“Black man, you are on your own” — the words of Barney Pityana, amplified by Steve Biko into a rallying cry for the SA Students Organisation (SASO) and the Black Consciousness Movement in the 1970s, have remained potent over the past four decades.

In their original context, they captured the necessary scepticism with which black freedom fighters treated white liberals: would-be allies who, time and again, chose to side not with true equality but with a version of the “qualified franchise” that had been introduced in the Cape Colony in the 19th century. Black people would have limited rights (something less severe, say, than apartheid) but could only count on white support for their enfranchisement if it wasn’t inconvenient, and didn’t upset the system that protected white economic and social comfort. ..

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