By Anga-Anganda Bushwana
The Black Consciousness Movement has played a significant role in shaping the discourse around the human condition of being Black in an anti-Black world. One prominent figure who has embraced this philosophy is Professor Tendayi Sithole of the Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa (Unisa).
Sithole was a key speaker at the Black Consciousness Colloquium organised by the Rhodes University Political and International Studies department on 13 September 2023. The four-hour-long discussion shed light on the importance of Black existentialism and its alignment with the teachings of Steve Biko. Sithole drew parallels between the philosophy of Professor Mabogo More, a Black existentialist, and Biko’s approach to Black consciousness.
The work of both philosophers is about “Black people having to confront racism, Black people having even to push for liberation and to create another world and not only that, Black consciousness as an embodiment that they must be proud of their existential condition of being Black in an anti-Black world and to change that world to be a liberated Azania”, said Sithole.
“Biko encouraged Black individuals to think critically and independently, to confront racism, and to strive for liberation,” added Sithole. Similarly, More has made significant contributions to the field of Black existentialism through “Africana Existentialist Philosopher – Biko,” which delves into the complexities of the Black experience in South Africa and through an exploration of the philosophy of Biko in his 2017 book titled “Biko: Philosophy, Liberation, and Identity.”
Speaking on the radical philosophy from the Black point of view practiced by More, Sithole said More, who had insisted that Biko be recognised as a philosopher, had defined radical philosophy for 50 years in South Africa. “Black Consciousness is the long arc of Black radicalism”, said Sithole, adding that More “refused to speak in the point of view of bad faith, which is not Black, but he anchors the Black point of view”.
Sithole decried the tendency in the academy for philosophers to reject Biko as a philosopher and label him as an activist or polemicist instead. “There seems to be forgetting of what Philosophy is as a radical project, something that is outside the abstractions of thought, as if Philosophy is not part of the political and everyday life social project”, he said.
“The radicality of the Black point of view is of Black people who have been denied a point of view, but who, in their radical modes insist on having a point of view. They insist on it in their own way” he said, adding that the emphasis by More was on according this Black point of view a philosophical standing.
Sithole went on to tell Grocott’s Mail that he has also made substantial contributions to the understanding of Black consciousness and the philosophical thought of More through his own 2002 analysis of More’s work in “Mabogo P. More: Philosophical Anthropology in Azania,” which explores the intersection between philosophy and the Black experience. Additionally, he has a forthcoming book titled “Azania and the Philosophical Thought of Mabogo More,” which promises to provide further insights into More’s influential ideas.
During the Colloquium, postgraduate student Benny Mojela raised concerns about the media being targeted even when it is playing a progressive role in serving the public interest. In response, Sithole acknowledged that the media often faces attacks, and also mounts attacks from time to time.
“The issue we should be contending with is the media as an institution of public interest, but the issue of public interest should be outside the liberal, normative, democratic framework. If media freedom is being clamped upon, that will be a concern that will need to be addressed”, he said. Sithole said threats also come from those who finance the media and editorial boards. He emphasised the need for media accountability and strengthening those institutions that are responsible for holding the media accountable.