SEPTEMBER is known as ‘Biko Month’ in Black Consciousness Movement circles. Looking back on the month during which Steve Biko was murdered by the apartheid regime, BOKANG POOE reflects on the state of society through the lens of one of this country’s foremost thinkers and a revolutionary leading the fight for the liberation of the oppressed.
IN September 1977, South Africa was robbed of its beacon of hope during one of the darkest periods of apartheid.
Bantu Stephen Biko was killed in detention on September 12, 1977, by the apartheid state, in an orchestrated bid to eliminate those deemed a threat to the security of the republic.
Biko became officially the 46th victim of torture and death under the State Security Laws.
Biko’s murder was harrowing, and deeply devastated his family, friends, colleagues, community and the country.
His death helped highlight the brutality of South African security laws to the international community and the general plight of South Africans.
As South Africa, the African continent and the international community commemorate forty-three years since his murder in detention, it seems that the opposite of the apartheid government’s objective now rings true.
Bantu Stephen Biko and his legacy remain pivotal to the true liberation of South Africa and Africans worldwide.
Forty-three years on, the Steve Biko Foundation redirects this inconsolable loss into a resuscitative moment, where South Africa, Africa and world are challenged to reflect on the state of society through Biko’s lens; a moment to take stock and examine the quality of life since Biko’s passing.
In 2020, the challenge was considerably more demanding owing to the current landscape which has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That said, the deep wounds that many South Africans chose to ignore under more normal circumstances are amplified during this time and we are thus forced to come to terms with the true face of South Africa: poverty and inequality, gender-based violence and inhumane policing.
Additionally, racism and race relations take centre stage globally and in South Africa.
It is a sobering thought to imagine a resurrected Biko evaluating the advancements that have been made since the initial euphoria of a democratic dispensation 26 years ago.
True liberation remains elusive to the majority of the population.
In these trying times, the foundation draws on the exemplary leadership and innovation of Biko and his colleagues from the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) to seek inspiration for the coming days. As Frantz Fanon said, ‘Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it.’
It is clear that the mission for this generation is actualising the vision Biko and his colleagues outlined through the BCM.
The Black Consciousness Movement was an incubator of superlative leadership, ideology and activism. Not only did Biko and his colleagues deliberate on the ‘ideal’ society and its possibilities, they created it through community programmes and strategic political interventions.
In 1971, the Black Consciousness Movement initiated the Black Community Programmes (BCP), which was headed by Ben Khoapa. The BCP developed out of one aspect of the BCM’s philosophy of engaging in welfare work and programmes of self-help run by Blacks for Blacks.
As one of the founders of the BCM, Biko was heavily involved in the running of the BCP, which he joined in August 1972, after quitting his medical studies at the University of Natal.
The Black Community Programmes was a remarkable feat and should be studied thoroughly.
From this strand of the Black Consciousness Movement came the Zanempilo Clinic, Njwaxa Leatherworks, Zimele Trust Fund as well as numerous publications, such as the Black Review and the Black Viewpoint.
Even as the state was becoming increasingly stringent in the restrictions of banned persons, of which Biko was one, the programmes were well structured and executed, and could be replicated anywhere in the country.
Just as the 70s generation found themselves in perilous and uncertain times, so too does present day South Africa.
The 70s generation, in the face of torture and death, strove to achieve human dignity, address inequality and poverty, educate and inspire a generation as well as cultivate a special cohort of leaders.
It is an inescapable reality that, today, the same levels of innovation, commitment and integrity are required.
Biko and his comrades remain an exceptional symbol of South Africa’s history and are pivotal to its successful future.
As the African body commemorates forty-three years of his passing, we reflect on the unique philosophy of the Black Consciousness Movement which is yet to be fully realised, and may be too ambitious for one generation to attain.
We comprehend fully why ‘it is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die’.
This article was first published in the September 2020 print edition of Muslim Views.