Pan-African conference in London in 1900 with the objective “to set up a forum of protest against colonialism”. If the Pan-African conference ultimately took place only in 1900, there were activists and scholars like Edward Wilmont Blyden who in the mid-19th century had already begun to conceptualise the Black Condition in search of the “African Personality”. An intellectual activist of that time, Du Bois (1903), writes:

''Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader, for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line'' (The Souls of Black Folk).

Du Bois then deals with the concept of consciousness (BC) of the Negro in “a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world”:

''The history of the American Negro is the history of his strife, -this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face'' (Ibid: p6).

It is not difficult to see why there was bad blood between Marcus Garvey and Du Bois. Mgwebi throws light on this divergence of opinion between the two:

''Unlike Garvey, Du Bois did not advocate the “Back to Africa” philosophy. He believed that the American Blacks have a right to remain in America which they helped develop. He did not share the ideas of Garvey on the question of “purity of African descent” (Ibid).

In fact, Du Bois dismisses Garvey’s “Back to Africa Movement” as a “grandiose and bombastic scheme, utterly impracticable as a whole”. Garvey’s extremism placed him at odds with other (Black Conscious) Pan Africanists. He was so obsessed with his “Back to Africa Movement” that he found himself in alliance with the Ku-Klux-Klan whose leaders like John Powel often addressed Garvey’s meetings. The Klan’s support for Garvey’s call was driven by racist hatred of blacks. And so to them the prospect of “cleansing” America of blackness was a plausible move. George Padmore (1956: 97) shares his jitteriness about Garvey and quoted him as having boasted that:

''We were the first Fascist. We had disciplined men, women and children in training for the liberation of Africa. These Black masses saw that in this extreme nationalism lay their hope and readily supported it. Mussolini copied fascism from me, but the Negro reactionary sabotaged it'' (Pan Africanism or Communism?)

Where there seems to be outright agreement between Padmore, Du Bois and Garvey, is their looking askance at communism. Unlike the two, Padmore had a brief contact with communism, and later disengaged from the Communist Party of the US and the Commintern after the latter’s “adaptation towards the British, French and the USA colonialist powers – a turn which Padmore regarded correctly as treacherous to Black interests everywhere” (P Trewhela; 1988, cited by Mgwebi).

These strong views against communism found reception in African Nationalism in South Africa. The radical Programme of Action and the general politics of the ANC Youth League laid more emphasis on race rather than on class. The protagonists of the Youth League were the likes of Anton Lembede, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Sobukwe. The magnetic influence of the likes of Blyden, Padmore and in particular Garvey was there for all to see. The ANC’s slogan “Mayibuye i-Africa”; the PAC’s “Izwelethu i-Africa”; are derivatives of Garvey’s “Africa for Africans”. The extreme application of Garveyism saw organisations like the PAC at first being ambivalent about the involvement of Indians and the so-called Coloured people in their organisation, while the ANC would accept them provided that leadership would have to be African. Even the acceptance of socialism had to be premised on the African experience – African Socialism.

While the PAC subscribed to African Socialism, the BCM had its own share of ambivalence towards the race/class discourse. In 1976 The BCM adopted the Mafikeng Manifesto that put forth its economic thrust as Black Communalism. It is during John Pokela’s leadership that the PAC shifted its emphasis towards Scientific Socialism, while the BCM did the same post-1977 during the era of AZAPO. The PAC believes in the concept of one human race, and has misgivings with the concept “black”. While AZAPO always accepted the concept of one human biological race, AZAPO insists that race does exist as a political construct that uses colour as its reference in the majority of cases. Overemphasis in the existence of one human race may run the risk of obfuscating the Race Question in political discourse. Black people are not responsible for the creation of the political race construct; and as such our political response thereto is sourced from our existential conditions. For that reason, the concept “black” remains critical in defining and advancing the struggle against white racism. The acrimony between the PAC and the BCM was characterised by moves at the 1988 NACTU conference to replace “Black” with “African”. An AZAPO leader Vanesco Mafora cautions against this negative relationship:

''To be sure, any attempt to render “Black” against “African” amounts to a distortion of pan-Africanism itself. Both in the BCM and the PAM there are elements who are actively attempting to sabotage the inexorable synthesis of the pan-Africanist and BC ideologies which is referred to in [AZAPO’s] Position Paper'' (Frank Talk, Vol 3: 1989/90).

