When Steve Biko died, according to the poet, birds never sang, the wind never blew, and clouds never gathered. It is perhaps poetic too to say that when Bennie Bunsee passed on, on the afternoon of Saturday, 10 October 2015, young people concerned with the future of South Africa and their place in it, stood up in protest to the rising costs of university fees. They protested carrying the spirit of Bennie Bunsee with them.
Benny Bunsee’s lifestyle was theory and practice of a class of political education – free and compulsory – and it was an act of consciousness-raising for communities to take charge of their destiny.
Bunsee had been a torchbearer in the difficult and dark days of socially engineered obfuscation and reactionary propaganda meant to lead young people astray from the core agenda of the national liberation struggle. Bunsee’s mission in life was to espouse the ideas of Anton Muziwakhe Lembede, Mangaliso Sobukwe and Steve Biko.
His sterling work in producing the non-sectarian journal of political economy, Ikwezi, provided a platform for the Azanian Tendency to express itself openly without any form of censorship or distortion of its views. The PAC had been deliberately marginalised from the mainstream by the likes of the London-based Anti Apartheid Movement (AAM), who articulated the struggle narrative with a fixation on the Kliptown Charter. One of the ways the AAM worked was to suppress the PAC and ZANU’s views from gaining currency in southern Africa, and to block these organisations from forming solidarity with the people in European countries. Bunsee was not chaffed with this form of subliminal racism.
Bunsee used his own scanty resources, out of pocket, to gather information and encourage independent ideas from a variety of patriots to contribute a tapestry of views and spread the network of activities in the liberation struggle. Ikwezi is anchored on the belief that Azania (South Africa) is an African country. Contributors included Edwin Makoti, Samir Amin, Christine Qunta, and several other African revolutionary thinkers.
Ikwezi is the morning star symbolising the new dawn in Africa. This new phase in history positions Africans as the levers of change – not pitiful victims – with their destiny firmly in their hands. Bunsee edited Ikwezi from 1972 until 2015, shining the light for all to see.
Bennie Bunsee told friends recently that he felt he was getting old, but would continue to revive the ideologies of the PAC and the Black Consciousness Movement in new forms and develop them in the light of the current problems facing the Azanian masses. He stated that ‘real wisdom comes out of experience, distilled by age of more mature thought.’ He did not seek vainglorious self-adulation or to have the media limelight shining on his persona. He unobtrusively worked with community organisations at grassroots level in the Cape flats. He lived his ideas.
His modern projects included the Diop/Du Bois Institute which aimed at promoting the rebirth of African culture and uniting the African peoples in their fight against imperialism. The institute collected more than 20 000 books, documents and literature on Africa, the African Diaspora and the global South and intended to make a world centre for research, seminars, teachings, and study.
On South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC) television’s Morning Live programme celebrating Africa Day in 2015, Bunsee declared his commitment as a Sobukwe-Biko Warrior – the movement’s objective is to engender Afrikan Pride and advance Education and Culture for Liberation. He printed and distributed tee shirts of Sobukwe-Biko Warriors. Cde Bunsee mailed me his tee shirts and I’m proud to be a Sobukwe-Biko Warrior.
In his early days, he was friends with Nat Nakasa – the journalist who worked for Drum magazine and published The Classic literary journal. They both came from Durban – and both ended up in exile. Bunsee was a journalist and a political activist. He had been in the leadership collective of the South African Coloured People’s Congress (SACPC) which took part in the Congress Alliance as one of the partners. The racial patterns in the now defunct Congress Alliance were no different from Verwoed’s apartheid prism, making Sobukwe’s ‘apartheid multiplied’ jibe very real. The SACPC soon realised the folly of their ways and completely withdrew from the Charterist formation, to merge with the PAC in 1967. Bunsee worked with the likes of Moses Dhlamini, Barney Desai and Gora Ibrahim to advance the Africanist cause on international platforms.
The PAC took him to a Party School of the Chinese Communist Party for further ideological training. He came to be an expert theoretician on New Democracy and the dialectical concept of Contradictions. Some of his comrades found him very abrasive and uncompromising. Revisionists called him a super-revolutionary behind his back, while he attacked their ‘clever talk’ as a betrayal of socialist principles. To Bunsee, every concept was up for rigorous scrutiny.
He cited the late Cosma Desmond, a priest and a longstanding PAC militant, as a selfless and dedicated man of socialist principles, and ‘a genuine Africanist’.
Clearly, Bennie Bunsee never took prisoners and he made short shrift of any position that violated the cardinal principles behind the African Revolution.
He associated himself with great intellectual forces like Cheik Anta Diop, WEB Du Bois, Theophile Obenga, Ivan Sertima and others. In his seminal article, “The African Nature of Ancient Egypt”, Bunsee asserts the beginnings of the grandeur of African Civilisation. It points to Africa as the birthplace of the human race.
There is no gainsaying how Bunsee would have reacted to the British Prime Minister, David Cameron’s recent address to the parliament, in which he asserts that slavery (and colonialism) happened a long time ago and that ‘as friends [the UK and Africans] can move on together to build the future’. Bennie Bunsee is on record as having stated that ‘the case for reparations for damages caused by colonialism and slavery continue to this day’. The legacies of colonialism and slavery are alive and well in the new South Africa, today.
In an op-ed column in the Cape Times, Bunsee wrote:
“Here in the Cape, we have a province and city which is the most racist in the country. Whites have cornered the best of everything while black people are huddled in the dry, decrepit areas and slums of Guguletu, Langa, Bonteheuwel, Mitchels Plain and Ryland. … Can it honestly be said that black people have gained much (since 1994)? On the contrary, whites have consolidated their colonial hold over the country in the name of democracy and human rights.”
The gist of the article was appealing to the conscience of the African intelligentsia to speak truth to power. He derided ‘the silence of the intellectual lambs’ and called this negative behaviour a grave danger to the ongoing struggle. This Cape Times article was written in 2008. In the spring of 2015 the so called ‘born-free’ generation are saying exactly the same thing – in the protests they have staged in tertiary institutions, the National Assembly and the Union Building. The #FeesMustFall campaign is not an isolated event. It is a fitting tribute to the memory of Bennie Bunsee.
The silence of the African lambs, as Bunsee observed, must come to an end. The Sobukwe-Biko Warrior has spoken. Long live Bennie Bunsee.
He was laid to rest and cremated in Cape Town on Thursday, 15 October 2015.
By Jaki Seroke
The writer is a PAC stalwart and Chairperson of the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI).