Dashiki Dialogues: Biko and the magic of dreams

2012-09-15 09:09

Nigerian novelist Ben Okri was in rainbow country this past week.

He came to South Africa to deliver the yearly Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at the University of Cape Town.

Okri’s work arguably provides the finest manifestation of literature as a portal to alternative visions of the worlds, at least by a writer of African birth. His writing takes a form known as magic realism.

The watered-down definition is that it employs fantasy and dreams to carry across its meaning.

Think here of a classic like the Booker Prize-winning novel, The Famished Road and Songs Of Enchantment, as examples. There’s also his anthology of poems called Mental Fight.

It is the possibility of beauty and the magic of dreaming that proceeds all hopeful transformation in human life.

Steve Biko and his peers in the Black Consciousness movement had to dare to reach into the magic of dreams to find new ways of seeing what blackness means.

So, while Neo-Nazi nationalists were preaching their poisonous vision of being black in the world, Black Consciousness became the beautiful answer that kept hope alive.

This reliance on the human imagination as a resource for being human makes people like Biko and Okri indispensable
for South Africa today.

Now, in the 35th year since “a visionary son of the soil was slain”, to borrow Okri’s line, we have to ask: what sort of vision are we living as a nation?

What is the health of our leadership? And what dreams are we nurturing for our future state of affairs? What elements in the content of our composition require refashioning?

I believe Biko and his lofty lot who called us into a new awareness had to confront similar questions in their time. So today, as we remember how he was stolen from us and as we honour his legacy, we have enough of his reflection to light the way forward.

For instance, in 1972, Biko said to American political scientist Gail M Gerhart: “This is one country where it would be possible to create a capitalist black society, if whites were intelligent.

“And that capitalist black society, black middle class, would be very effective . . . in putting across to the world a pretty convincing, integrated picture, with still 70% of the population being underdogs.”

Now, as we ponder why the economic health of black people doesn’t match our political gain, we have Biko and the legacy of Black Consciousness to enrich our dialogue.

» Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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