Paulo Freire and Steve Biko

Image: Jade


The philosophy of praxis of the Brazilian thinker and the South African activist

“Next time, paint more heavily in your criticism of these intellectuals who visit us with the air of owners of revolutionary truth. Who seek us out to teach us that we are oppressed and exploited and to tell us what we should do” (Letter from São Paulo workers to Paulo Freire (Freire, Pedagogy of hope, P. 88).


On the first pages of the book Biko, journalist Donald Woods (1987) denounces the torture that led to the death of a militant from the Christian University Movement (UCM), from the South African Students Organization (Saso) and from the Black Consciousness Movement (BC), on September 12, 1977. Following the text, Woods provides the location of the crime and the names of the police officers involved in this barbaric murder. Steve Biko was 30 years old when the repression forces of the apartheid they took his life. Of the writings that Biko produced in his short existence, most of which are included in the collection I write what I want, posthumously organized by Father Alfred Stubbs, community programs and principles of Black Consciousness are systematically analyzed (Biko, 1990; Stubbs, 1992).

In early 1972, Biko and other Saso and Consciência Negra leaders took a literacy and political training course based on the Freirean method (Hope, 2007). Based on this experience and reading the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire's practices and ideas become fundamental references in Biko's philosophy of praxis, Saso and Black Consciousness (Sefatsa, 2020).

Nas Theses on Feuerbach, Marx writes one of the premises that permeate the contemporary debate on the philosophies of praxis: “Philosophers only interpreted the world in different ways; what matters is turn it” (Marx, 2007, p. 535). In his study on the subject, Leandro Konder (1995) argues that Marx understands the praxis as the political activity that articulates the poiesis, production activity, and the theory, reflective activity. Praxis is action that needs theory and reflection to perfect itself, “and it is theory that refers to action, which faces the challenge of verifying its successes and failures, comparing itself with practice” (Konder, 1995, p. 115).

Em Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire creates the neologism “to do” to explain his concept of praxis: “(…) if men are beings of what to do, it is precisely because what they do is action and reflection. It's praxis. It is transformation of the world” (Freire, 2018, p. 167). This neologism was inspired by the theses developed by Lenin in the book What to do?. In reading Freire, the Russian author argues that a radical transformation demands more than verbalisms and activism, it requires praxis (Freire, 2018). In his books, Freire elaborates, precisely, concepts and methods that focus on realities to be transformed.

In one of the texts in which he discusses the perspectives of a black theology that recognizes the oppressive situations faced by black men and women in South Africa, Biko (1990) presents Black Consciousness as “an attitude of mind and a way of life” (p. 114). The Black Consciousness movement seeks to instigate awareness and political organization with the aim of promoting effective changes in people and their conditions of existence. Assuming the perspective of resistance proposed by Freire to all social groups that suffer some form of oppression, Biko understands Black Consciousness as a praxis. The activist and political scientist Oshadi Mangena endorses this interpretation:

Philosophy is really born from the life experience of a people. Once a philosophy is translated into practice, it may need to be modified and adjusted according to the demands of experience. This was also true for the Philosophy of Black Consciousness. In practice, it crystallized into a set of organizations. (Mangena, 2008, p. 254)

The specificity of Freire's influence is one of the central issues in the academic debate about the work of Biko and Black Consciousness. Among the contributions to this debate are the testimonies and analyzes of Mamphela Ramphele (1991), Mosibudi Mangena (1989) and Barney Pityana (2007), Biko's partners and historical militants of Black Consciousness. Some surveys that deal with this issue bring interviews with these and other militants

(Asheeke, 2018; Badat, 1999; Hadfield, 2017; Maimela, 1999; Magaziner, 2010; Naidoo, 2013). Philosopher Magabo More maintains that Freire's conceptions of education and awareness were incorporated into the training courses and community programs that Biko develops with Saso and Consciência Negra (More, 2014). Following this guideline, in this article I will analyze the influence of Freire's ideas and practices on the configuration and dynamics of Biko's ideas and practices, exploring the relationships between these two philosophies of praxis.


Assistance without assistance

Paulo Freire's influence on the praxis philosophy of Biko and Black Consciousness occurred, above all, with the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, translated and published in 1970, in the United States. Before writing this book, Freire had defended, in 1959, the thesis Brazilian education and current affairs, and after a reformulation made by the author, the work was published in 1967, with the title Education as a practice of freedom (Freire, 2021). These three works present different positions, however, they portray the same concern of Freire in responding to the practical demands that emerged in his political and educational experiences. It is likely that Biko only read the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, but the positions supported by Freire in other works echo in the philosophy of praxis presented in this work.

The books Letters to Cristina: reflections on my life and practice, by Paulo Freire (2021) and Paulo Freire: a life story, by Ana Maria Araújo Freire (2006), bring essential elements to understand the historical and political conditions that motivated Freire's writings. In the Letters to Cristina, Freire (2021) is quite critical in relation to the experience he had at the head of the education and culture division of the Social Service of Industry (SESI), in the Regional Department of Pernambuco. However, Freire refers to this period, from 1947 to 1964, as a founding time. This experience makes Freire understand that all political relations in a class society are permeated by conflicts of interest and contradictions between antagonistic ideologies. It was at SESI, too, that he learned “how to deal with the tense relationship between practice and theory” (Freire, 2021).

