Book review: Black Consciousness – A Love Story

Black Consciousness

A Love Story

Hlumelo Biko

Jonathan Ball Publishers

Review: Simonéh De Bruin

This March, as we mark Human Rights Month, it is perhaps fitting that we once again look at the basic tenets of the Black Consciousness Movement, to not “begin to feel that there is something incomplete in your humanity” simply because of what you look like as Steve Bantu Biko wrote in I Write What I Like – “biological irrelevancies” as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu described it in the foreword..

In his latest book, Black Consciousness – A Love Story, Hlumelo Biko, the son of Steve Biko and Mamphela Ramphele (both founder members of the Black Consciousness Movement), re-examines what it takes to live a Black Consciousness life in today’s South Africa.

Questions he attempts to answer for his children include why their grandparents’ original vision for South Africa is so radically different from the country we live in today and a critical one: given the socio-economic circumstances that most South Africans face, was their grandfather’s death worthwhile?

These, he says, are questions every South African should be asking.

He also explains why he believes his father – who was brutally murdered by the Apartheid police in 1977 – would have supported true radical economic transformation were he alive today.

In this deeply personal book, Hlumelo, whose name means “sprout”, not only looks at the relationship between his father, his mother and Steve’s wife Ntsiki – a relationship he describes as an “entanglement between three strong-willed young adults” – but he also movingly recounts his parents’ love story and how the Black Consciousness Movement’s message of black self-love and self-reliance helped to change the course of South African history.

In 1968, Steve Bantu Biko and Mamphela Ramphele, two young medical students fell in love, while dreaming of a life free from oppression and racial discrimination.

Their love story is also the story of the founding of the Black Consciousness Movement by a group of students at the University of Natal in Durban in the early 1970s.

Based on interviews with some of the Black Consciousness Movement’s founding members, the book describes the early years of the movement in vivid detail and sets out its guiding principles around a positive black identity, black theology and the practice of Ubuntu through community-based programmes.

In the concluding chapter “The BCM within the ANC”, Hlumelo argues that if Steve Bantu Biko was alive, we would have a country that gladly embraces African culture as the dominant force for how society is organised. “We would dress differently … and feel a different way about celebrating who we are.”

I cannot but agree with Hlumelo that we are indeed blessed with the insights of his father and many, many other Struggle leaders and that at this time, which he describes as a “defining decade” for South Africa, we would do well to pay heed to not only their enormous intellect but more importantly, their integrity.