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The Law and the Prophets

Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968-1977

Daniel R. Magaziner

Publication Year: 2010

“No nation can win a battle without faith,” Steve Biko wrote, and as Daniel R. Magaziner demonstrates in The Law and the Prophets, the combination of ideological and theological exploration proved a potent force.

The 1970s are a decade virtually lost to South African historiography. This span of years bridged the banning and exile of the country’s best-known antiapartheid leaders in the early 1960s and the furious protests that erupted after the Soweto uprisings of June 16, 1976. Scholars thus know that something happened—yet they have only recently begun to explore how and why.

The Law and the Prophets is an intellectual history of the resistance movement between 1968 and 1977; it follows the formation, early trials, and ultimate dissolution of the Black Consciousness movement. It differs from previous antiapartheid historiography, however, in that it focuses more on ideas than on people and organizations. Its singular contribution is an exploration of the theological turn that South African politics took during this time. Magaziner argues that only by understanding how ideas about race, faith, and selfhood developed and were transformed in this period might we begin to understand the dramatic changes that took place.

Published by: Ohio University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This project has its own history, going back to 1998, when I was first struck by Steve Biko’s idea that “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” A clear-eyed, dispassionate—cynical, even?— academic wrote the pages that follow, but those words still strike me with the intensity that they once ...

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Introduction: The Seventies

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pp. 1-14

In 1974, nine South African activists were put on trial for terrorism. They were all officers in either the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) or the Black People’s Convention (BPC)—organizations known collectively as the Black Consciousness Movement—and they were charged with threatening the peace, order, and security ...

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Part I: Making Black Consciousness

When Steve Biko assumed the presidency of SASO in 1969, he was twenty-two years old. Born in 1946, he later wrote that he had “lived all my conscious life in the framework of institutionalized separate development.” Apartheid had been a constant: “My friendships, my love, my thinking and every other facet of my life have been ...

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1: Sophiatown after the Fall

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pp. 17-25

A small, undistinguished house sits at 111 Ray Street, near Johannesburg. In its ordinariness, it offers mute testimony to failure. This area is the suburb known once again as Sophiatown—“once again” because only recently has this suburb regained its birth name. For generations, the neighborhood was known as Triomf—from the Afrikaans ...

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2: “Black man, you are on your own!”: Black Students, White Liberals, and Adulthood

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pp. 26-39

By 1968, black students’ displeasure with white dominance of student politics led first to blacks-only meetings, and then to the creation of the exclusively black student organization SASO. Years later, John Sebidi, a Catholic priest and SASO supporter, described that organization’s founding as “a hefty attempt at severing ...

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3: The Age of Philosophers: Becoming “Black Consciousness”

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pp. 40-54

The first years of the 1970s were not calm ones at the University of the North. Turfloop’s government-appointed rector sounded the alarm as early as 1971, when his brief attendance at a student arts festival left him “concerned” for what “the organisation known as SASO” might do. Subsequent events proved him right, ...

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Part II: Emergent Gospel

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pp. 55-57

Religious talk pervaded the production of Black Consciousness. It was sometimes rhetorical, as in the recollection of a Cape Town activist that Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth was known as the “the Old Testament” or as in BPC activist Nkwenkwe Nkomo’s frequent description of SASO and other Black Consciousness activists as ...

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4: Church, State, and the Death of God: A Prolegomenon to the Black Messiah

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pp. 58-78

Sometime after February 1974, the Black Consciousness–affiliated People’s Experimental Theatre (PET) organization circulated a collection of poems and short theater pieces. It prominently featured a poem entitled “Casualties” by Roli Karolen, which compared Abraham Tiro, who had recently been assassinated in Botswana, ...

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5: Christ in Context: The Changing Face of Christianity

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pp. 79-99

But what did a faith from a young, black, South African student activist’s “guts” look like? It depended. Ideas depend on identities—on who thinkers think they are and on what they think they are trying to do. In the 1970s, some argued that a less “foreign” faith required little more than replacing white leadership with black; ...

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6: The South African Voice: From Black Theology to the Black Messiah

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pp. 100-124

In august 1970, Aelred Stubbs, an instructor at St. Peter’s Seminary at Alice, wrote to the Anglican bishop of Kimberley and Kuruman to request that a student be temporarily excused from his studies. Since his arrival at the Anglican section of the Federal Theological Seminary in 1969, Stanley Ntwasa had been a challenging student. ...

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Part III: The Movement

Hindsight casts the shadow of the Black Consciousness Movement over these efforts to unpack the thinking and experiences that structured blackness, consciousness, and faith in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Similarly, by 1972, the shadows of political liberation and more easily narrated politics began to loom over the realm ...

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7: “I write what I like”: Conscientization, Culture, and Politicization

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pp. 127-139

Over the course of 1971, Basil Moore and Stanley Ntwasa collected papers from 1971’s Black Theology seminars to be published in South Africa under the title Essays in Black Theology. Like their editors, however, the essays were banned after a brief run. Two years later, from exile in Great Britain, Moore published the collection ...

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8: The Age of Politics: Confronting the State

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pp. 140-158

The black Consciousness Movement did not assume the mantle of 1970s opposition to apartheid unopposed. The poet cited in the last chapter pledged to struggle against “white racism”—this was obvious. The challenge of “Bantustanism” was less clear, as was the memory and current role of previous liberation movements. ...

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9: Keeping Faith with the Black Messiah: Suffering, Hope, and the Cost of the Future

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pp. 159-184

The agony in Sam Nzima’s photograph is timeless.1 Hector Pietersen is prone, expressionless, dead. Mbuyisa Makhubo is carrying him, determined, but with eyes betraying a hint of fear. Hector’s sister, Antoinette, is dressed in a schoolgirl’s uniform, arms raised, wailing. The image continues to strike, like other iconic images ...

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Conclusion: Yesterday Is a Foreign Country

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pp. 185-190

The quiet did not last. Soon after 19 October 1977, new organizations formed and new movements followed. There was the Azanian Peoples Organisation (AZAPO), followed by the rise of civic organizations. Next came trade unions, antitricameral parliament campaigns, and the United Democratic Front— which courted the old Black ...


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pp. 191-248


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pp. 249-270


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pp. 271-283

E-ISBN-13: 9780821443309
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821419182

Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Black nationalism -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Black nationalism -- South Africa -- History.
  • Anti-apartheid movements -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Black theology.
  • Blacks -- Race identity -- South Africa -- History.
  • Anti-apartheid movements -- South Africa -- History.
  • Black Consciousness Movement of South Africa -- History.
  • South Africa -- Politics and government -- 1961-1978.
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