In the text prepared for his thesis, Freire highlights the promotion of educational experiences that could contribute to the democratization process and economic and social development in Brazil as the main objective of his tenure at SESI (Freire, 1959). In justifying his positions, Freire makes use of ideas, arguments and concepts from New School educators and researchers from the Higher Institute of Brazilian Studies (ISEB).

Following the arguments of Anísio Teixeira (1957) and other EscolaNovistas, Freire defends a democratic project of education that trains not only an elite, but all people (Freire, 1959). Based on Fernando de Azevedo's thesis (1944) on the importance of cultivating the spirit of analysis and criticism, Freire advocates an education that abandons the authoritarian practice of centralizing the word and incites democratic debate and dialogue (Freire, 1959).

From the intellectuals of the ISEB, Freire absorbed the thesis about the need for an “ideology of development” for the insertion of male and female workers in the process of social transformation provoked by industrialization (Freire, 1959). With regard to this theme, Freire's main references are the books by the Isebian philosopher Álvaro Vieira Pinto; a colleague who, in the sixties, would accompany him in his political exile in Chile (Gajardo, 2021).

One of the central elements of this “development ideology” is the defense of nationalist ideals that make us overcome the surrender, reactionary and alienated position arising from our colonial formation. Just as male and female factory workers must take responsibility for the problems in their factories, Brazilian men and women must acquire a critical conscience and develop their own solutions to major national issues, without submitting to the interests of other nations. Among the relevant questions about economic development, Freire emphasizes the urgency of agrarian reform (Freire, 1959).

In his thesis, Freire (1959) dialogues with the positions of Vieira Pinto (1960) on alienation and awareness. According to Caio Toledo (1978), in Vieira Pinto's eclectic and heteroclite approach, the concepts of alienation and awareness eliminate the Marxist concept of class struggle. Once economic development puts an end to the state of global alienation vis-à-vis metropolitan nations, “the alienation of work, hitherto accepted as inherent to a given mode of production, ceases to exist” (Toledo, 1978, p. 76).

When discussing the impacts of the Isebian ideology of the 1950s on Freire's first texts, educator Vanilda Paiva recognizes the same proposal of “social transformation within the limits of the system, in a rational, orderly and peaceful way” (Paiva, 1978, p. 59 ). The social reforms advocated by Freire and the Isebians in this period should be increased through consensus among the different political groups in society. In this way, the engine of change would be conciliation and not class struggle (Paiva, 1978).

In his proposal for social transformation, Freire adopts the Enlightenment and directive perspective of the Isebians (Paiva, 1978). The process of making male and female workers aware implies the “introjection” of the “ideology of development” (Freire, 1959, p. 13). Ultimately, it would be up to a select group of intellectuals to transmit this ideology and direct social transformation.

According to Paiva, this illuminist and directive perspective imposes limits and restrictions on popular participation (Paiva, 1978). In Freire's interpretation, the industrialization process removes people from the traditional quietism of country life and inserts them into an urban space full of alternatives for political participation for which they were not prepared (Freire, 1959). Attentive to this “democratic inexperience”, Freire alerts to the “dangers contained in the very impetus of popular participation” (Freire, 1959, p. 103). Following this text, Freire points to the imminence of a popular rebellion that could threaten stability and social balance.

When analyzing, thirty years later, the practice in the first period of his work, Freire recalls the reflections that the experiences aroused: “That is why he always subjected the practice in which he participated and that of others to a question that was not satisfied with the first answers. ” (Freire, 2021, p. 173). Freire's research and readings aimed to respond to the demands that emerged with practice: “Reading texts that offered me foundations to, on the one hand, continue reading the context; on the other, to intervene in it” (Freire, 2021, p. 173).

Em Brazilian education and current affairs, Freire (1959) analyzes his training work in the “Circles of Parents and Teachers”, organized by SESI; in the “Teacher Preparation Course”, offered by the Education Department of the State of Pernambuco; and in the “Service

Social da Paróquia do Arraial”, in the city of Recife. In Education as a practice of freedom, Freire (1967) comments on his works in the “Literacy Courses for Young People and Adults”, of the Cultural Extension Service of the University of Recife, and in the “Circles of Culture”, of the Movement of Popular Culture (MCP) of the Recife city hall.

In these works with education and culture, Freire emphasizes his objective of providing assistance without promoting assistance. Contrary to what most SESI businessmen expected, Freire seeks to break with the welfare policy that causes the assisted people to passivity (Freire, 2021). Among Freire's strategies was allocating assistance time and encouraging male and female workers to assume the leading role in social transformation (Freire, 1959).

