We must do it without Biko

2012-09-22 10:48

With the marking of the 35th anniversary of Steve Biko’s death, once again South Africans did what they do best – commemorate!

They do it for every stalwart of the struggle in this country.

Now, just after the Marikana tragedy, and always, the question is what would Biko say or do? Would this have happened under his watch?

The strange thing is everyone is asking how Biko would have reacted to the life of black people today, but the answer is nobody knows. Biko’s own life constantly changed.

He grew from his own naive acceptance of liberal support of the struggle to radically advancing the notion that a struggle owned and driven by black people will not be compromised.

His rupture from the National Union of South African Students was his moment of political epiphany – his South African Students’ Organisation (Saso) began a process during which Biko’s thoughts about the political situation in the country radicalised.

Because he reasoned as such, he alienated a few and, perhaps deliberately, or out of pure misunderstanding, the apartheid government believed they had an ally in Biko.

The truth about him is that at the age of 30 his thinking, in my view, was evolving.

Two events are worth noting.

One is the emergence of a younger and more radicalised leadership within Saso.

The other came with the politicisation of the Black Consciousness Movement via the Black People’s Convention.
More importantly, Biko was contemplating the possibility of a united front and, in his last year, he was working towards that, including meeting with Oliver Tambo.

Would he have joined the ANC? These events provide reason to speculate on the trajectory of his thinking and his loyalty.

If the ANC today is accused of corruption, would Biko have found himself in the wrong company?

The leaders in power today are leaders that made immense sacrifices and were beyond reproach.

In the 60s and 70s, Biko lived pretty much as he wrote, freely – but today, what chance would he have?

So let’s leave speculation and talk frankly of what we know.

Biko’s book, I Write What I Like, is the only testimony of his thought. Its central point is for black people to achieve self-reliance in thinking and praxis.

So let me paraphrase Biko: I do not think, no matter how many times we lament his early death, that Biko will leave his grave to come and deal with the problems of our times.

He will continue to be an inspiration, no doubt, which is a testament to the enduring qualities of black-consciousness philosophy, but let us remember that the challenge rests with us to realise the dream of a humane society that he so clearly envisioned.

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