Opportunity lost

2012-09-12 00:00

STEPHEN Bantu Biko’s unique message emphasised the need for honesty and introspection — qualities that are sorely needed in our country today.

Inspired by great minds such as Franz Fanon and Marcus Garvey, Biko, who died 35 years ago this month, together with his associates, challenged the fraudulent, destructive philosophies of apartheid and colonialism.

By so doing, Biko and his colleagues were able to shake the roots of an ideology so poisonous and devastating that it left millions intellectually crippled, psychologically vulnerable, socially disintegrated, culturally bankrupt, vocationally disabled, and spiritually destitute.

However, unique and important as Biko’s message is, the older generation has discarded it, while the younger generation has no clear understanding of what the man stood for.

Consequently, anarchy abounds and the majority of South Africans, black people in particular, continue to drown in a sea of poverty, discontent, frustration, confusion, and illusion.

Our abandonment of Biko’s message will only serve to perpetuate our imprisonment. To abandon him is to negate the mind. And the negation of reason can only lead to insanity and illusions. A society immersed in delusion and insanity, is a society devoid of self-knowledge, self-identity, self-confidence and self-love.

This is where Black Consciousness as a philosophy comes in: to help the black man regain his self. As Biko wrote: “The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity.”

And this should have been the first step for the post-apartheid government. While trying to redress the imbalances of the past may have been desirable, neglecting “the first step” has rendered such an initiative futile. With the true emancipation of both black and white people, there would be no need for affirmative action, black economic empowerment, redistribution of wealth, welfare culture, and similar concepts or programmes. Such initiatives are bound to invite conflict, controversy and discontent.

A lack of honesty and self-knowledge are, primarily, what have brought us to where we are.

It’s a lack of honesty on the part of the ruling party in that it has largely failed to bring Biko’s message back into public life. And this is due largely to the nature of politics where the conquerors are content and preoccupied with their own legacy. It’s a lack of honesty on the part of the black man in “his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign in the country of his birth” — to quote the incisive words of Biko. Finally, it’s a lack of honesty on the white man’s part for accepting manufactured lies as the absolute truth.

But I’m concerned more about the black condition. Let’s proceed to the black world and observe what’s going on down there.

First, electricity, which in many areas has been installed by the newly elected democratic government. Some black youths have appointed themselves as the unofficial community contractors. These self-appointed gangs go around diverting power lines, reconnecting, disconnecting, and stealing cables. Consequently, there are frequently unnecessary power blackouts in such areas. This leaves many honest citizens struggling — all because of crime and careless usage on the part of the greater community.

Piped water was a privilege for a few. However, the new South African government has made great strides in providing water to as many communities as possible. But many people are refusing to pay for these services. Most of us waste a lot of water, daily: as though piped water was grass or topsoil — ever available. Add to this those who go around vandalising hydro infrastructure in our communities, more especially in black communities. All this costs a lot of money to fix or replace.

Housing, too, has been provided to many of us by our government. While the government may have its pitfalls (many), we (citizens) are not without blame. Some of us are in the business of selling these RDP houses. Some of us are in the business of buying such houses and many of us do not care about these RDP houses. And this translates to the degeneration of RDP-housed societies — filth, squalor, rowdiness, indecency, disrespect, envy, and so forth.

In addition, alcohol addiction is especially rife in black African communities. More black people, young and old, are forfeiting their jobs for alcohol. Drugs, too, are causing headaches. Robbery and thuggery are the order of the day. On top of this, many people in our communities suffer from self-hate instigated by the disintegration of philosophy. Now, black hates black.

Clearly, our problems as black people are increasingly our own doing. Our blatant negation of Biko’s message has contributed massively to our steady degeneration. Finger-pointing and apathy are no longer an option if we are to make any meaningful progress. Waffling rhetorically about racism, apartheid and colonialism will take us nowhere. We have to engage in introspection and rediscover ourselves, since Black Consciousness is “an inward-looking process”.

Then we will realise that when “you liberate the minds of men, ultimately you will liberate the bodies of men”, as Garvey put it.

Simphiwe Ndlovu is a writer and entrepreneur who was born and raised in the village of Emaswazini, outside Pietermaritzburg.

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