At SESI, Freire encouraged the creation of spaces for dialogue – speaking and listening – where questions about the family, children's education, activities in the factories, the community, the city and the country were discussed. Without the domestication engendered by welfare paternalism, popular participation has the autonomy and freedom to question the practices and theoretical assumptions of the educational process. As an example, Freire recalls the intervention of a worker in one of the proposed activities:

If you ask me if I enjoyed this meeting, I won't say no because I learned a few things from the doctor's words. But if you ask if that's what you wanted to hear today, I say no. What I wanted to hear today was a word of explanation about discipline, because I'm having a problem at home, my wife and I, with the kids and I don't know how to solve it. (Freire, 2021, p. 148)


A non-directive pedagogy

In his study of Freire's texts that preceded the publication of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paiva (1978) perceives significant changes between the positions defended in the thesis

Brazilian education and current affairs, and the positions defended in the book Education as a practice of freedom. In addition to abandoning developmental theses, Freire no longer relates the process of awareness to the introjection of any form of ideology. From the Enlightenment and directive position of the first work, Freire took long steps towards a non-directive pedagogy.

Some factors were decisive for the changes in the positions defended by Freire: the influences of the thinking of left-wing Catholic groups, the pedagogical practices themselves and the various existentialist philosophies (Kadt, 2017; Paiva, 1978). in your search Radical Catholics in Brazil, Emanuel Kadt records the participation of members of the Juventude Universitária Católica (JUC) in Freire's projects for the MCP in the early 1960s (Kadt, 2017, p. 131). Like other Catholic youth groups that helped create the Base Education Movement (MEB) during this period, the JUC was beginning to put into practice non-directive training and awareness raising methods (Kadt, 2017). In addition to this general characteristic in the form of political action, many of these radical Catholic groups shared the ideals of the Cuban revolution (Rodríguez, 2015).

In his introductory essay to Paulo Freire's book, The politics of education, the educator Henry Giroux (1985) criticizes the forms of intellectual vanguardism that, seeking to conquer the monopoly of theoretical leadership, remove from popular forces “the ability to define for themselves the limits of their objectives and practices” (Giroux, 1985, p. xix). According to Marilena Chaui (2018), inspired by the Marxist thesis that emancipation depends on class consciousness, many communist parties and avant-garde currents on the left understood that they should “educate” male and female workers to overcome alienation and “false consciousness”. under bourgeois ideology (Chaui, 2018, p. 67).

Against this guideline, Chaui argues that no one can bring conscience to anyone, since: “(a) conscience is conquered in the concrete action of resistance and struggle, and leftist historians from all over the world and Brazilians have shown that the workers are capable of it themselves; (b) consciousness is an achievement only if it is autonomous, that is, conquered by the social and cultural subjects themselves, both in the struggle and in the work of thought”. (Chaui, 2018, p. 68; Santiago & Silveira, 2016, p. 275)

By taking up ideas from the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire also criticizes avant-garde leaders. From an authoritarian, dogmatic and magical perspective, these leaders imagine themselves mystically prepared to teach and free others (Freire, 2020). As in the “banking” format of education (Freire, 2018, p. 81), they disregard and belittle what the popular classes already know due to their social practice. Only what comes from their readings and writings seems fundamental and indispensable to them, precisely the content that “should be 'deposited' in the 'empty conscience' of the popular classes” (Freire, 2020, p. 161).

The praxis that Freire presents in Pedagogy of the Oppressed reflects his work, between 1964 and 1968, in his exile in Chile, especially his work at the Instituto de Desarrollo Agropecuário (INDAP) and other experiences with literacy and political training (Freire, 2018). Before publishing the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire (1972) produced small texts about his activities in Chile, material edited by educator Marcela Gajardo, and which makes up the About cultural action. This book shows Freire's conceptual elaboration based on his pedagogical practices.

From experiences with Chilean peasants in land settlements, Freire (2018) engenders a theoretical reflection on the logic of oppression. Peasants tell Freire that they feel inferior to their bosses and doctors, in a magical or mystical sense, admit a relationship of dependency with their bosses, some testimonies even indicate that: “the peasant feels an almost instinctive fear of the boss” (Freire, 2018, p. 70). The feeling of inferiority, dependence and fear are often reinforced by concrete situations of oppression. These characteristics of the peasants lead Freire to recognize a self-devaluation in the oppressed, a result of the introjection that “they make of the view that the oppressors have of them” (Freire, 2018, p. 69), an idea that the author relates to the theoretical reflections of Frantz Fanon ( 1968) and Albert Memmi (2007) on “colonized consciousness”.

In the interpretation of Lidia Rodríguez (2015), welfarism is one of those concrete situations that reinforce the dependency relationship between the oppressed and the oppressors. Vanguardist leaders also reproduce this oppressive structure by creating a hierarchy of knowledge that silences the popular classes (Freire, 1985). In this sense, an educational action that intends to be emancipatory needs to break with this “culture of silence” (Freire, 1985, p. 33).