In demonstrating the importance of the term “black” in bringing the National Question and National Self-Determination sharply into focus, Mafora invites Sobukwe or “God” himself to settle this matter:

''… In every struggle, whether national or class, the masses do not fight an abstraction. They do not hate oppression or capitalism. They concretise these and hate the oppressor, be he the Governor-General or a colonial power, the landlord or the factory-owner or, in South Africa, the white man. But they hate these groups because they associate them with their oppression! Remove the association and you remove the hatred… (I)t is plain dishonesty to say I hate the sjambok and not the one who wields it'' (Future of the Africanist Movement, The Africanist, January 1959).

Probably possessed by Biko’s mission to unite the Liberation Movement, The BCM has up until now shown predilection towards the unity of the Left Forces. As far back as in 1982 the BCMA initiated a meeting through the Gaborone office of the PAC to explore cooperation and unity with the PAC. There was agreement that the 5-a-side meeting would be attended by representatives at the same portfolio levels. Despite its relative financial dire straits associated with the status of being a radical political force, the BCMA demonstrated its commitment by flying its 5 delegates from Harare to the PAC’s Head Quarters in Dar es Salaam. Although the BCMA’s Chairperson (Mosibudi Mangena) and Secretary General (Mpotseng Kgokong) realised on their arrival that their counterparts (John Pokela and Joe Mkhwanazi) would not honour the meeting as agreed, they however attended the meeting anyway. There was agreement to forge unity and cooperation. It was further agreed that the decision would be ratified at the respective Central Committees of the two organisations. That was sadly the end of the matter. To contextualise this failed attempt, during the same period Pokela made overtures to Oliver Tambo and the ANC for unity. Tambo showed no enthusiasm to the move resulting in it being stillborn.

As has been alluded to above, AZAPO still managed to revisit the matter by developing position papers in 1989. In 1991 the BCM (AZAPO and BCMA) initiated a meeting with the PAC to once again explore unity and develop a common approach in dealing with the Harare Declaration that sought to arm-twist the Liberation Movement to conclude a Negotiated Settlement with the white minority regime of the Nationalist Party. The meeting sat on 9-10 August 1991 in Kadoma, Zimbabwe, and was consequently dubbed the Kadoma Consultation. The organisations took the principled position that “the only kind of negotiations [they would] be amenable to is to discuss the transfer of power from the minority to the majority through an elected Constituent Assembly”. Accordingly:

''The meeting rejected talks-about-talks as not being substantive. The Kadoma Consultation reiterated that the only mechanism that can genuinely democratise the system in our country is the Constituent Assembly elected on a one person, one vote basis with all Azanians over the age of 18 voting on a common voters roll in a unitary state'' (The Kadoma Consultation Document).

As a recognised party by the OAU, it was not easy for the PAC to ignore the OAU’s Harare Declaration that prescribed a negotiated settlement for the liberation movements. It looked like the PAC eventually cracked under this pressure and found itself in violation of its own principled positions and the Kadoma Consultation spirit by participating in talks-about-talks in preparation for the 20 December 1991 CODESA. The said talks-about-talks were not in a “neutral venue”; they were not chaired by a “neutral mediator”; nor was the CODESA about the “transfer of power from the minority to the majority”.

Having been left out of the Steering Committee that was tasked with organising and convening the Patriotic Front scheduled to sit on 26 October 1991, AZAPO fought its way into the Committee to be with the ANC and PAC. AZAPO did not agree with the invitation of organisations like the Democratic Party (DP) and Bantustan delegations to the Patriotic Front. Through its Secretary General Don Nkadimeng, AZAPO wrote to all those organisations advising them that they were not welcome to the Patriotic Front. The white liberal DP demanded AZAPO’s expulsion in return for its participation in the Patriotic Front. The ANC and the PAC obliged, leaving little room for alternative reasoning other than that they sought to appease the DP.

Not even that betrayal deterred AZAPO from still regarding the PAC as an important natural ally of the BCM. In recent times there have been several cooperation meetings some of which led to the BCM inviting the PAC to share a platform with it in hosting June 16 services in Regina Mundi. The PAC has returned the favour by inviting the BCM to share a platform with it to observe Heroes’ Day in Sharpeville.

The Synergies
Black Consciousness is essentially Pan Africanist, and Pan Africanism is essentially Black Conscious. BC’s Pan Africanist character is revealed by the fact that it is not confined in the US or South Africa. But it has spread to other countries where Black Africans suffer racism due to their skin colour. One example would be Brazil where the biggest Black Consciousness Movement is located today.

