South Africans had no right to pull the country backwards, President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday.
Zuma was unveiling a memorial gravesite for Steve Biko, together with his family and various ministers, in the Eastern Cape in commemoration of Human Rights Day.
Political parties and government are remembering the victims of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, where police shot dead 69 people during a protest against the country's pass laws, which were used to control the movement of blacks, coloureds, and Indians.
Addressing media on the sidelines of the unveiling, Zuma said Human Rights Day was an important day in the country that needed to be recognised.
The officials felt that they should be with the Biko family on this day, he said, to thank the family for the contribution they made in the fight for freedom in South Africa.
"And for them to know their contribution will never be forgotten and will be remembered by generations to come," he said.
It was perfectly fitting for Human Rights Day to be marked in the Eastern Cape to remember the hero 40 years after his death, Zuma said.
"Even today, we are still accused of racism. This is a mistake. We know that all interracial groups in South Africa are relationships in which whites are superior, blacks inferior. So as a prelude whites must be made to realise that they are only human, not superior. Same with blacks. They must be made to realise that they are also human, not inferior."— Steve Biko, On Black Consciousness
Zuma started with unveiling the gravesite and memorial of Biko before heading over to the main event in King Williams Town.
"Let us unite and make our country indeed a prosperous country. We have no right to push this country backward," he said.
When they talked about human rights, he said, they talked about economic rights, the right to water and all other fundamental rights. They did not talk about rights vaguely.
"That's what Biko sacrificed his life for," Zuma said.
"The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."— Steve Biko, speech in Cape Town, 1971
Nontsikelelo Biko, the widow of the black consciousness movement leader, said they had first been reluctant about the erection of the new monument.
They did not want it to seem as if Biko was superior to those who were also laid to rest in the same gravesite.
But they decided to allow the monument to be erected so that young people could learn more about Biko.
She said the road to freedom has not been easy, and many lost their lives.
"Days of crying are gone, now we must just focus on continuing their legacy," she said.
"It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realise that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality. The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth."— Steve Biko, We Blacks, I Write What I Like, 1978
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Who was Steve Biko?
Bantu Stephen Biko was born in Tylden, Eastern Cape, on December 18, 1946, according to the biography on the Steve Biko Foundation website. He registered for a medical degree at the black Section of the Medical School of the University of Natal in 1966 and went on to be a student leader who was one of the founders of the South African Students' Organisation (Saso) and its first president in 1969; Saso emerged from black students' frustration with the liberal and multi-racial National Union of South African Students (Nusas).
He was a key figure in the emerging black consciousness movement and a founder member of the Black People's Convention which was set up in 1972. He was banned and restricted to King William's Town. On August 18, 1977 he and fellow activist Peter Jones were detained. He died in detention on September 12, 1977.
"Biko and Jones were tortured at the headquarters of the Security Division housed in what was then known as the Sanlam building in Port Elizabeth. It was during this period that Biko sustained massive brain haemorrhage," said the Steve Biko Foundation website.
"On the 11th of September 1977 Biko was transported to Pretoria central prison – a twelve-hour journey, naked, without medical escort, in the back of a police Land Rover. Biko died on the floor of an empty cell in Pretoria Central Prison on the 12th of September. It was in this way that South Africa was robbed of one of its foremost political thinkers."