One of the texts that Freire (1970) wrote in Chile is entitled Peasants can also be authors of their own reading texts, a record of a conference for educators who worked in agrarian reform settlements, in which the ontological importance of peasant written production is justified: “Since expressiveness belongs to man and not to some men, it follows that some men cannot impose their forms of expression on others” (Freire, 1970, p. 46). According to the author, humanist educational actions of literacy, training and awareness should organize: debates, theatrical dramatizations, reading and writing workshops. Like other young Catholics, Freire was influenced by the humanism of Emmanuel Mounier (1973) as well as the existentialist philosophies of Karl Jaspers (1958), Jean-Paul Sartre (1973) and Simone de Beauvoir (2005). One of the main strategies of Freire's method is to stimulate problematizations based on generative themes and codification of extreme situations experienced by male and female workers. In Sartre's work, the concept of limit situation is related to both philosophy and dramaturgy:

What theater can show most touchingly is a character being formed, the moment of choice, of free decision that engages a morality and a whole life. The situation is an appeal; involve us, propose solutions; it's up to us to decide. And for the decision to be profoundly human, for it to put man in his entirety at stake, it is necessary to bring to the scene, each time, limit situations, that is, situations that present alternatives, death being one of the terms. (Sartre, 1973, p. 20)

When dealing with adult literacy, Freire records the report of a peasant about the educational action developed: “I discover now, (...) when problematizing the man-world, that there is no world without men” (Freire, 1970, p. 37) . About the debates based on the codification of an existential situation, a Chilean woman says: “I like to discuss it, because I live like this, … but even if I live like this, I don't see it. Now, I observe how I live” (Freire, 1970, p. 37).

When analyzing the humanism of the Freirean method, the jurist Candido Mendes highlights his praxiological objective in producing a junction between the terms “conscience” and “participation” (Mendes, 1966, p. 208). It is not enough for the popular classes to be aware of the logic of oppression, it is fundamental that they participate in the transformation of reality. To this end, Freire opposes the ontological vocation of “Being More” to the feeling of self-devaluation of socially oppressed people (Freire, 2018, p. 72). As Rodríguez highlights, Freire's humanism is linked to love, not as a naive and sentimental gesture, but as an openness to the other through empathy and solidarity action (Rodríguez, 2015).


Black Consciousness Community Programs

In the late 60s, the Freirean method enchanted many radical Catholics on the African continent. Militants who worked in the Graal (international ecumenical women's movement) went to see Freire's work in Brazil and Portugal (Hope, 2007). Still in the 1960s, Father Colin Collins, then general secretary of the Christian University Movement (UCM), was the first militant in South Africa to incorporate the Freirean method into community adult literacy courses (Hope & Timmel, 2014). On the initiative of Collins, who in 1974 defended a doctoral thesis on Freire's influence on the Black Consciousness movement (Macqueen, 2011), an article by the historian of religion, Thomas Sanders (1968), on Freire's method was shared among the South African Catholic militants (Magaziner, 2010). In this article, Sanders registers and analyzes Freire's work in the settlements linked to the agrarian reform in Chile, exposing the main topics of the Freirean method and comparing the processes of conscientization and politicization of the oppressed social groups of Latin America and the militants of the black community of the United States (Sanders, 1968).

From the 1970s onwards, the South African feminist educator Anne Hope, a former student of Freire at Boston University and a Grail activist, began to offer a literacy and political training course based on the Freirean method for community leaders in several African countries. (Hope, 2007). As a result of this course, Hope and Timmel (1986, 1984a, 1984b) elaborated the three volumes of the manual: Training for transformation: a handbook for community workers.

Before learning about the Freirean method, Hope was already active in popular education, still in the 1950s, acting for the Grail, he developed educational projects in Uganda and other East African countries (Hope, 2007) and, in present-day Tanzania, he worked with Professor Julius Nyerere, who would become one of the country's independence leaders and prime minister (Hope, 2007, p. 2).

O Training for transformation it is divided into three parts or volumes: the first presents Freire's theory of critical consciousness and proposes activities to put it into practice; the second develops exercises to break with the “culture of silence” and instigate participation; the third highlights themes and issues for a broad debate on social inequality and outlines a plan for building solidarity in popular movements (Hope & Timmel, 1986).

The manual cites and problematizes numerous passages from texts by Freire and Nyerere (1973), in addition to discussing excerpts from books by Amílcar Cabral (1979), Canaan Banana (1980), Frantz Fanon (1968) and other black libertarian authors. Depending on the topic discussed, the manual refers to the speeches of some black political leaders, such as Agostinho Neto, Martin Luther King, Robert Magabe and Samora Machel. The three volumes of the manual contain proverbs, poems and popular songs from different African countries. There are also citations of biblical passages, papal encyclicals and the texts of some theologians, such as Dom Hélder Camara, Dorothee Sölle, Herbert McCabe, Leonardo Boff and Teillard de Chardin. Sanders' article (1968) is also mentioned in the manual (Hope & Timmel, 1986).