Both philosophies/ideologies have as their point of departure existential conditions of the landless oppressed and exploited masses. This positions them to be not just liberatory and socialist, but be filled with a combative energy that is anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist.

Below I select some clauses from the 1989 AZAPO Position Paper to demonstrate important areas of convergence between PA and BC:

• In 1960 and 1976 respectively the PAC and the BCM demonstrated their roots in the consciousness of the oppressed masses and showed decisively that they represent a single historical continuity.

• Both Pan Africanism and BC emphasise the National Question and the Land Question and delineate the repossession of occupied soil as a key component of their programmes.

• Both ideologies stand pointedly and vehemently opposed to the liberal and reformist position of the Kliptown [“Freedom”] Charter.

• It was the BCM which popularised in mass struggle the name “Azania” adopted by the PAC in exile.

• The concept of African Personality and the basis of the PAC’s Status Campaign outlined in 1959 reached their apogee in BC’s emphasis on psychological emancipation, Black Self Pride, Self Affirmation and Self Reliance in the 1970s and 1980s.

• The position of scientific socialism – currently shared by both ideologies – developed out of rather nebulous economic policies which were progressive in their time, place and context; viz African Socialism adopted by the PAC in 1959 and Black Communalism by the Black People’s Convention in 1975.

• Both BC and Pan Africanism share a policy on anti-collaboration with the oppressors and their political instruments and both ideologies reject white tutelage in the struggles of the oppressed.

• Black consists of two prongs, viz the reality of oppression and liberatory consciousness and hence encapsulates a political strategy which excludes all members of the ruling class and collaborators therewith. It captures two cardinal principles of BC, viz the unity of the oppressed and anti-collaboration.

• The word African reflects a sharp definition of the National Question which sees the indigenous African as the core of the Azanian nation, with the other Black groups being appendages to this core and forces a choice – either with the African majority or with the settler minority.

• Both ideologies emphasise the cultural dimensions of struggle and reject all value systems which seek to make the dispossessed foreigners in the land of their birth

The areas of political and ideological interface between BC and PA are self-evident. Trying to find areas of divergence between the ideologies is like trying to separate grains of sugar from those of salt. The differences in tactics and strategies adopted by organisations that subscribe to PA and BC are sometimes mistakenly interpreted as differences in philosophy and ideology.

The Road Ahead
Judging by the dictates of the revolution today, cooperation should not be restricted to joint-services, but to the forging of a fighting Black Power Front with the objective to wrestle for the reconquest of the land, total liberation and socialism. A project of this magnitude cannot be executed by cadres who see no further than their noses. Both the PAC and the BCM should be prepared to suffer short-term organisational setbacks that would in time put a spring in their step to reach unprecedented heights to long-term gains. The fighting Black Power Front should not be confused with the usual electoral pacts or tactical coalitions to win a few parliamentary seats. Such expedient coalitions spring to existence around elections and evaporate soon thereafter. A fighting Black Power Front should champion the struggles of the poor and the black working class that is left to its own devices in the platinum strike running to the fifth month at the time of writing. This Front should throw the struggles of the landless, black farmers and homeless into the melting pot of the revolution. The BCM translated the concept of liberated zones not so much in geographic terms as in food sovereignty and related self-development initiatives like health and housing. All these mass mobilisation efforts should help give leadership and direction to the rebellions of the fighting masses towards total liberation.

You should be surprised that I have not attached the fighting Black Power Front to either local or national government elections. Winning parliamentary seats should never be the main objective of a liberatory apparatus like this one. Once our organisations are associated with the everyday struggles of the poor in the communities and therefore outside parliament, such parliamentary seats will come like a swarm of bees to us. A Movement that fights for the reconquest of land and socialism cannot resign itself to winning a few parliamentary seats and full stop. Though it may start with a few seats, the objective should be to acquire state power. If that may include electoral victory, so be it. But our primary motive should be informed by the indomitable spirit to polarise contradictions with the ultimate objective of creating a Revolutionary Climate in our country. Parliamentary seats for their own sake – if not for the sake of their occupiers – would amount to a counter-revolution that would set the struggle back for 100 years.

Addressing a June 16 service in 2013 where AZAPO, SOPA and PAC shared a BCM-created platform, Don Mattera was overcome by emotions and urged the organisations to unite before he died. He added that he considered Black Consciousness to be the journey, and Pan Africanism the destination. That is the chicken and egg conundrum that makes the inquiry about which is older and superior between PA and BC an exercise in futility.

Author: Edward Yusuf Mitole
Edward Mitole