Remembering Steve Biko
12 September 1977 is the day on which Steve Bantu Biko was brutally killed in custody by the white police officers for his ideas at the age of 31.
It is now 37 years since his death in detention, and one finds it difficult to resist the temptation to speculate how our young democracy, which Biko would have loved to enjoy, fares on a liberation scorecard based on the principles that Biko lived and died for.
There is no doubt that the founding father of Black Consciousness (BC) would be impressed by the fact that this country has a government dominated by black people, with a very significant number of them being women who seem to be surmounting conditions of double oppression. He would see this as an indication that his dream of anti-sexist and egalitarian society is slowly taking shape.
He would also be heartened that there were at least some attempts made to unite the three historically black liberation movements in the country, and the diminishing breed of racist bigots. This would show that an anti-racist society and the Black solidarity he died fighting for was not a mere pipe dream.
He believed that Black solidarity would be an antithesis to the thesis of white racism and that interaction of these factors would lead to the creation of an anti-racist and classless society.
He would be dismayed to learn that public representatives and those who are in leadership of our organisations have deserted the principles he adopted and preached – the principle of serving the country and the people with utmost pride and dignity. He would not be inspired by the performance of our young democracy on this score.
He would decry the fact that selfishness and greed have come to characterise the lives of public representatives. He, together with many of his peers in the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and predecessors sacrificed, not only comforts and privileges, but their lives too in pursuit of what others today call "a better life for all".
Dismay would grip him as he sees people who are expected to be men and women of credibility and integrity; people who are supposed to serve the society with dedication and selflessness, being bottled by narrow self-interest and greed.
He surely would realise how public spiritedness, sacrifice and solid patriotism have been given way to a commitment to advancement of self-interest. He would also be horrified by the voting patterns where voters put politicians into power - instead of serving the interest of the voters they ride on the backs of voters to personal glory and success.
Biko would find it challenging to understand and accept the content of Dr. Mosibudi Mangena's (AZAPO’s Honorary President and the former Minister of Science and Technology) observation that: "Our society is in a moral crisis of some sorts. All media houses, electronic and print are teeming with stories of corruption, bribery, fraud and theft involving people in public office. If it is not thousands of civil servants illegally accessing social grants meant for the elderly, the infirm and vulnerable children, it is highly trained medical personnel trafficking in human parts. If it is not councillors being accused of stealing millions of rands from their councils, it is members of parliament or members of the executive abusing the state money to enrich their big bellies."
He would be saddened by the rampant moral decay that seems to defy attempts at regeneration. It would definitely be a daunting task to try to give a mark for our democracy's performance on the issue of self-esteem and self-reliance. Where Biko taught black people to be proud, confident and assertive in pursuit of their own life, our society seems to have forgotten his words that “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed".
That is why we are failing to give our country an African face. Our languages are endangered while we embrace other languages - languages that we struggle to speak properly. The content and culture of our public broadcaster fail to reflect what the majority of our people holds dear.
Biko and his comrades taught self - reliance. They believed that it was unethical and shameful for people to be victims of a dependency syndrome. In their student days, Biko and his peers initiated Black Community Projects (BCP) in which many of our people participated and empowered.
They built a dam in Njwaxa, Yizampilo Clinic, Zimele Trust Fund etc. Today the spirit of self-reliance is gone. Our people fail to see their role in the process of delivery. There is a general acceptance that the government must deliver what people feel they are entitled to. For how long do we think we can sustain a society whose survival is based on grants and handouts? This is one of the most disappointing facts about our new democracy. Biko believed that political freedom would, with the passage of time, translate into economic freedom.
He believed that an equitable distribution of wealth would follow a period of socio-economic transformation. It would not be a pleasant task to score our young democracy on this point. The economy of this country is still in the hands of a few, the majority of whom are white. The supposed Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment programme is failing to be really broad-based – it only benefits those who are in power and their families.
Many people who are expecting a lot from it are now beginning to lose hope as the process has come to be selective economic empowerment - something for a chosen few. The road ahead still requires dedication, sacrifice and clarity of vision, just like during the days of struggle. It is not yet time to harvest. The struggle goes on and the harvest will be better if we follow Biko's example.
Sibongile Somdakais a member of the Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO). Contact number: 072 573 2193