Following the guidelines of the texts by Freire (1967) and Sanders (1968), the manual brings drawings that represent the concrete situations analyzed. To discuss some themes and issues, Hope and Timmel start from reports of real experiences. One of the stories narrated in the first volume of the manual deals with a situation experienced by Hope in one of his educational projects implemented in Uganda. Based on this report, Hope and Timmel emphasize the need for educators to respect the priorities of each community: “One of the villages had numerous health problems (no clinic and all kinds of worms, malaria and bilharzia), and a very poor school, from which the teachers were almost always absent. At a village meeting, people actually insisted that their top priority was making a football field. I was shocked, but the CDO (community development coordinator) wisely encouraged the group to go ahead. They made their soccer field, started playing, organized a team and played against other villages. The soccer field was a turning point in village life. They gained self-confidence, a framework for communicating with each other, and the realization that they were capable of changing things.” (Hope & Timmel, 1986, p. 71)

In June 1972, in his first proposal to adapt the Freirean method, Hope organized an intense course for Saso and Black Consciousness militants, such as: Deborah Matshoba, Steve Biko, Bokwe Mafuna, Barney Pityana, Mosibudi Mangena, Welile Nhlapo, etc. (Hadfield, 2016, p. 45). According to Hope, this was the most committed and creative group of students she had (Hope, 2007). The structure of this course, developed in partnership with Biko, influenced later productions by Hope and Timmel, both in their training programs and in the manual (Hope, 2007; Hope & Timmel, 2014).

After the training course with Hope, still in 1972, the militants inaugurated the Black Community Programs (BCP), under the direction of Bennie Khoapa, one of the most experienced members of Saso (Hadfield, 2016). One of BCP's projects was the creation of Black Review, directed by Khoapa. In the second edition of the magazine, published in 1974, the BCP is presented as an organization that seeks to incite the identity and unity of the black experience, developing programs that involve “health, culture, black theology, education, literacy, black art, self-help and other relevant projects” (BCP, 1974, p. 164). In other editions of the magazine (1973, 1975, 1976) the texts analyze the programs and political principles of the Black Consciousness movement.

Em release and development, Leslie Hadfield (2016) presents the results of her theoretical and empirical research on BCP E, in addition to analyzing the Black Review, the author investigates two other projects, the Zanempilo Community Health Center, started in 1973, under the coordination of Mamphele Ramphele, and the cooperative management project of the Njwaxa leather factory, started in 1974. In both projects, Hadfield recognizes the presence of the Freirean method, which seeks to promote self-confidence and solidarity so that communities themselves find collective solutions to their problems (Hadfield, 2016). Even with the imposition of a ban area on BCP leaders in 1973, Biko's positions marked the projects of Zanempilo and Njwaxa (Hadfield, 2016, pp. 101, 131).

The BCP also created literacy projects (Literacy Projects) and courses for training community leaders (Asheeke, 2018), as well as popular literature and theater projects inspired by Freire's ideas about the awareness process (Magaziner, 2010). In its first edition, the Black Review celebrates the tendency of new black theater groups to articulate the philosophy of Black Consciousness with Black Solidarity (BCP, 1973).


Empowerment and dignity

Biko's intellectual talent was quickly tapped into by the black student movement (Collins, 1979). In 1970, as soon as the Saso Newsletter was created, Biko was chosen to be the magazine’s producer (Hadfield, 2016) and in almost all editions, the column “I write what I want” appears (I write what I like), in which Biko uses the pseudonym Frank Talk: frank conversation. The column's articles were republished in the collection of Biko's texts (1990), organized by Father Aelfred Stubbs.

Between 1970 and 1976, the Saso Newsletter published: reports on meetings and conferences linked to the student movement, texts on black theology, manifestos, texts on everyday academic issues, on black theater and poems. In an article published in 1973, Deborah Matshoba deals with female protagonism, a controversial issue in the Black Consciousness movement, the text ends with the claims: “Power for the black woman. Power to the black child. Power to all black people!” (Saso, 1973, p. 6).

The themes of empowerment (women empowerment) and dignity are fundamental in the practices of Biko and the BCP. In an interview with the social scientist Gail Gerhart (1972), in the year in which he took the training course on the Freirean method, Biko states that the BCP projects do not aim to achieve things for people, but to call them to use critical awareness to transform reality and the system itself (Gerhart, 1972). In analyzing BCP projects, Mamphela Ramphele argues that empowerment allows “people to take greater control of their lives as individuals and members of the community” (Ramphele, 1991, p. 157). According to Joice Berth, Freire's theory of awareness has become one of the great inspirations for the current debate on empowerment (Berth, 2019).

In the interview given to Gerhart (1978), Biko points out that his practice is greatly influenced by the ideas of Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton (1967), authors of the book Black Power: the politics of liberation in America. (Gerhart, 1972). Gerhart's research (1978) investigates, precisely, the relations between the Black Power movement, the Black Consciousness movement and Biko's positions and points out that one of the common points is the concern with the self-affirmation of the black community. became known the slogan “Black is beautiful”, with which Black Consciousness encourages black men and women to be proud of their beauty (Biko, 1990; Woods, 1987). Biko also emphasizes the importance, as do Carmichael and Hamilton (1967), of the black community knowing and valuing its own history, its cultural productions and its main leaders: “The first step, therefore, is to make black people find himself, breathe life back into his empty shell, infuse him with pride and dignity” (Biko, 1990, p. 41; Saso, 1970, p. 16).

