a Xhosa word meaning “rising star”, was a
Marxist-Leninist journal, published in England by “a group of South African and Southern African revolutionaries with long histories of devotion to the struggle for freedom in Southern Africa”.
It first appeared in 1975 and produced twenty-one issues before its hiatus in 1982.
Although described as “a journal of South African and Southern African political analysis”, and its editor best known as a member of the Pan Africanist Congress, the internationalist coverage and concerns of the journal reflected a politics influenced by the Chinese model of revolution and the writings of Mao Zedong. The last few issues of Ikwesi would carry articles critical of the post-Mao developments and changes in China. An example of the international material is this PAC report on the Kampuchea Experience
In a column carried in later issues, the politics of Ikwezi was described as thus:
“ Support IKWEZI: Build the Azanian Marxist-Leninist Party!
IKWEZI is a Marxist-Leninist Journal which bases itself on Marxism-Leninism-Mao-Zedong Thought, the highest revolutionary ideology of our time. Mao Zedong Thought which synthesises the wisdom and profound revolutionary experiences of the Chinese Revolution, has made qualitative developments to the body of Marxism-Leninism in the fields of political economy, culture, military affairs, philosophy, etc. and is today an integral part of the international communist movement and cannot be ommitted.
“Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought is the revolutionary theory of our epoch. It is the integration of this theory to the concrete conditions of the national/class struggle in Azania that can enable us to unite the Azanian Black masses and revolutionaries on the basis of a correct political line and to overthrow white settler colonialism and the two imperialist superpowers, the main contradictions in Azania. Social imperialism which is contending with U.S. Imperialism for world domination is knocking at our door to re-colonise us. To ignore social imperialism because we think it has no imperialist economic investments in our country would be foolhardy. Its way is to use its military muscle to install its puppets – like the ANC-CP – into power by flying the flag of “natural ally” of liberation movements and the anti-imperialist struggle.
The national struggle against white settler colonialism for the re-possession of the country and the land by the indigenous African people must also be a thorough-going anti-imperialist struggle. The national struggle must be the prelude to the social revolution to wipe out all capitalist and imperialist structures that suck the blood of our oppressed peoples. Without a thorough – going social revolution that puts an end to national oppression and class exploitation in the country there can be no meaningful liberation. For such a revolution to succeed there must be the leadership of a skilled and courageous Marxist-Leninist Party consisting of the most advanced cadres in the struggle, emerging from the mainstream of the national liberation movements and groups themselves, overcoming sectarianism, dogmatism and a narrow-minded approach to one another. Petit bourgeois radicals who play with Marxist phrases in order to con the international Marxist Leninist movement must not be confused with the genuine Marxist-Leninists who take the historical mission of the proletariat seriously, whose politics begin from the class struggle and who are genuine communists.
Such a Party must win the leadership in the national struggles and unite all who can be united; such a Party must combine theory with practice to the concrete conditions of the national/class struggle in Azania·.
Building a mature and skilled Marxist-Leninist Party that is thoroughly integrated with the masses, will be a long and painstaking task, and can only be done in the concrete and practical struggle. All sorts of mistakes and false starts will be made, but such a Party can only be built step by step. It must begin now, not tomorrow, as some opportunists would like us to believe, because now we are occupied with the national struggle and tomorrow after the national struggle is over the socialist revolution will begin. The more experience we have in Marxist-Leninist Party building and leadership and organisation in the struggle the greater can be our successes against the class enemy.
Such a Party must ‘be built in strict opposition to the ANC-CP mercenaries, agents of social imperialism in the country and its global ambitions to dominate the world. At the same time we must unite with those forces in the ANC-CP who are opposed to the machinations of their leadership – and they are a whole army. ”
The struggle was seen as both a national and a class struggle against colonial and imperial domination. Ikwezi took a firm position, siding with the Communist Party of China against Russian social-imperialism regarding it (for its influence and interference in South Africa) as being the greater danger compared to American imperialism.
The Editor’s Story
Draws heavily upon this appreciation
Bennie Bunsee was the indomitable editor of the journal Ikwezi and regularly wrote articles for various South African journals and newspapers, including the Mail & Guardian.When Bennie returned to South Africa a less frequent Ikwezi was resurrected, as Jaki Seroke, Chairperson of the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI), recalled,
“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.”
Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) member Bennie Bunsee (1935-2015) had been held in detention as a young man and was deported from Cape Province leaving South Africa in 1963 through Beira, Mozambique, into East Africa
His niece, Udit, noted in an obituary that he joined the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in the early 1960s and was part of the first group that went to China for military training with other PAC stalwarts. Bunsee was influenced by the ideologies of Robert Sobukwe and, later, Steve Biko. He was an original thinker, a respecter of ideas and editor of the political journal Ikwezi, which he funded and produced single-handedly. The theoretical journal provided perspective and insights on African nationalism, socialism and Pan-Africanism.
In exile Bennie was a vociferous opponent of apartheid, he eventually ended up in London, where he continued his activism coming to prominence in landmark struggles of national minority workers of the early 1970s supporting the Asian strikers at the Mansfield Hosiery Mills, Loughborough, in 1972, and Imperial Typewriters, Leicester, in 1974.
Interviewed on the Imperial Typewriters picket line by an ATV news reporter in May, 1974, Bennie said: “I got involved in the same way I got involved in the Mansfield strike, just as an advisor. These people, trade union officials, the trade union movement [are not] taking up the cause.”
He added: “There’s a peculiar situation that affects Black workers in this country, that when it comes to their grievances a large section of the white workers don’t support them; a large section of the union movement don’t support them.”
His involvement in the struggle against racism in Britain – not only as part of the race equality industry in the 1980s saw him involved supporting the attempt of Labour Party members get recognition for their own “Black section” in the late 1980s. Marc Wadsworth, one-time Chair of Labour Party Black Section fore-runner of today’s the Black Socialist Society, recalls,
“A passionate and incredibly erudite socialist – he was reputed to own more than 50,000 books – Bennie came to us with a magnificent race and class track record as a champion of Black workers, and by that I mean people of African and Asian descent.”
Bennie returned to South Africa after the first democratic elections in 1994 and subsequently served as a government advisor to then justice minister Dullah Omar. For a time he also worked for the PAC’s small parliamentary group before falling out with them. on his return to South Africa, Bennie decided to live in Cape Town – specifically Wynberg, where he became a member and leader of the Wynberg Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association.
Bennie became increasingly disillusioned with the political landscape in South Africa, frustrated at the slow to no pace of change since he had left in 1963. He was appalled by the ANC government’s corruption, which he saw as an outright betrayal of the anti-apartheid struggle.
Bennie judged that, nineteen years after the first democratic elections, writing in 2013
“The colonial and imperialist world has turned Mandela into an icon and there is now a preposterous cult of the man. Sobukwe, who spent almost eight years alone, separated from all the other political prisoners on Robben Island is given secondary importance. Why? Did Mandela really liberate this country? How can anybody liberate a country from a prison cell he was incarcerated in for 27 years?
I believe the ideologies of Pan-Africanism and Black Consciousness will win. If they don’t, black people will continue to be second-class citizens. But the colonialists are fighting back with all the resources at their disposal. We have a long way to go.”
Former journalist and now Department of Arts and Culture spokesperson Sandile Memela described Bennie as a “father figure”.
“He was too old to be my friend,” said Memela. “He was rigid, inflexible and uncompromising in his passion and commitment to Pan Africanism as an ideology, and we had an unending series of good discussions about its role and contributions to the liberation struggle.”
In an article from January 2014, Bennie reporting on the 8th Pan-Africanist Congress observed
“Pan-Africanism can be described as the universal and abiding doctrine of global African liberation. It was born in the diaspora in the wake of the Atlantic slavery of over 20-million Africans and reflected the hunger of the enslaved Africans to overcome their dispersal, dispossession and dehumanisation.
As a truly grassroots congress of ordinary organisations and representatives it sent a message to the corrupt leaders of African states that they cannot be trusted with the continent’s future destiny.
A new concept came out of the congress, that of the global African family. This particularly related to how the African diaspora describes itself as an integral part of its motherland with a right to return and settlement – something the congress vigorously called for.
