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Since Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko died 30 years ago, his ideals lack a champion to take them forward and South Africans find themselves still trapped in colonial mind-sets, writes Eric Naki

By unknown | Sep 12, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Since the unbanning of black liberation organisations in 1990, I have been asking myself: Where would Steve Biko be politically if he were alive?

Since the unbanning of black liberation organisations in 1990, I have been asking myself: Where would Steve Biko be politically if he were alive?

This question arose from the fact that since his death, Biko's Black Consciousness ideology has not followed a clear direction.

Again after 1994, the question kept haunting me. Would Biko have been in Azapo, the Socialist Party of Azania (Sopa), PAC, ANC or would he have formed another party? The answer has not been easy to find.

Biko was an open-minded leader who believed in the unity of black people. His ideals were not exclusively for blacks, but he believed in black emancipation and black people's independence from Western culture, hence his famous "Black man you are on your own" refrain.

Biko's ideals of liberating the minds of black people are more relevant now that we are free. Biko had a massive following.

He would have "decolonised" blacks from the current colonialism of the type where many black people behave like Americans or whites at the expense of their own culture. The pride in being African or black is becoming moribund as television influences our youth to adopt foreign cultures.

I don't think Biko would have campaigned for black children not to attend Model C schools, but he would definitely have encouraged them to be themselves, even in a sea of foreign cultures.

He once said: "The basic tenet of Black Consciousness is that the black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity."

It brings to mind the attitude of many black middle-class people who dump their own cultures lest they be labelled uncivilised. Wearing traditional African regalia is seen as primitive. Black culture has been subjugated and only displayed at cultural events or in curio shops.

Artists are ridiculed in the media because they can not speak "proper" English. Do German or French artists, who prefer their own languages and cultures, get the same treatment? Many other nations have the same attitude as these Europeans. So why not us?

These are some of the things that Biko would have guided us on.

Without a leader like Biko, the African culture is slowly and sadly dying.

At a young age, Biko filled the vacuum left by banned political organisations and their leaders who were jailed or exiled.

Azapo has not lived up to expectations, though it had a promising start in the early 1980s.

Leader after leader failed to come up with an attractive strategy of how to move the Biko legacy forward.

While Sopa's socialist utterances make sense, their Black Consciousness message has not yet filtered through to grassroots level.

If Biko was alive, Azapo and Sopa would have been non-existent. As for the PAC, Biko was more influential than many of its leaders and there is no way he would have been influenced by the pan-Africanism envisioned by the party.

When thinking of Biko's position in the post-democratic South Africa, two scenarios come to mind.

He would have had reservations about the pro-Western culture policies of the ANC government, but the party's national democratic revolution would have appealed to him.

Biko would have operated his movement in a way that said, whites are only human, not superior, and blacks are also human, not inferior.

Black Consciousness need not be a political party, but a movement that straddles all political ideologies - pan-Africanism, nationalism and socialism.

Consider his statement: "Black consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life.

"Its essence is the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression - the blackness of their skin - and to operate as a group to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude."

I hope that this 30th anniversary of Biko's death will unite us all.

This week will see many events unfolding as part of what has become known as the 30-30 anniversary, a reference to his death at 30 and the 30th anniversary of his death.

An elaborate programme that covers this year and the next is already under way by the Biko Legacy Reference Committee which recently unveiled a road map that follows Biko's route from his first arrest at Walmer police station, to his detention and torture at Room 619 Sanlam Building in Port Elizabeth, to Pretoria Prison where he died, and other events.

An exhibition of posters and photos on October 19 and Opera Biko will run for the better part of next year to commemorate and celebrate the life and times of this icon.

A few years ago Biko's statue was erected outside the East London city hall and John Vorster Bridge in the area was renamed Steve Biko Bridge.

He was also honoured with the Steve Biko Garden of Remembrance in King William's Town and his grave was declared a national monument.

To crown it all, I believe that the government should rename the Amathole District municipality or Buffalo City after Biko, in line with the nearby municipalities of OR Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Alfred Nzo and Chris Hani. Eastern Cape was Biko's base and tourists will flock there.

l President Thabo Mbeki will deliver this year's Steve Biko Memorial lecture at the University of Cape Town today at 6pm.

l The Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics at Wits University will launch the Steve Biko 30th anniversary events, including a lecture today.

l Azapo will hold memorial services at the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg at 7pm and also at the Johannesburg Central police station today.

lSowetan and the Aggrey Klaaste Nation Building Foundation support the commemorations and celebrations of the anniversary and legacy reference committee.


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