Chris Hani

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Chris Hani" (2014) by Hugh MacMillan. Like others in this series, this book helps provide accessible and concise materials on leading figures that otherwise are sometimes challenging to find appropriate student readings on. This one fills that gap. In addition to the biography, the book tells a lot of the history of the ANC and uMkhonto we Sizwe. A few notes:

"We must make apartheid expensive and costly in terms of financial resources and in terms of lives. It must be made painful. At the moment it is very sweet for them but it must be made painful and bitter, especially for the whites. It is bitter for the blacks. For the whites it must be made very painful and bitter… apartheid won't just be destroyed through talking, but, since it is a violent system, it will be destroyed by revolutionary violence." (p. 102)

"I am an implacable enemy of oppression. I am a soldier for democracy and justice. Negotiations are a product of all our sacrifices – those who went to jail, those into exile, those in camps in strange countries. What is happening is the fruit of this hard worthwhile labor … We need to build strong grass roots structures. We must build a popular democracy." (p. 126)

"… the ANC will have to fight a new enemy. That enemy would be another struggle to make freedom and democracy worthwhile to ordinary South Africans. Our biggest enemy would be what we do in the field of socio-economic restructuring. Creation of jobs; building houses, schools, medical facilities; overhauling our education; eliminating illiteracy; building a society which cares; and fighting corruption … " (p. 128) 

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Steve Biko

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I had one book from this series previously, on Thomas Sankara, and recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Steve Biko" by Lindy Wilson, published in 2011. I found this book useful as there are relatively fewer materials on Steven Biko, compared to others in the series (e.g., Fanon). The author also adds unique perspectives having done some interviews with people who knew Biko. A few notes:

"Biko was appalled at what he saw all around him in South Africa at the time: "the black man has become a shell, a shadow of man … bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity," he said. He challenged black people not to be a part of their own oppression, believing that "the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed'. He defined Black Consciousness as 'an inward-looking process' to 'infuse people with pride and dignity'. 'We have set out on a quest for a true humanity,' he said." (p. 14)

"No Saso president, for example, was in office for more than a year, a precedent set by Biko. This capacity to stand back, to put others forward, to initiate new ideas, get something going and make it practical, meant that although Biko was present, he managed not to be dominant." (p. 49)

"Biko's work was to awaken the people: first, from their own psychological oppression through reorganizing their inferiority complex and restoring their self-worth, dignity, pride and identity; secondly, from a mental and physical oppression of living in a white racist society." (p. 54)

"His message was simple and clear: Do not be a part of your oppression." (p. 148)

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Medical Apartheid

Winner of several awards, Harriet A. Washington's "Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present" (2006) documents a history we tend only to know bits and pieces of. Those familiar with ethics will be aware of the Tuskegee Study, but likely not the bigger story. This is a troubling read, but one that should be read. The book is not published by a university or academic press, and certain quotes and references are not cited, which leaves some potential interesting trails to follow as dead ends. Nonetheless, it is recommended. A few quotes of note:

