Biko’s struggle goes on


Steve Biko died on 12 September 1977. For those of us who grew up in the Black Consciousness movement this day is always a time to reflect on how far we've come – and how far we still have to go.

Steve Biko died on 12 September 1977. For those of us who grew up in the Black Consciousness movement this day is always a time to reflect on how far we've come – and how far we still have to go.

Biko remains a great figure in the struggle for the full humanity of black people. He would never accept anything less than the full restoration of our dignity.

But we have to be aware of Biko’s limits. He spoke with such power about the condition of the black man: "The type of black man we have today has lost his manhood reducing into an obliging shell; he looks with respect at the white power structure and accepts what he regards as the 'inevitable position'."

Today we can all recognise that this is still true.

But we have to read Biko together with thinkers like Nomboniso Gasa and Pumla Gqola who also think very seriously about the situation of black women. We still live in a radically unjust society and continue to internalise injustice as normal.

The Matyana River continues to run through our minds as well as our town, a divide between white privilege and black suffering. The dividing river of our city exercises mental violence on black suffering. We continue to do mental violence to ourselves. We do not respect our selves.

The society created by white racism stills ails from diseases, despair and brokenness. We do not value ourselves or others. We are confronted by hard realities on a daily basis.

White racism remains poisonous. There are still white people who believe that they have worked hard for what they have, ignoring the fact that their privilege was earned through the dehumanisation of black people.

Biko the prophet was right and remains right: “Tradition has it that whenever a group of people has tasted the lovely fruits of wealth, security and prestige it begins to find it more comfortable to believe in the obvious lie and accept that it alone is entitled to privilege.”
The ruling party also subscribes to this entitlement. They speak of ruling till Jesus comes back.

Its members believe that employment in the Makana Municipality, being awarded tenders and allocating houses is a birthright.
Black Consciousness is opposed to both the white superiority and black inferiority complex. In fact, Black Consciousness seeks to dismantle both. Biko envisaged humanity liberating herself from both white racism and black inferiority.

He had this to say: “In time we shall be in a position to bestow upon South Africa the greatest gift possible – a more human face.”
We have not attained this. The last remaining illusions in the ANC were gunned down in Marikana.

It is now clear that the ANC has taken over the colonial system and not transformed it. The life of a person who is poor and black counts for nothing in this so-called democracy. 

Black Consciousness seeks to dismantle a society where only the elite and the rich matter. If the poor protest against water scarcity and crisis, nothing will be done, because they are not people enough, they are sub-human beings.

When the white students of Rhodes University together with their lecturers stand up, the local, provincial and national government stand up and promise to resolve the water crisis.

They spit in our face! For us who are never heard, who are not part of “democratic” South Africa this amounts to mental violence.

Black Consciousness seeks to infuse the black community with a new-found pride in themselves, their efforts, value systems, culture, religion and outlook to life. A community that will celebrate its heritage, successes and victories. A community that will not rape each other and kill each other for no apparent reason.

There is so much absence of love in our society today. These days ‘I am because of you’ means ‘I am because of what you have’.
Money has become the barometer of everything. Ubuntu as we know it has long since died.

Otherwise the unemployment rate would not be 70%, there wouldn’t be such excessive poverty, a huge gap of inequalities, hunger and want.

Black Consciousness seeks to dismantle the commodification of people and the essential services needed for our survival. Also to replace capitalism with a system that will reincarnate humanity, love, solidarity, integrity and dignity.

As we confront the structural injustices, diseases, despair, rapes and killings, the housing crisis, white racism, audit reports that are qualified and come with disclaimers, Black Consciousness offers us alternatives to collectively share our misfortunes and pain, while trying collectively to rebuild solidarity and construct humanism.

However no political parties really represent the spirit of Black Consciousness anymore. As Xolela Mangcu noted recently, the attempts to privatise Biko’s memory for personal gain are not rooted in a proper understanding of Biko.

Today Biko’s spirit lives on in fighting movements like the Rural People’s Movement and Unemployed People’s Movement, not in any celebrity promoting themselves on Facebook.

It lives in the suffering, the resilience and the struggles of our people.

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