The first meeting of the Black Thought Symposium for 2015 was held in the basement of the popular bar/hotel The Bannister. A strange combination. Upstairs, young people were dancing to popular, hip sounds, while downstairs, this group was debating what black consciousness and blackness mean in contemporary South Africa.
These group of students meet every Friday to discuss and engage on issues affecting Black students at Wits, and larger society.
Black Thought was started last year as “a platform for black students to interface and discuss issues that speak of the black condition”, says Mbe Mbhele, 4th year LLB and co-founder of Black Thought. “We felt like we were not well represented at Wits and we did not have any platforms to ask certain questions about the culture and nature of Wits.”
“As black students we felt that we are not there yet. There are certain issues we have not yet resolved, and there are certain discourses we still need to have, in order for us to even begin speaking about a ‘rainbow nation’.” he says.
The accessibility of historically white universities to black students and questions of black identity have been raised by students in other institutions as well.
Students at the University of Cape Town have been calling for the removal of the Cecil John Rhodes statue in the institution’s Upper Campus. The students have been voicing their concerns at the ways in which universities side-line black students by using hashtags like #RhodesMustFall and #TransformUCT on social media. They have been recently joined by Rhodes University students, who have also started a social media campaign on the same issue.
Mbhele says the issues these universities are facing are all connected, saying the problems of black alienation that universities face are as a result of the history of colonialism and apartheid.
“These are some of the concerns we highlight in Black Thought,” he says.
In between the discussions and debates, a platform is offered to musicians, poets, writers and visual artists to showcase their talents. This then also allows for discussions on the role that art plays in encouraging young people to think critically about society.
“What is the roles of an artist? What does an artist do in the process of liberating black people? How is [art] detrimental? How is it progressive for the struggle?” says 2nd year BA student and member of Black Thought, Koketso Poho.
Mbhele and Poho believe that Black Thought is growing. They say, in unison: “The hour of Biko has arrived!”