  • "Use of the term race to denote biologically different types of mankind evolved only in the eighteenth century, when the study of animal breeding gave rise to heightened awareness of animal subspecies and the possibility of breeding animals to encourage desired traits. Not coincidentally, this period coincided with the growth of the slave trade, when the biological distinctiveness of men became economically important. Those who studied the different groups of men were called ethnologists and were the forerunners of anthropologists. Ethnologists applied the classification and the categorization methods of the natural sciences, called taxonomy, to the study of man. Even after the meaning of race came to include subgroupings of man, it had several meanings. By races, some meant biological subspecies of man, analogous to the different breeds of dogs. For example, Swedish natural Carl von Linne - Carolus Linnaeus, the most famous of the taxonomists – categorized Africans (and, by extension, U.S. blacks) as Homo afer, theorizing that black men had different evolutionary forebears and had evolved along a separate evolutionary track from white men." (p. 33)
  • "Sim's silver sutures did help to end a real medical tragedy for many women, and some excuse the abuse of enslaved women on this basis. This essentially utilitarian argument presents an ethical balance sheet, with the savage medical abuse of captive women on one hand and countless women saved from painful invalidism on the other. However, such an argument ignores the ethical concept of social justice, and these experiments violated this essential value because the suffering and the benefits have been distributed in an unfair way, leading to distributive injustice. In this case, the most powerless group, which is also a racially distinct group and a captive group, is the group upon which doctors inflicted harm "for the greater good." Another, privileged group enjoys the benefits but shares neither the pain nor the risks. Thus the more unexpected acceptability is clear." (p. 69)
  • "the decision not to treat these sick men of the Tuskegee Study is a different crime, a crime of omission, and it illustrates several of the important patterns explored in this book. These include the selection of blacks for the riskiest studies; their disproportionate selection for nontherapeutic experimentation; the myth of medical distinctiveness (which held that syphilis was manifested differently in blacks); and the myth of hypersexed blacks as "incorrigible" vectors of sexual disease and dysfunction. The use of men as reservoirs of syphilis reinforce the familiar use of black bodies to generate the profitable wonders of new disease approaches (to which the subjects are rare the privy), and the clinical display of disease in the clinic and in medical journals." (p. 182)
  • "The United States also chose to seek Nazi expertise. In 1945, the U.S. State Department, army intelligence, and the OSS, the immediate forerunner of the CIA, recruited former Third Reich scientist, granting them immunity, jobs, and new identities in a resettlement program for Nazi scientists. It was named Operation Paperclip, for the mode of identifying potential recruits - a simple paper clip placed on each of their dossiers. In exchange, the State Department asked that the scientist resume their old habits - working on secret nonconsensual research projects, many of which exploded patients - but this time throughout the United States." (p. 229)
  • "research into sickle cell disorder, the first identified molecular disease, remains underfunded and the disease still awaits an effective treatment, but effective genetic therapies were mounted within just a few years after the gene for cystic fibrosis was discovered in 1989. Whites are at much higher risk than blacks for cystic fibrosis." (p. 315-316)
  • "This book uses the term race because it is accepted argot, it can be a convenient, commonly used way of designating ethnic groups that are perceived as distinct. We all know what we mean (or think we do) when we denote someone's race as "black" or "white." In our nation, race is inarguably important in discussions of health and disease. However, the Human Genome Project has erased any lingering doubts: Biological race does not exist, because all humans share the same genes. Although the proportions of genes differ, meaning that genetic differences exist, these variations map very poorly on to what we think of as races. This seems to introduce a logical contradiction: If race is not real, how can we speak of race-based therapeutics? The answer is that race is real, but it is not biological: It is social. What correlates very closely to most "racial" differences ns life expectancy, mortality, disease susceptibility, and survival is the race to which one is perceived as belonging." (p. 317)
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I Write What I Like – Steve Biko

Similar to other giants of the struggle against apartheid, we do not have a book written by Steve Biko that pens his ideas. For Robert Sobukwe, a biography was written, while for Steve Biko, we have a collection of his writings and transcripts, first published in 1978. The book contains powerful ideas, some of which are shared below, but also contains writings that are audience- and time-specific, making it a sometimes less than relevant read. I share some of Biko's ideas:

  • "Basically the South African white community is a homogenous community. It is a community of people who sit to enjoy a privileged position that they do not deserve, are aware of this, and therefore spend their time trying to justify why they are doing so. Where differences in political opinion exist, they are in the process of trying to justify their position of privilege and their usurpation of power." (p. 19)
  • "We are concerned with that curious bunch of nonconformists who explain their participation in negative terms: that bunch of do-gooders that goes under all sorts of names – liberals, leftists etc. These are the people who argue that they are not responsible for white racism and the country's "inhumanity to the black man". These are the people who claim that they too feel the oppression just as acutely as the blacks and therefore should be jointly involved in the black man's struggle for a place under the sun… It is rather like expecting the slave to work together with the slave-master's son to remove all the conditions leading to the former's enslavement." (p. 20-21)
  • "The myth of integration as propounded under the banner of liberal ideology must be cracked and killed because it makes people believe that something is being done when in actual fact the artificial integrated circles are a soporific on the blacks and provide a vague satisfaction because it is difficult to bring people from different races together in this country, therefore achievement of this is in itself a step forward towards the total liberation of the blacks. Nothing could be more irrelevant and therefore misleading. Those who believe in it are living in a fool's paradise." (p. 22)
  • "We must learn to accept that no group, however benevolent, can ever hand over power to the vanquished on a plate. We must accept that the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. As long as we go to Whitey begging cap in hand for emancipation, we are giving him further sanction to continue with his racist and oppressive system. We must realise that our situation is not a mistake on the part of whites but a deliberate act, and that no amount of moral lecturing will persuade the white man to "correct" the situation." (p. 90-91)
  • "I think there is no running away from the fact that now in South Africa there is such an ill distribution of wealth that any form of political freedom which does not touch on the proper distribution of wealth will be meaningless." (p. 149)
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