Dear Xhamela Omde, Omhle,
Saturday marked 43 years since you joined the land of the brave, the spiritual abode of our ancestors.
I do not possess what gifted novelist Ayi Kwei Armah from Ghana calls “the eloquence of the scribes”.
Had that been the case, I would, with accuracy, have described the great meaning of your life to humanity, neither exaggerating nor minimising it.
Your contribution to the cause of what another gallant son of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, called the liberation of humankind, is simply immeasurable.
And to imagine that you accomplished all this before the age of 30!
Today, son of the daughter of the amaCethe clan, I feel compelled to count, one by one, the blessings you conferred on black humanity.
When my peers and I – in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape, about 300km from your home in King William’s Town – took to the streets in the vehicle of the Black Consciousness-guided Uitenhage Black Civic Organisation, we were only nine years old.
It was your Black Consciousness philosophy, Xhamela, that helped us to discard our fear for the intimidating racist SA Police with their fierce dogs.
With our small fists held high, we tore the air and dared the heavily armed police to do their worst. We cannot thank you enough, Nokwindla, for liberating us from paralysing fear.
If we were nine years old when we embraced Black Consciousness unknowingly, it was different when we did so four years down the line, at the age of 13.
When comparing political philosophies presented to us, Black Consciousness made the most sense. We could not accept, as some argued, that we should wage our struggle with the support of sympathetic whites.
Our 13-year old minds could not make sense of any white person being prepared to die for black people. Of course, many years down the line, we learnt that, indeed, many white people had laid down their lives for the black cause.
We have also learnt that many black people killed their own in defence of ill-gotten white privilege.
With these undeniable facts staring us in the face, we remain grateful for, and faithful to, the gift of Black Consciousness because it had, and has, little to do with what white people could and can do to and for us, but what we could and can do for ourselves as black people.
Black Consciousness taught us about the need not only to be proud of our despised skin colour, but also about the need to depend on ourselves for our liberation.
In short, our black pride had to be informed by recognising the need for black self-reliance; that we, on our own, can do things for ourselves.
Twenty-six years after voting for the first time in South Africa, many black people are yet to realise this liberation.
Many who call themselves “black people’s leaders” are deep in the rot and dirt of corruption because they have no sense of black pride and the black self-reliance that the Black Consciousness philosophy gifted us.
They think that, for them to live, they must accept the crumbs falling from the tables of the rich instead of insisting on taking the whole that belongs to us.
Corrupt black leaders have neither a sense of pride nor that of shame as they expose themselves, and us, to contempt from those who have always despised black people.
Forty three years after your departure, Bra Steve, many black people who continue to suffer as if this is not their land still sing “Senzeni na? [What have we done?]”, a song we sang during the liberation struggle.
It struck me, as I was reflecting on the meaning of your life and Black Consciousness a few days ago, that not only is it wrong to sing this song now, but it was wrong to sing it then. That is because we had done nothing to anyone.
Instead, we were the ones who were being oppressed. An appropriate song should have been and should now be “Yintoni le singayenzanga? [What have we not done?]”.
The answer to that song is that we, the living, have failed to continue our brave ancestors’ tradition. Instead of taking the struggle to its final conclusion, we are, through corruption, selling the future of the not-yet-born black children to feed our insatiable greed for big houses, clothes, cars and sex.
Sesanti is a professor at the University of the Western Cape’s faculty of education