THE BLOG

Dr Mamphela Ramphele Remembers Steve Biko -- Umuntu Ungumntu Ngabanye Abantu

Without culture and pride in one's history, you remain a victim of mental slavery.

12/09/2017 13:19 SAST | Updated 12/09/2017 13:49 SAST
Ho Old/ Reuters
Undated file photo of South African black consciousness leader Steve Biko. Biko died of brain damage in a Pretoria prison cell in September 1977 and was the most prominent black activist to die while detained without trial under draconian security laws used to suppress opposition to apartheid.

My most important memory of Steve Biko is that of someone who was much wiser than his age. He was less than thirty years old when he died, but he had the wisdom that many of the politicians of his time could only dream of.

And the most important lesson he left us was to remind us that one cannot be free unless one has attained mental freedom -- the freedom to be whom God created you to be without allowing others to define you.

He also emphasised that the most important weapon in the hands of the oppressor [and the oppressor could be yourself, your friend, husband or partner] is the mind. And until such a time that we as South Africans go back to free our psyche from being dependent on others who are simply using us for their power or wealth accumulation -- we will not be free.

Freedom is not just physical, or legal freedom which we attained in 1994 -- when looking around SA, you find that mental slavery is deeper than it ever could have been thought to be possible, 23 years into our democracy.

For me today simply symbolises a day of celebrating a life that I had the privilege to share in and to recommit to making sure that we honour the ultimate sacrifice that Biko offered to his country - his own life.

If you go to the preamble of our Constitution and look at what those wise men and women who drafted the Constitution said -- you will see that they understood that simply getting legal and constitutional freedom on paper, is not enough. When we adopted this Constitution in 1996 we said: We, the people adopt this constitution to do what will heal the wounds of the past and establish a democratic society with social justice and fundamental human rights.

When you don't feel that you are recognised as part of the human community, where you are accepted, you are celebrated and you are supported in your endeavours -- you become very dangerous.

We are sitting today, 21 years later, with more problems in South Africa but we are dedicated to the important task of freeing ourselves from the mental slavery of racism, sexism and all the other "isms".

A few colleagues and I set up Reimagine SA, having realised that we didn't do what we said we, the people would do -- the everyday work of healing the wounds of the past and establishing the values of social justice, democracy and human rights, as well as the fundamental economic transformation which was supposed to accompany political freedom.

You cannot be free politically and be a slave mentally and socio-economically -- this is why our society is in this great turmoil. The lack of empathy that we see when children are raped and horrible violence, is because the perpetrators are not at peace with themselves.

Umuntu ungumntu ngabanye abantu, when you don't feel that you are recognised as part of the human community, where you are accepted, you are celebrated and you are supported in your endeavours -- you become very dangerous. This is what is happening with the nine million young people we have in this country, not in school and unemployed.

The message that we need to take forty years on, is there was Steve Biko, coming from a dirt poor family, but education made him the person he became. Why are we still feeding our children, inferior education, 23 years later? We talk of decolonization and yet we are still teaching our children history from 1652, this is recolonising our children, every day through school.

We are still not teaching our children in the mother tongues especially in the foundation years to secure their intellectual development? We say that they cannot do mathematics, but this is not because they are illiterate but because they are denied the channel to think in their mother tongue. The basic foundations of literacy and numeracy are best set in your mother tongue. Without culture and pride in one's history, you remain a victim of mental slavery.

We need to stop relying on leaders who are stealing our country and who are trampling on our democracy.

As South Africans, we need to go back to the preamble of the Constitution and commit to mend our ways in honour of those who sacrificed their lives for this freedom. Our children need to have the education that will allow them to learn the basic values of our society, the beauty of African history and the wonder of the riches of African culture and philosophy of Ubuntu.

There is nothing more profound than the interconnectedness between us as humans, where you realise you cannot kill yourself, rape yourself and you cannot steal from yourself.

Biko would be as firm today as he was back then when he wrote: "The trouble with the black man is that he is a shell of himself. He curses the white man in the privacy of the toilet, but when the white man appears says, master." By emulating white culture we are saying that it is superior to ours.

The preamble of our Constitution says we must pay attention to the quality of the life of every person so that we can free the potential of every person. We need to stop relying on leaders who are stealing our country and who are trampling on the blood of the herpes of our democracy.