Based on his experience in BCP projects, Biko identifies some causes for the inferiority complex of the black community in South Africa: in addition to the exception rules and restrictions institutionalized by the apartheid, black men and women are subjected to “heavy working conditions, low wages, very difficult living conditions and inferior education” (Biko, 1990, p. 125; Woods, 1987, p. 161). Everything is different in the neighborhoods of black communities: the houses, the streets, the lighting. From an early age, black children begin to associate the white world with something better than the world they live in. These external factors contribute to the formation of a feeling of self-denial and to the development of a state of alienation (Biko, 1990; Woods, 1987), this issue is also examined by Carmichael and Hamilton (1967).

Added to this is the fact that, contrary to what black theology advocates, mainstream Christianity encourages people to find fault with themselves. Ironically, Biko claims that black communities are instructed to sing in chorus: “mea culpa”, while white groups prefer to sing: “your fault” (Biko, 1990, p. 44; Saso, 1970, p. 18). In an argument similar to that of Marx (1976, p. 231), who questions Christianity for not instilling courage, self-confidence and pride, Biko criticizes the biblical preaching that opposes the aspirations of black youth who fight for the end of social oppression (Biko, 1990; Saso, 1970).

On the other hand, Biko realizes that black workers are aware of their condition and are revolted by the concrete situations of violence and humiliation to which they are subjected every day, the lack of social alternatives leads humble people to adapt to a certain reality, but this does not mean that they accept oppression. As Freire does in his works, Biko elaborates his praxis inspired by the experiences of militancy and tells the following story about the lack of social alternatives for a large part of the workers: “There were people working with the electrical installation in one of our projects in the Eastern Cape. .… It was a white man with a black assistant.… The whole time there was insult, insult and more insult from the white man: 'Pull this over here, you idiot'. This kind of thing. Of course this bothered me. I know the white man very well, he talks right to me. At tea time, we invited him over and I asked him: 'Why do you talk to this man like that?', in front of the other, he said to me: 'This is the only kind of language he understands, this one is a lazy so-and-so'. And the black man smiled. I asked him if that was true, and he said, 'I'm used to him.'… After about two hours, I went back to this black guy and asked, 'Did you really mean that?' The man has changed. He got very bitter. He told me he wanted to quit this job, but what could he do? He lacked any qualifications (skills), he did not have the guarantee of another job and had no savings, that job was a form of security for him. If he didn't work today, he wouldn't be able to live tomorrow.… And since he had to put up with that, he didn't dare to manifest any kind of insolence towards his boss. I believe that this case sums up the ambiguous attitude (two-faced) of many blacks in the face of every question of concrete existence in this country”. (Biko, 1990, pp. 127-128; Woods, 1987, pp. 163-164)

According to Magabo More (2014), this ambiguous or two-faced attitude (two-faced) to which Biko refers in his report, dialogues with Du Bois’s theory about the double consciousness of black Americans: “this feeling of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others, of measuring our soul by the yardstick of a world that watches us with mocking contempt and pity” (Du Bois, 2011, p. 51). According to Biko's analyses, because of this oppressive relationship, blacks begin to cultivate “a feeling of hatred for themselves” (Biko, 1990, p. 127; Woods, 1987, p. 163).

In his articles, conferences, interviews or even in his political speeches at court hearings (Woods, 1987), Biko insists on the need for black men and women to cultivate love for themselves, but also love for humanity. In a conference on African culture, Biko (1990, 1992) highlights the importance that the African people attach to man, it is a culture that values ​​community life and the most diverse bonds of friendship. From their old fight songs, a way of promoting communion, arise the spirituals, blues and jazz (Biko, 1990, 1992). This idea is also worked on in Hope and Timmel's manual, in which they discuss a text by Freire on the love of human beings (Hope & Timmel, 1984a). Even defending firm responses to the aggressions of their oppressors, Consciência Negra, BCP and Biko remain linked to an ethics of love. At this point, as bell hooks (2006) does for similar reasons, Biko distances himself from the Black Power movement.

In interviews conducted in the year of his assassination, Biko states that the BCP chose to use only non-violent means of political intervention (Biko, 1977, 1990; Zylstra, 1992). Starting from the awareness that people already have of concrete situations of oppression and injustice, the BPC seeks to develop hope and strengthen human dignity (Biko, 1990; Woods, 1987). Following Freire's non-directive pedagogy, BCP's militancy does not speak on behalf of the masses and does not determine solutions to community problems (Gerhardt, 1972), the role of militancy, argues Biko, is to listen to people in their everyday experiences : women with their children attending the wards, men talking in taverns, workers in queues for buses (Biko, 1990; Woods, 1987). From this listening activity, it is possible to highlight the themes that can be debated so that the communities themselves come up with solutions to their problems.


Final considerations

Freire's theoretical and philosophical reflections were inspired by his educational and political practices. In his doctoral thesis Brazilian education and current affairs, Freire (1959) assumes a directive conception about awareness. However, based on his experiences with young radical Catholics in the Basic Education Movement (MEB), Freire (1967) began to support a non-directive pedagogy based on listening and on the work of empowering workers.

Em Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire (2018) advocates a philosophy of praxis that offers theoretical and practical instruments for people to find solutions to their problems. Workers are aware of the oppression and injustice to which they are subjected, however, says Chaui (2016), they often have the feeling of the impossibility of transforming reality. In this sense, points out Giroux (1985), it is important to train organic intellectuals who identify with their communities. According to Freire (2018), the problematization of generating themes and concrete situations of oppression can contribute to the construction of collective projects of social transformation.

