Mamphela Ramphele

Remembering history-makers

2018-12-18 13:10
Steve Biko. (Gallo Images )

Steve Biko. (Gallo Images )

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Stephen Bantu Biko would have turned 72 today. What would he have made of our 25-year-old democracy? What would have been his expectations of the citizen performance of his contemporaries and their sons and daughters? 

What would have been his attitudes to the wrangling about who owns the legacy of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM)? I suspect he would have laughed at the absurdity of owning a movement. The BCM by its nature was a way of life that enabled an oppressed people to free their minds and deny the oppressor the most powerful weapon. Like all public goods, the more people embrace it, the better for everyone. 

These and many other questions were subjects of a 50-year anniversary reunion of those who were present at the birth and development of Black Consciousness in the late 1960s. There were about 60 of my generation and younger who came from all walks of life to The Steve Biko Memorial Centre in Ginsberg, King William's Town.  We had public servants, entrepreneurs, artists, business people, students and workers.  Some were accompanied by "the children of consciousness" as Strini Moodley's son framed them. The children of consciousness challenged us with their own sets of questions.

The Steve Biko Memorial Centre stands on a hill at the entrance into Ginsberg township as a symbol of the struggle of memory against forgetting. Milan Kundera, a dissident against Soviet Imperialism, reminds us that "the struggle of man (sic) against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting". The post-1994 government has shown evidence of selective memory and forgetting. Recognition and promotion of memorial are matters of expressions of power by those in control of our national resources.

Our struggle for freedom needs to be memorialised in a manner that enables all our children to benefit from the rich texture of the complementary contributions of our heroes regardless of their ideological or political party base. The Steve Biko Memorial Centre is an imposing structure that celebrates the contribution of the Black Consciousness Movement to our freedom. 

The centre celebrates institution-building driven by young black people to challenge our forgetfulness. How could a people forget a seminal era in our struggle for our right to name ourselves and become visibly and audibly black and proud? How could we forget an era of freeing our minds thus ushering in an inexhaustible march to the freedom we welcomed in 1994? The centre, with its rich archives, stands in defiance of the betrayal of forgetting.

It has become a hive of activity for locals and tourists. It offers the only proper place to meet friends and colleagues and share a decent meal and drink. Its facilities cater for young and old, including school tours and entertainment. Young men and women battling the demons of racism, sexism and other social injustices today clutch at fragments of Biko's writing and philosophical stances. They are desperate for something that can satisfy their psychological and mental quest for a true humanity. 

True humanity in our post-1994 society would remain elusive unless we are willing to learn the lessons of history. Consciousness-raising has never been more urgently needed than now. Our mindsets need to shift from being victims of historical circumstances to becoming the shapers of our futures. Re-dreaming the future we would like to be part of is an essential step in freeing our minds and unleashing the power within each of us. 

Retracing the steps of Stephen Biko and his fellow fearless Eastern Cape contemporaries - Mapetla Mohapi, Griffith Mxenge, and Victoria Mxenge - by visiting their resting places brought home to us just how high a price was paid for the freedom we enjoy today. It also reminded us of our responsibilities to never again allow fear to shape our social, economic and political lives.

As we wind down 2018 and usher in 2019, let each of us commit to travel inside ourselves to heal the wounds that undermine our ability to be self-confident, self-respecting and well-informed citizens. We have all it takes to become the face of Biko's true humanity.

- Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.

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