Black Consciousness and the Politics of Culture in 20th Century South Africa

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Seminar Date
March 16, 2011
The following paper is Chapter Seven of my book – The Law and the Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968 – 1977 (Jo’burg: Jacana, 2010). The book traces the intellectual history of Black Consciousness from the late sixties until Steve Biko’s death and the banning of Black Consciousness organizations in 1977. I focus mainly in the role of Christian thinking and theology in the 1970s political project. The book’s first two sections are on the development of Black Consciousness political and religious thought until around 1972; the third follows the ideas that resulted through tumultuous middle-1970s. Chapter Seven is the first chapter of the third part and examines activists’ evolving thinking about cultural production as a tool for liberation. I wanted to share this chapter in part because it is material that I have not presented before; and in part because my new project – tentatively entitled Engaging Images: Artists and the Art of Life in 20th Century South Africa – is concerned with similar questions. The turn to ‘political’ art in the 1970s echoed a wider change in what activists thought of as “ethical” behavior - intellectual, political and aesthetic – during these years. Many scholars have taken this turn for granted. A great deal of the scholarship on black cultural production, for example, focuses on political art, Soweto poetry, people’s theater – all of which emerged as explicit discursive practices in the wake of the events discussed below. So too is this ethic with us in the wider historiography on 20th century black South Africa, where most work, until very recently, has focused almost exclusively on political economy and the struggle against apartheid. I am currently researching this new project, but have not written anything yet. I will introduce its scope and rehearse some of its arguments in my presentation to the UKZN seminar.
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