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SASO Newsletter, 1970 - 1976
BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS MOVEMENT
SOUTH AFRICAN STUDENTS ORGANISATION
By the late 1960s many black students increasingly began to feel the frustration and disillusionment similar to that which had led to the Fort Hare SRC to disaffiliate from NUSAS in 1952. For some students at the University of Natal Medical School (UNMS) their involvement and experience in NUSAS increasingly suggested that the liberal politics of that union could not serve the immediate or long-term aspirations of black students. Also at issue was the fact that, despite its non-racial membership, NUSAS was essentially dominated and controlled by white students. It was this kind of situation that Biko had in mind when he expressed in his column, "I write what I like", in the SASO Newsletter, his objection to this type of 'intellectual arrogance' by whites. Out of the University Christian Movement (UCM) conference in 1968 came agreement on the need for a new black student organisation and a representative conference of black students. Duly convened in December 1968 this conference gave birth to an exclusively black higher education formation, the South African Students' Organisation (SASO), and the election of Steve Biko as national president on its formal inauguration in July 1969. In analysing South African society, SASO viewed race as the primary line of distinction. Class divisions were not seen as important and there was little recognition of gender issues. The positive doctrine that SASO proclaimed itself to uphold was the concept of Black Consciousness (BC), which was defined as an 'attitude of mind, a way of life': SASO stressed the need for blacks to develop their own value systems, and to define themselves, rather than be defined by others. "Black man you are on your own" was to be adopted by SASO as its rallying cry. Thus the previous negative definition of the self as 'non-white' gave way to positive identification as 'black'. An editorial in the SASO Newsletter of September 1970 stated the political and strategic rationale for the term "black": it was an attempt to "define one's enemy more clearly and broaden the base from which we are operating." A number of criticisms can be levelled against SASO and various weaknesses can be pointed to in its doctrine of BC, its analysis of the South African social formation and its political strategies. However, despite being primarily a student organisation SASO took on the responsibility and rekindled black intellectual and political opposition to white domination. As a catalyst of the conflagration that was the Soweto uprising and in also creating the conditions for the generalisation of political resistance and organisation post-Soweto, SASO ensured that it was of tremendous historical significance in the struggle for national liberation in South Africa.
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