The F-word: Why I miss Biko, the humanist

2013-09-15 10:00

I miss Steve Biko.

I don’t know what he would have said had he been around or what political party he would be with.

Frankly, I don’t care. I miss Biko, the ultimate humanist.

I miss Biko because 36 years since the disciples of white supremacy murdered him in a police cell, I find examples of the stuff that drove him are around us almost four decades later.

For example, the same mind-set that made Biko’s fellow students question how it was that white people could style themselves as experts of the lived black experience continues today.

This time, white liberals have been joined by the black elite and they have both mastered the art of talking about the poor but never with or to the poor and marginalised about solutions to their own conditions.

Instead, those who speak the true experience of blackness in South Africa, and do so in a language that challenges the comfortable notions of a “rainbow nation”, are labelled either racist or populist.

I am sure the same would have been said of Biko at some point in his short but jam-packed life.

His demonstrated compassion and empathy for the wretched lives of black people would have given hope to many young and poor people sitting on street corners, condemned as they are today to a life of eating crumbs from the table of the new and historic elites.

I miss Biko because he was so comfortable with his blackness that he did not feel the need to justify it or go to extreme measures to prove the authenticity of blackness.

He did not see it as a problem that needed to be solved, especially not by others who are making their life’s work pathologising blackness.

Because of what I think I understand Biko stood for, particularly about treating black people as an exotic species on the continent of their origin, I have to imagine what he would have made of the trend of recording black people who move to previously whites-only suburbs or take their children to schools they were previously excluded from.

I cannot fathom why it would be a curiosity that black people are doing what humanity has done from the dawn of time.

Black people who think that fellow blacks moving out of townships are “selling out” are as backward in their thinking as white people who complain about “their” neighbourhood going to the dogs because blacks have moved in.

Human history is history of communities migrating from one area to another – either for better or more arable land for their crop, or pasture for their animals. This is after they had enough to learn that there were better ways than following the prey they lived on.

So black people moving closer to where opportunities are, or doing their best to prepare their children for the future, are acting as natural as can be.

Human history is also about asserting one’s identity without feeling small or needing to make others feel inferior.

It is almost impossible to acquire Biko’s self-confidence in your own identity and spend your energy trying to prove that others are lesser just because they are of a different sex, sexual orientation, faith or any other areas that give bigots reason to discriminate.

I am certain that those closest to him get annoyed this time of the year and say to themselves: “If you knew him as I did, you would not be portraying him as a saint that those of us who admire him often do.”

Biko was a flawed man and we become accomplices in his murder when we strip him of his humanity and all the flaws that come with him.

I miss Biko because he didn’t feel sorry for himself.

He had human frailties but continued to inspire a generation in spite of his personal shortcomings.

For that, he is more than just a political hero.

»?Moya is a member of the Midrand Group.

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