I watched as the commemoration of Bantu Steve Biko’s life and legacy came and went. Initially I hoped that it would catalyze a real awakening in the consciousness of this nation amidst a nation undergoing real issues of transition in democracy, identities, and faith to name a few. As a 33 year old this is an ideology I should have been indoctrinated with from my youth. I and others in my generation alike should have been raised on the staples that this vision had to offer. Its values should have been imprinted in my DNA as a concern of mainstream thought and culture as opposed to the issue being left to my parents’ prudence (which as a credit to their good judgment and insight).
I wonder so many things about who Steve Biko would have become had he lived to see the liberation of this country. The sad truth is that the politics behind our emancipation is murky and gives testimony to the legacy of the bloodied survivors, that even if he had lived until the early 90’s he might still have been assassinated at the hands of men and women he called brothers and friends.
This is what makes the current political landscape so unattractive to 30 somethings like myself who experienced life under Apartheid and still experience the tragedies and discrimination it has left behind, without being damaged by the bitterness of that reality. I have hope for this country and I believe there is a place for every opinion and liberation came at a cost to every black family, in particular, without discrimination. Yet, propaganda tells us that the ANC survived and so we should eliminate the struggles of non-allies from our memories. Yet my conscience tells me there is no truth in this. What of the life, mind and teaching of the young Steve Biko or the long suffering solitude and incarceration of Robert Sobukwe.
Surely more names and characters should flow with ease from recesses of my memory but is memory the most fitting memorial to erect for these great souls who reclaimed the pride of black nations around the world? What about the teachings of Du Bois and Marcus Garvey? Do we know that our struggle emanated from a brotherhood and sisterhood that envisioned itself a worthy part of the international arena unparalled in gift, thought and being with something valuable to give to this world from the philosophies of Ethiopianism and Pan Afrikanism. Surely these are ideals that can never die and yet we are witnesses to the disfigurement of these ideas that were once a fountain of hope.
What Bantu Steve Biko represented was more than a political party, more than the Azanian People’s Organisation or the Pan Africanist Congress. In fact, that is possibly why they have not managed to enjoy much success as political parties because their essence should have been in creating a movement for and of the reawakening of consciousness in black society. This vision must have been to create a collective force for forward change and development, incumbent on no individual and reliant on no man or woman but that would be evidenced by a gradual shift in identity as captured and articulated by the least in the group, about the authenticity of collective.
The trouble is that, we have bought into the popular culture that our current leaders are the ones we should be indebted to and offer our unquestioning allegiance to. To the contrary, this liberation was not blood less and it came at a high price, the cost of which current South African black society will continue to pay for generations to come. How can one quantify the cost of a culture of being amnesic to realities to that are an inconvenient reminder to the current political elite? Surely the men and women we as nation immortalize should not be the ones that survived, but the institutional legends of yesterday that didn’t live to yield the benefits of their great lives and great sacrifices.
It just seems to me we are being a diluted idea of leadership by appointment and position. We speak nostalgically of our leaders (as Afrikans) of bygone days. I struggle with why there is a dearth of principled, robust men and women whose leadership is organic and non partisan behind whom we can rally to our individual and collective civic duties and participation!!.. Well maybe that person is me.