Open letter to South Africa’s students‚ universities and government‚ represented by Minister in the .
Steve Biko, philosopher, revolutionary and martyr extra-ordinaire. He was never exposed to the writings of philosophers such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Georg Wilhelm Hegel, Ludwig Feuerbach, Mao Tse Tung. To understand him, however, it is necessary to grasp the basic philosophical orientation of his politics.
Marx summarises Biko's starting point as much as his own when he declares: "The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses."
For Biko, philosophy and theory were the foundations of a successful liberation struggle. The organisations established, built and led by Biko, presupposed strong and formidable theoretical and philosophical basis.
Black Consciousness counternanced no holy cows. To be sure, the struggle started with black people, was executed by black people, and aimed to liberate black people. In other words, black people were the subjects, the instruments and the objects of the liberation struggle.
The philosophical foundations of Black Consciousness required that "the weapon of criticism" - black people - should never replace "criticism of the weapon" - black people. Black Consciousness represents fundamentally a critique of the weapon of criticism of the struggle. It starts with black people, the obstacles to their own liberation and freedom which they symbolise.
The message is simple: Only free people can bring about freedom; only democrats can die for and bring about democracy. Freedom, liberation and democracy were not, and cannot be, gifts from someone else. They are achieved through struggle by those who have already immersed themselves in them and cannot live and survive without them, albeit philosophically and spiritually.
For this reason, his death was not an accident. More significantly, it could never be voluntarily wished by the white racist regime of the apartheid era. On the contrary, it was a historical necessity that had to follow for those who had irrevocably committed themselves to freedom, liberation and democracy.
The enemies of freedom and democracy had to impose upon themselves the logical historical project of murdering the supreme lover of freedom and liberation of black people, Biko. Racists and murderers though they undoubtedly were, they had no option but to kill and maim when confronted by someone who would not give up on their right to liberation, freedom and democracy.
Biko had predicted that this would have to happen. In his determination to refuse the inhumanity of white society and, especially from its agents of death, fear would not be allowed to control black people's response to white oppression. Certainly his own success in overcoming fear determined the form and style of his struggle against the white minority regime. These are Biko's words on this matter shortly before his vicarious death: "We have been successful to the extent that we have diminished the element of fear in the minds of black people."
Prefiguring his own death, he replied to a question in this way: "You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead you can't care anyway. And your method of death can itself be a politicising thing."
There is, therefore, an important correction I would like us to make on this 30th anniversary of his death. It is this: Biko died for liberation and freedom; he was not killed for it. His enemies did not have the moral integrity to seek our freedom by murdering him.
To be sure, they were evil enough to be unable to avoid getting him to opt for the ultimate sacrifice to ensure there was no comprise in the struggle to free our land and liberate our people. No credit to them, therefore, for his death. He laid down his life for freedom. Black Consciousness demanded of him to do so.
Black Consciousness was never conceived to be a body of timeless truths. It was defined straightforwardly and simply as a way of life. It is about how one immerses oneself in one's community of choice! It has always been about identification with the values and goals of a particular human group or society. The implications of such a choice can and did lead to death in the hands of the enemies of black people.
There was also never any doubt who black people were. A radical theoretical and philosophical starting point dictated a clear understanding of who black people were. New black identities were being created by the historical and material conditions of South Africa, especially as shaped by the workings of the liberation struggle.
The contribution of Black Consciousness and, therefore, of Biko goes beyond creating people who could survive or resist apartheid.
Biko was a thoroughgoing political animal. Above all, he was an organiser. Once the theoretical foundations had been laid, people's commitment assured and their lives been purchased for freedom and democracy, Marx's link between theory and practice manifested itself. Black Consciousness unleashed the final revolutionary onslaught on apartheid structures. In a sense, Biko was ready, come June 1976, to be judged against what Mao Tse Tung said: "No analysis, No right to speak."
Because the foundations had been laid, what Marx described was ready to happen, textbook like. Marx had said: ".but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter. But for man (sic) the root is man (sic) himself."
The events of the 70s, 80s, and 90s inside and outside the country were influenced unavoidably by the philosophy and politics of Biko. The challenging question is: what about the present? The jury is out. The country is suffering as if Biko never lived and died. Education and community involvement, especially by professionals, cry out for new martyrs!
lItumeleng Mosala is a public intellectual and business consultant.