Bikoism or Mbekism - the role of Black Consciousness in Mbeki's South Africa

Peter Christian Kenworthy

Student thesis: Master thesis


A combination of European administrators, an indigenous elite and colonialist discourse upheld colonial rule. The colonialist discourse that engulfed all colonies was extensive, drawing on both non-cultural explanations such as racism, and cultural such as Eurocentric universalism to justify colonialism. Resistance to colonialism therefore required an imaginative reconstruction and a transcendence of colonial discourse as well as resistance to its more physical and material legacies, also because the material and non-material elements of colonialism are mutually constitutive and interconnected. As Postcolonial theory further acknowledges, the legacy of colonialist discourse continued to influence the perceptions and self-image of both coloniser and colonised after actual colonialism had ended. Although South Africa’s colonial period was in a sense unique because of the “internal” nature of its colonisation, until the late forties and even into the sixties the nature of exploitation of its indigenous population was relatively unexceptional compared to that of other African countries and colonies elsewhere. The combination of the decolonisation of most other colonies in the late fifties and sixties and the increasingly rigid nature of apartheid laws in South Africa changed this. Black Consciousness was a response to the increasingly rigid nature of apartheid that according to Biko had caused the black defeatism, lack of pride and dependency upon white liberals that was evident in the lack of black liberation activity inside South Africa in the late sixties. Whereas Biko’s goal was a non-racial society, his solution was two-tiered, blacks having first to regain pride and confidence in themselves by acts of self-sufficiency, this being a pre-condition for a successful second tier, that of actual liberation and material and political improvements. After the elimination of apartheid, Biko’s Black Consciousness envisaged a non-racial society and an integration that fused the lifestyles of the various groups. The ANC of Thabo Mbeki that achieved actual political power after the dismantling of apartheid saw things the other way round, striving to end apartheid whilst giving little thought to racialism until well into the nineties. Mbeki’s ANC thereby ended up with an “over-racialised” view of South Africa, advocating an Africanism or Afrocentric universalism and group-orientated multiculturalism that has seen a resurgence of exclusionism. Additionally, Mbeki combined an individualistic economic liberalism with that of centralist, top-down style leadership that was opposed to the communalistic mixed economy, bottom-up approach of Black Consciousness. In reality the psychological aspects are interconnected with the political and economic. Only an integral solution that attempts to deal with all aspects and include some of the insights of both Bikoism and Mbekism will consequently be successful. Having accepted this, Biko seemingly understood the necessity of an integral solution better than Mbeki because of what he saw as the interconnectedness of psychological matters, social change and liberation.

EducationsInternational Development Studies, (Bachelor/Graduate Programme) GraduateEnglish, (Bachelor/Graduate Programme) Graduate
Publication date13 Jun 2007
SupervisorsBodil Folke Frederiksen & Kirsten Holst Petersen


  • Thabo Mbeki
  • South Africa
  • Black Consciousness
  • Postcolonialism
  • Steve Biko