Steve Biko: The Memories, the Myths, the Legacy


Bodily physical features have been the objects of study in seeking in depth understanding of the character traits of people. The dominant myth about people with the front gap teeth is that this class of people are found to be highly talkative, they ask questions and come up with answers.

Further, the myth goes on and says that this class of people with gap teeth also don’t fit the organisational mold but rather tend to be freewheeling.

Myths like legends should be part of the ways in which we understand our world; they should never be summarily dismissed as primitive or nonsense.

Steve Biko had a front gap. A glance at the life of Steve Biko shows that his life resonates with the myth. Let us look.

Speech making and giving talks was the gift of Steve Biko. Another thing about Steve Biko is that he did not abandon himself to the two dominant liberation organizations at that time: ANC and PAC. He was his own liberator, to put it in the words of former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke. Biko taught the concept of the democratization of leadership that everyone can become a leader. That’s why you found under him, young men like Tsietsi Mashinini at the age of 19 igniting the Soweto Uprisings, the revolution that went on and swept across the country and the world.

Steve Biko’s earliest publicly available speech at Abe Bailey Institute where he attacked the ANC, ushered in new voices on the nation’s most vexing problems and made room for fresh thinking on race and identity outside the restrictions of liberation movements.

Steve Biko was a great influence to Barney Pityana and Sipho Pityana. In fact he was much more like twin to Barney Pityana.

Steve Biko’s instincts are much alive today when considering Sipho Pityana, the brain behind the Save South Africa campaign. Sipho Pityana speaks very much like Steve Biko. He has inherited much of Biko's traits. Key to that is delivering rabble-rousing and inflammatory speeches that pin point the trouble and tie it down. That was the skill of Biko.

Like Steve Biko, Sipho Pityana is a cold scold, a bitter critic, and has the ability to isolate one key issue or individual and then start jabbing at that target. In secondary school days, I was a boxer. The most important punch in boxing is the jab. If you have ever been hit with a good jab, it feels like about 20 bees stinging your face at the same time. It hurts!! All great boxers like Muhammad Ali and Oscar De La Hoya can win an entire fight with the jab alone.

Many studies have been made on Ali. I also once wrote a master's degree research paper on Ali's jabs.  Sports Illustrated magazine measured Ali's jab  with an omegascope. Ali’s jab, it was found, could smash a board made with timber 16.5 inches away in 19/100 of a second. Ali's jab can cover the distance in 4/100 of a second, which is the blink of an eye.

Ironically, Ali stood for the same principles Steve Biko stood for. He used the sport of boxing to become a beloved global symbol of racial pride.He came to be popularly regarded as a champion of the oppressed and a seeker of justice for the persecuted. Ali also demonstrated major psychological strengths. He was renowned for his self-belief.

See how Sipho Pityana started with his jab at the funeral of Reverend Arnold Stofile. That is exactly Biko’s style of jabbing. The same style of jabs that Steve Biko taught Abram Tiro and got him killed. The same Biko style of speech making that Tsietsi Mashinini made at Morris Isaacson and caused Soweto Uprising that rocked the country and the world.

The jab that Sipho Pityana gave at Arnold Stofile’s funeral in August 2016 rattled the political landscape and soon metamorphosed into Save South Africa campaign and was soon discussed in the highest structures of the ANC, the NEC. Should the president step down or not? We are still stuck with the question. True what Sipho Pityana said was not new, but how he said it, when he said it and his gesture made the issue very hurting. That is the same with Steve Biko, what he said was generally said, the different was how he said what he said. Any boxer can land a jab, but how Ali landed those jabs was the difference that made the difference.

But I find more pronouncement of the legacy of Steve Biko in the EFF. Many organisations and individuals had made forages in advancing the legacy of Steve Biko - but one cannot find any entity that has become so successful and much pronounced in standing for what Biko stood for, like the EFF does. I am talking here only in terms of positive attitude, pride and psychological perspectives, that air of confidence and certainty as one sees in Biko and the EFF.

Steve Biko achieved the status of a Google celebrant this year when his birthday was cerebrated by Google with a Google Doodle. Steve Biko falls within the category of those who lend their voices to the quest for a new order - a better society. Steve Biko aspired towards the attainment of a more humane, democratic and free society where people can live in real and true freedom unencumbered by any structures of exclusion.

The key factor about Steve Biko is that he saw that Black people have gradually lost their existential worth within the context of Apartheid system that brow beaten and badly damaged their psyche, and so there is need for healing and re-orientation, starting from the roots.

News24 Voices Terms & Conditions

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Voting Booth
Who do you think should lead the Democratic Alliance after the party’s upcoming national congress in April?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
John Steenhuisen for sure, he’s got the experience
64% - 1082 votes
Mpho Phalatse, the DA needs a fresh outlook
36% - 619 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.