Philosopher Frantz Fanon said: “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.”
Anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko was one of those people who discovered his mission and fulfilled it. He openly refused to betray his immediate mission because history was going to be a tool used to judge his impact – and it was going to judge them harshly.
Like Andries Tatane, who died during a service-delivery protest in Ficksburg, Biko was also a victim of police brutality. No one had been punished for his death. The state at the time claimed Biko committed suicide through a hunger strike, but evidence points to a naked Biko being tortured by apartheid agents.
Biko died on September 12 1977, so this is Biko month. But Biko is less celebrated in South Africa. In the US, for example, buildings and streets are named after this giant.
Biko is more celebrated in intellectual circles than in the political strata simply because he was an intellectual. He was a social activist, more than a politician and more involved in community projects to enhance the standards of living for black people. Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement developed from the US’s Black Power Movement and the revolutionary writings of Fanon, activists Dr WEB Du Bois and Malcolm X. Biko brought this philosophy to our country because he acknowledged that we had different backgrounds and goals – unlike those imitating a democratic model of governance from the West, ignoring our different pasts.
Biko and his compatriots, such as black consciousness militant Abram Onkgopotse Tiro, also a victim of police brutality, filled a leadership void in the country.
The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) and other parties were banned in the ’60s in the aftermath of the Sharpeville/Langa massacre, led by Robert Sobukwe, the charismatic and energetic leader of the party.
As there was no political activism, there was only the social movement Black Consciousness, which was largely led by students.
Black Consciousness helped to invoke political consciousness in the black youth. It taught the youth to stop regarding themselves as inferior; slaves of another man – and to realise they are human beings.
Black Consciousness and Biko’s ideas live on, as many still have to be psychologically liberated from mental slavery.
Black pride underpins the preservation of one’s language, culture, respect for one’s own people and a love for oneself. It does not promote foreign traditions, which are deemed to be modern and popular, while our traditions are abandoned.
Biko would not appreciate that after 22 years of democracy we still have institutions undermining the black youth. It is embarrassing that we have schools prohibiting blacks to express themselves in their own languages. They are told that their beautiful unique hair is untidy and they are not allowed to have dreadlocks.
Biko would be ashamed to see the poor living standards of black people. Rife corruption causes unemployment and affects service delivery, which results in a poor life expectancy.
Biko was advocating for an egalitarian society where people are equal and where politicians are not VIPs, but servants of society – who are the real VIPs.