Newsmaker - Angela Davis: The struggle interrogated

2016-09-11 06:04
US professor Angela Davis was the keynote speaker at the 17th annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture held at Unisa, Pretoria. Picture: S’THEMBILE CELE

US professor Angela Davis was the keynote speaker at the 17th annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture held at Unisa, Pretoria. Picture: S’THEMBILE CELE

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

‘Young activists of today stand on our shoulders and see what we have seen and more. But we do not provide a steady foundation.”

These were the words spoken by African-American Professor Angela Davis at the 17th annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture on Friday evening.

Biko was killed in detention on September 12 1977. His death followed hours of brutality at the hands of apartheid police.

Hundreds gathered in Pretoria, where Biko died, to hear Davis give the keynote address, titled Legacies and Unfinished Activism.

Political analyst Dr Somadoda Fikeni said in welcoming Davis that she was about to, “disturb, provoke and agitate”.

Deafening applause filled the ZK Matthews Great Hall at the University of South Africa as Davis took to the podium sporting her trademark Afro.

That she has kept abreast of developments in South Africa after 1994 was obvious as she paid homage to South Africans who were keeping up the fight, from Helen Joseph – who was among those who led the march to the Union Buildings – to Wits University student Shaeera Kalla who was among those who led the #FeesMustFall mass movement last year – and even the protesting young students from Pretoria High School for Girls.

Recalling her earlier days as an activist, the social activist, feminist, former Communist Party and Black Panther member spoke fondly of the ANC and the SA Communist Party. She described the anti-apartheid campaign as a “beacon of hope,” and its leaders as her leaders.

But she did not spend 27 hours aboard a plane to come and leave anyone feeling warm and fuzzy; she came to disturb, provoke and agitate.

“I wouldn’t have imagined that two decades after the defeat of apartheid we would be confronted with such militaristic responses to people’s protest,” Davis said, expressing disappointment at the South African government.

She was scathing and frank in her critique of the older generation’s failure to support young people who she says have always been at the forefront of “radical change”.

“Students today are realising that these legacies reveal
unfulfilled promises of the past and therefore give rise to new activisms.”

The activist received wild applause when she called out her generation for taking themselves and their knowledge “too seriously”, and as a result failing to support young people. She said it was important they allowed the youth to make their own mistakes and learn from them.

“The revolution we wanted was not the one we produced,” she said of her generation.

Even as students in South Africa wait to get word of next year’s fee hike, Davis came out in support of their call for free quality education.

“The demands for free education are possible because we continue to live with the mandates of capitalism. We are compelled to think of education as a commodity.”

Turning her attention to protest action in her home country, Davis praised the women who started the #BlackLivesMatter movement in America. She slammed the view that the movement was “leaderless”, because it was not led by the usual suspects of charismatic, church-going men.

She called on the legacies of Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko to continue to be acknowledged, but not without critique. In the new wave of protests across the globe, it will be the marginalised that would lead the pack.

“We need the leadership of those who have been silenced.”

Addressing the media in a briefing after the lecture, Davis said that she was not in a position to advise South Africa on what should take place once the fee hike or fee freeze is announced, but that platforms of engagement from both sides – institutions and protesters – should remain open.

“My advice to students is always to find allies, never to put oneself out on a limb. That could mean finding allies among other students. It means developing a base of support. It means finding workers who will also serve as that support and finding a faculty that will also be that support to students. Organising is important.”

In 1970 Davis was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list after charges of murder, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy were laid against her.

This came after 17-year-old Jonathan Jackson smuggled guns into a courtroom and gave them to three convicts. A judge, who was taken hostage by the men, was shot dead, but it was not clear who fired the fatal shot.

Davis was tied to the murder because the guns were in her name.

She spent 18 months in prison and was ultimately acquitted.

Although she said at the time it was the happiest day of her life, Davis was quoted by The New York Times to have said: “A fair trial would have been no trial at all.”

TALK TO US

Is Angela Davis correct when she says the revolution we wanted was not the one we produced?

SMS us on 35697 using the keyword DAVIS. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

Read more on:    steve biko memorial lecture  |  angela davis

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

 
PARTNER CONTENT
INFOGRAPHIC: New thinking required for retirement

Everything we believe about retirement is fast becoming outdated.

PARTNER CONTENT
WATCH: How education can change a life

A university education gives students the chance to create a better future for themselves, their families and to opportunity achieve their dreams.

/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.