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By unknown | Sep 11, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Don Makatile

Don Makatile

Thirty-one years after the death of Steve Bantu Biko at the hands of apartheid police, memories of the man live on - in word and deed, not just as a fashion icon splashed across T-shirts.

The Steve Biko Foundation, headed by his son Nkosinathi, enters its 10th year on September 18 and it has never been busier.

Young Biko says while September would be the national attraction for the media, the month is merely a culmination of the good work they do throughout the year. This month, as in all the years, they do more commemorative work.

But he accepts that despite their body of work, "the interest in the work of the foundation tends to revolve only around what we do in September": the month of Biko's gruesome death in 1977 that Jimmy Kruger infamously confessed "leaves me cold".

The foundation started in response to questions of what they could do with the international and local interest in the legacy of Biko, "and continue to improve the lives of people who are marginalised".

The question was always at the back of Nkosinathi's mind. But on the 20th anniversary in East London, that drew 20000 people, the idea of a foundation crystalised: "It was obvious that this is a legacy that speaks to many and that is embraced by many. It was therefore important to begin to organise ourselves and channel that energy into the right direction."

The country was making good progress in terms of delivery of tangible services, but not so well in matters that addressed the soul of the nation, "like culture, values, history, heritage - so we used those as a springboard to the creation of the foundation".

The organisation has grown to operate at several levels - in the community, education and health, sports, history and criminal justice: "So at any one time, there's a whole range of activities taking place within those programmes."

This past weekend alone saw communities in the Border region taking part in the Steve Biko Memorial Tournament, where more than 5000 athletes took part in a myriad sporting codes.

The foundation, which does work with no less than 73 community-based organisations, also supports farmers growing paprika in Eastern Cape, where studies have shown the area's rain and soil conditions were conducive to good high value of the red pepper.

Earlier in the year the foundation hosted the Robert Sobukwe Memorial Lecture, whose guest speaker was former Burundian President Pierre Buyoya, and also a youth gathering addressed by the likes of Danny Jordaan and Mvuzo Mbebe.

Flashes of his father's brilliance show as he explains what guides the foundation in choosing its speakers.

This week the Steve Biko Memorial Lecture, the 9th in the series, will be delivered by Finance Minister Trevor Manuel: "The reasons are simple. Earlier this year we had a wave of xenophobic attacks and throughout this year we've seen huge inflationary pressures on our communities, resulting in food and oil price increases.

"The xenophobic attacks were described by many as an outcome of the harsh economic realities faced by our people. Against that background, we've asked Manuel to look at the impact of the global economy on our own developmental imperatives."

The speakers are drawn from across the spectrum to address topical issues of the day, says Nkosinathi.

He's heard the question before of where his father would be, had he lived. He finds it problematic. "An attempt at answering the question would be an intellectual exercise."

It is asked as if Biko was a mere respondent to history, he says of his father: "He was a maker of history."

Events are likely to have turned out entirely differently as, in his life, his father had been quite active in driving a united political front that brought together all the liberation movements. "It is quite possible that the turn of events could have been different," he repeats.

But there are things "we know he cared about - notions of community, self-reliance, citizenship. He'd still care a lot about the plight of our people who are on the fringes".

It is part of the foundation's existence to ensure Biko's lessons continue to form part of the national dialogue. Nkosinathi is satisfied by the willing public embrace of Biko, and for this he refers to Thabo Mbeki's 2007 lecture.

He's kosher with the idea of his father's famous face emblazoned on T-shirts, for example: "But the challenge is to ensure that where there's a T-shirt, there's knowledge about the teachings of Biko."

Their social history projects, which do not preach the Biko gospel only but the work of local heroes, would ensure this, he says, pointing to a painting of Saths Cooper, a Black Consciousness contemporary of his father.

They go out to the communities to ask the people about who their leaders were and chronicle these.

He points out that his father's grave in Ginsberg is not unkempt. "An attempt was made in 1997 to redo his grave, but we advised council not to do that."

It would have created an artificial distinction between him and the people who lie buried around him. The family home has also been turned partly into a museum and a venue for weddings and circumcisions. "It's a place ready to receive people," he says, adding that not a year has passed that they do not host schools from as far as the US, the UK and Scandinavian countries.

In time booklets and videos will come.

But the most ambitious project is to build the Biko Memorial Centre in King William's Town, for which land has been bought. Nkosinathi made time in 1997 to visit the families of the late Malcolm X and Dr Martin Luther King Jnr to see how they memorialised their own.

Carrying the Biko name hasn't really forced him to live under the shadow of his father: "I have a clear sense of who I am."

But born within the set of values Biko espoused, it was inevitable that they'd influence him and his siblings, says Nkosinathi, who is also very passionate about the land question.

Biko lives on.


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