In the early 1970s, Hope and Timmel shared the Freirean method with Biko and the militants of the Black Consciousness movement. The movement created a series of community programs that follow Freire's ideas and strategies for the formation and awareness of the working class. In his column “I write what I want”, Biko develops alternatives for the struggle against economic, social and political oppression of black communities, according to the analyzed theme, Biko's arguments reveal the influence of the positions defended by the leaders of the Black movement Power or the philosophy of Freire's praxis.

One of Freire's political strategies resumed in Biko's philosophy of praxis and Black Consciousness is the stimulus to empowerment. As shown by Nádia Cardoso (2006), this strategy is present in the training projects of the Steve Biko Institute, in the city of Salvador, Bahia. This Freirean strategy is also discussed by Anne Harley and Zamalotshwa Thusi (2020), in an article about CLING, a current literacy and numeracy project carried out in precarious containers installed in poor communities on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa.

* Paulo Fernandes Silveira Professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and researcher at the Human Rights Group at the Institute for Advanced Studies at USP.

Originally published in the magazine Propositions, v, 32, 2021.



Asheeke, T. (2018). Uncovering hidden fronts of Africa's liberation struggle: Black power, black consciousness, and South Africa's armed struggle, 1967-1985 [Doctoral thesis, Binghamton University]. Open Repository Binghamton.

Azevedo, F. (1944). Brazilian culture: Introduction to the study of culture in Brazil. National Publishing Company.

Badat, S. (1999). Black student politics, higher education and apartheid: From Saso to Sansco, 1968-1990. Human Sciences Research Council.

Banana, C. (1980). The gospel according to the ghetto. Mambo Press.

Beauvoir, S. (2005). For a morality of ambiguity. New Frontier.

Berth. J. (2019). Empowerment. Sueli Carneiro; Pollen.

Biko, S. (1977). Steven Biko (transcript of an interview with Steven Biko): For a free South Africa.

Episcopal Churchmen for South Africa.

Biko, S. (1990). I write what I want. Rile up.

Biko, S. (1992). Some African cultural concepts. Democracy in Action, 6  
Black Community Programs. (1973).    Black Review: 1972.

Raven Press
Black Community Programs. (1974).    Black Review: 1973.

Raven Press
Black Community Programs. (1975).    Black Review: 1974-75.

Raven Press
Black Community Programs. (1976).    Black Review: 1975-76. Raven Press

Cabral, A. (1979). unity and struggle. Monthly Review Press.

Cardoso, N. (2006). Steve Biko Institute – black youth mobilizing for policies to affirm blacks in higher education. [Master's dissertation, State University of Bahia].

Uneb Portal.

Carmichael, S., & Hamilton, C. (1967). Black Power: Liberation Policy in the United States. XXI century.

Chaui, MS (2018). In defense of public, free and democratic education. Authentic.

Collins, C. (1979). The birth of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, Southern Africa Magazine, 26-31.

DuBois, WEB (2011). Of our spiritual effort. In MR Sanches (Ed.), Meshes Empires Weave: Anticolonial Texts, Postcolonial Contexts (pp. 49-57). Editions 70.

Fanon, F. (1968). The Damned of the Earth. Brazilian Civilization.

Freire, AM (2006). Paulo Freire: A life story. Villa das Letras.

Freire, P. (1959). Brazilian education and current affairs. [Thesis for competition, University of Recife].

Paulo Freire collection.

Freire, P. (1967). Education as a practice for freedom. Peace and Earth.

Freire, P. (1972). About cultural action. Incira.

Freire, P. (2018). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Peace and Earth.

Freire, P. (2020). Pedagogy of hope: A reunion with the pedagogy of the oppressed. Peace and Earth.

Freire, P. (2021). Letters to Cristina: Reflections on my life and practice. Peace and Earth.

Freire. P. (1985). The politics of education: Culture, power, and liberation. Bergin & Garvey.

Gajardo, M. (2021). Looking for Paulo Freire in Chile, some observations on the origin and evolution of his pedagogical ideas. ideation, 23

Gerhart, GM (1972). Interview with Steve Biko. Struggles for Freedom: Southern Africa.

Gerhart, GM (1978). Black power in South Africa: The evolution of an ideology... University of California Press.

Giroux, HA (1985). Introduction. In P. Freire, The politics of education. Culture, power, and liberation (pp. xi-xxv). Bergin & Garvey.

Hadfield, L. (2016). Liberation and development black consciousness community programs in South Africa. [Unpublished doctoral thesis]. Michigan State University Press.

Hooks, B. (2006). Love as the practice of freedom. In b. hooks. Outlaw culture: Resisting representations (pp. 243-250). Routledge.

Hope, A. (2007). Building a convivial society: Insights from Nyerere and Freire [Featured article]. IV. Annual Julius Nyerere Memorial Lecture, Cape Town, South Africa.

Hope, A., & Timmel, S. (1984a). Training for transformation: A handbook for community workers (Vol. 2). Mambo Press.

