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In a curious way, the apartheid state created the conditions for both movements through its repression of black nationalist political parties and communism.This aided the independent engagement by young South Africans with the political questions that confronted them.
The New Left in South Africa can be traced to a formative moment at the University of Cape Town (UCT), the student sit-ins of 1968, resonant with today’s #Rhodes Must Fall campaign.
In both cases students occupied the Bremner Administrative Building, and in both cases spoke to core generational grievances.
These were Nelson Mandela and his ANC comrades and those of the Pan Africanist Congress, led by Robert Sobukwe.
For New Left activists – who saw society through the lens of class struggle – it was assumed that the end of apartheid would coincide with definite measures to ensure the attainment of a more egalitarian society.
This, however, also resulted in a disjuncture with the past struggles that created tensions and blindspots for both movements.
In the case of Black Consciousness there was initially no overt challenge to the historical leaders of the struggle, who were jailed on Robben Island.
The emergence of Black Consciousness and the New Left were twin parts of a moment of change.
Tensions emerged with older political traditions, irked by the young activists’ assumption that they were operating on a blank slate.
Black Consciousness called on blacks to liberate themselves from mental slavery as a step towards final victory over “the system” of apartheid.
South Africa’s New Left has bequeathed little direct organisational remnants.