The congress was confined to Africans and people of African descent – and included representatives from all five continents. Nobody can speak for African interests but Africans themselves.
The congress did not allow participation from Arab countries in North Africa. It also condemned Arab slavery and its accompanying racism towards African people. Arab slavery predated the European-driven Atlantic slave trade by centuries.
It was pointed out that Arabs came from Asia to inhabit North Africa and in all Arab countries where Africans were a minority they faced racist discrimination and Arabisation. Arab countries should compensate with due reparations for the damages inflicted on African people. The congress demanded that reparations from Western nations should be pursued vigorously and that there should be a day when black workers throughout the world should stay away from work to mark the need for reparations.”
A final appreciation from the next generation……
Bennie Bunsee: The man with 50 000 books
“I will honour your memory”
Life-long activist and journalist Bennie Bunsee passed away at the weekend, two weeks before his 80th birthday. University of Free State student, Keabetswe Magano, pays tribute to a “walking library” who left a lasting impression on her.
Two years ago I had the opportunity to meet and witness the brilliance of Bennie Bunsee, the man with 50 000+ books in his home. At first I thought we were meeting him in a small community library but it was his home. There were book shelves filled from left to right, from the first shelf, a few centimetres from the celling right to the last one just a few centimetres from the ground. They stretched wall to wall from the sitting room right through to his bedroom and even some in the kitchen.
He collected these books over the years as he travelled to various countries when he served as an active member of the then-banned Pan African Congress (PAC). The books ranged from Ancient history to UFOs, literally everything one could think of. He might not have read all the books but he knew all the ‘main’ books in each category clearly labelled on the shelves. Not only was this man living in a library, he was also a “walking library”. And now he is gone. He died last week after unsuccessful heart surgery, two weeks before his 80th birthday.
The level of insight that he had on African history could surely constitute a whole course on African studies at any University. What I learnt that day was all new to my ears. I had never been exposed to African history through my schooling years, well except for the typical basic Apartheid history of 16 June, Freedom day (based on the public holidays that we celebrate today).
Born in Natal to a working class family in 1935, he was constantly dissatisfied with what he was taught. He knew what he wanted to be taught because he had read so many books. He looked for an academic institution that would be able to educate him further or bring clarity to what he had read. Yet his wish was never fulfilled, therefore he dropped out of higher learning both locally and abroad and went on his own quest to educate himself. This is something that not many students would do because mostly we are convinced that academic institutions provide us with the best possible knowledge. Mr Bunsee made me realise that when coming to education there was no specific place where one can learn, we learn every day and everywhere. We should not only seek the learning opportunities but also challenge what is presented to us.
I was stunned by his depth and insight into African history. He hungered to educate the world on our history getting emotional and caught up in his anger when he shared his rich knowledge. I understood why he seemed so angry; he made me feel like the world is living a lie, or is distorting history.
He reflected on the importance of reading and how it could open up the world for us. The history that he shared with us that day changed my perspective on the potential of the black individual forever. He gave me confidence, made me believe in myself much more. For African history revealed the potential that we have, we are often made to believe that African people do not have the potential to achieve what others (Americans, Asians, Europeans…) have achieved/can achieve, it feels as though we are undermined in everything that we do.
He told us (we were a group of students) a story of hope, one that erased all the negative and patronising content often presented about Africa – a story that needs to be heard, does not start in 1652 and will give Africans millions of reasons to take pride in who we are.
He made me realise “the dangers of a single story”, and it’s potential to distort, disfigure and destroy any other.
His appetite to share his unique knowledge led him to transform his home in Wynberg into a research centre for post-graduate students and researchers. Forever the journalist, he established the Diop/Du Bois Institute and produced a small newspaper, Ikwezi, distributed several times a year.
I had just over 15 books under my ownership, and I thought I was doing quite well for someone who aspires to have a small library in her home one day. After paying a visit to Mr Bunsee, I was embarrassed and slightly ashamed of my progress let alone the types of books that I was reading at the time. He sent me home with a whole new outlook on education, the material that I should be reading and ignited a flame of pride in my life which has been burning ever since that day.
Rest in peace Mr Bunsee. I will honour your memory.