Hope, A., & Timmel, S. (1984b). Training for transformation. A handbook for community workers (Vol.

3). Mambo Press.

Hope, A., & Timmel, S. (1986). Training for transformation: A handbook for community workers (Vol. 1). Mambo Press.

Hope, A., & Timmel, S. (2014). Training for transformation in practice. Practical Actual Publishing.

Jaspers, K. (1958). Philosophy. Editions of the University of Puerto Rico.

Kadt, E. (2007). Radical Catholics in Brazil. UNESCO; MEC.

Konder, L. (1995). The future of the philosophy of praxis: Marx's thought in the XNUMXst century. Peace and Earth.

Macqueen, IM (2011). Re-imagining South Africa: Black Consciousness, radical Christianity and the new left, 1967-1977 [Doctoral thesis, University of Sussex]. Sussex Research Online.

Magaziner, DR (2010). The Law and the Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968-1977. Ohio University Press; Jacana Media.

Maimela, MR (1999). Black consciousness and white liberals in South Africa: Paradoxical anti-apartheid politics [Doctoral thesis, University of South Africa]. Manakin Repository.

Mangena, M. (1989). On your own: Evolution of Black Consciousness in South Africa/Azania. Skataville.

Mangena, O. (2008). The Black Consciousness philosophy and the woman's question in South Africa: 1970-1980. In A. Mngxitama, A. Alexander & N. Gibson, Biko Lives!: Contesting the legacies of Steve Biko (pp. 253-266). Palgrave Macmillan.

Marx, K. (1976). The communism of the Rheinischer Beobachter. In K. Marx & F. Engels. Collected works, volume 6 – 1845-1848 (pp 220-234). Lawrence & Wishart.

Marx, K. (2007). Ad Feuerbach (Theses on Feuerbach). In K. Marx & F. Engels, the german ideology (pp. 533-535). Boitempo.

Memmi, A. (2007). Portrait of the colonized preceded by Portrait of the colonizer. Brazilian Civilization.

Mendes, C. (1966). Memento of the living: The Catholic left in Brazil. Brazilian weather.

More, M. (2014). The intellectual foundations of the Black Consciousness Movement. In P.

Vale, L. Hamilton & E. Prinsloo (Eds.), Intellectual traditions in South Africa (pp. 173-196). University of Kwazulu-Natal Press.

Mounier, E. (1973). Introduction to existentialisms. Guadarrama.

Naidoo, LA. (2013). The role that radical pedagogy plays in resistance movements: A case study of the Black Consciousness Movement's use of Paulo Freire's pedagogy [Master's thesis, University of the Witwatersrand]. Wits Institutional Repository.

Nyerere, J. (1973). Freedom and Development.Oxford University Press.

Paiva, VP (1978). On Mannheim's influence on Paulo Freire's pedagogy. Synthesis: Journal of Philosophy, 5(14), 43-63.

Pityana, B. (2007). Reflections on 30 years since the death of Steve Biko: A legacy revisited. University of South Africa Institutional Repository.

007%20doc%20final%20_2_.pdf;jsessionid=97209F5F5C6E40A84F41D3ADEED46 B1B?sequence=1

Ramphele, M. (1991). Empowerment and symbols of hope: Black Consciousness and community development. In B. Pityana, M. Ramphele, M. Mpumlwana, & L. Wilson.

(Eds.), Bounds of Possibility: The Legacy of Steve Biko an Black Consciousness (pp. 154-178). Zed Books.

Rodriguez, LM (2015). Paulo Freire. An intellectual biography: Emergence and maturation of the pedagogy of the oppressed. Colihue.

Sanders, T. (1968). The Paulo Freire method: Literacy training and awareness. West Coast South America Series, 15(1), 1-18.

Santiago, H., & Silveira, P. (2016). Paths of Marilena Chaui: Philosophy, politics and education. Education and Research, 42(1), 259-277.

Sartre, JP. (1973). A theater of situationsGallimard.

Sefatsa, Z. (2020). Paulo Freire and the popular struggle in South Africa. Dossier: Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, (34).

South African Students' Organisation. (1970). Saso Newsletter: September 1970.

South African Students' Organisation. (1973).SASO Newsletter: March/April 1973.

Stubbs, A. (1992). Steve Biko: Martyr of Hope. Paulines.

Teixeira, A. (1957). Education is not a privilege. National Publishing Company.

Thusi, Z., & Harley, A. (2020). “Political Literacy” in South Africa. European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults, 11

Toledo, CN (1978). Iseb: Factory of ideologies. Rile up.

Vieira Pinto, A. (1960). Ideology and national development. Ministry of Education and Culture; Higher Institute of Brazilian Studies.

Woods. D. (1987). BikoHenry Holt and Company.

Zylstra, B. (1977). The South Africa: An interview with Steve Biko. The reformed journal, 27(12), 9-18.

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Letter to the presidentSquid 59mk,g 18/06/2024 By FRANCISCO ALVES, JOÃO DOS REIS SILVA JÚNIOR & VALDEMAR SGUISSARDI: “We completely agree with Your Excellency. when he states and reaffirms that 'Education is an investment, not an expense'”
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table