Monday marked what would have been Bantu Stephen Biko's 71st birthday, the South African anti-apartheid activist was born 18 December 1946. Biko's legacy is one which is revered by many -- both within and outside of politics.
Biko's given name "Bantu" means "people"; Biko interpreted this in terms of the saying "Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu" ("a person is a person by means of other people").
Biko's activism started at an early age during the time he was a student and it was whilst studying that he and other black student leaders developed SASO's ideology of "Black Consciousness".
Biko's fame spread posthumously with his body of work commemorated by many institutions, world leaders -- in song and through movies such as the 1978 biography by his friend Donald Woods, which formed the basis for the 1987 film Cry Freedom.
The father of Black Consciousness was only 30 years old when he died. He was arrested at a police roadblock when he broke a ban restricting him to speak publicly or travel. He was severely beaten and died in a cell alone on 12 September 1977 after what has been reported to be a horrifying 25 days in police custody.
The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) founded by Biko empowered and mobilized much of South Africa's urban black population, and still continues to do so to this day. Here are a few of the excerpts from Biko reprinted from the SASO Newsletter:
1. Biko On Human Relationships
We must seek to restore to the Black man, in general, the great stress we used to lay on human relationships, the high regard for people, their property and for life in general; to dwarf the triumph of technology over man and to reduce the materialistic element that is slowly creeping into our society. These are essential features of our Black culture to which we must cling.
The term Black culture above all implies the freedom by us to innovate without recourse to White values. This innovation is part of the natural development of any culture. A culture is essentially the society's composite answer to the varied problems of life. We are experiencing new problems by the day and whatever we do adds to the richness of our cultural heritage as long as it has Man as its centre. The adoption of Black Theatre and drama is one such important innovation which we need to encourage and to develop. Our love for music and rhythm must be made to assume some relevance even in this present day.
2. Biko On Distorts Of The Past
As one Black writer says, colonialism is never satisfied with having the native in its grip but, by some strange logic, it turns to his past and disfigures and distorts it. Hence, the history of the Black man in this country is the most disappointing history to read about. It is merely presented as a long lamentation of repeated defeats.
Heroes like Makana who were essentially revolutionaries are painted as superstitious trouble-makers who told the people lies about bullets turning into water. Great nation builders like Shaka are cruel tyrants who frequently attacked smaller tribes for no reason except for some sadistic purposes. Not only is there no objectivity in the history taught us but frequently there is an appalling misrepresentation of facts that is sickening even to the uninformed student.
Thus a lot of attention has to be paid to our history if we as Blacks want to aid each other in our coming into consciousness. We have to rewrite our history and produce in it the heroes that formed the core of our resistance to the White invaders. More has to be revealed and stress has to be laid on the successful nation-building attempts by people like Shaka, Moshoeshoe, Hintsa. These are areas calling for intense research work to provide some desperately-needed missing link. It would be too naive of us to expect our conquerers to write unbiased histories about us anyway.
We have to destroy the myth that our history starts in 1652. Our culture must be defined in concrete terms. We must relate the past to the present and demonstrate a historical evolution of the modern Black man. There is a tendency for people to think of our culture as a static culture that was arrested in 1652 and has never developed since. The "return to the bush" concept seems to suggest that we have nothing to boast about except loins, sex and drink.
3. Biko On Deliberate Acts
In order that Black consciousness can be used to advantage as a philosophy to apply to people in a position like ours, a number of points have to be observed. As people existing in a continuous struggle for truth, we have to examine and question old concepts, values and systems.
Having found the right answers we shall then work for consciousness amongst all people to make it possible for us to proceed towards these answers. In the process towards the answers, we have to evolve our own schemes, forms and strategies to suit the need and situation, all the time keeping in mind our fundamental beliefs and values.
Our goal is a "completely non-racial, egalitarian society."— Jacobin (@jacobinmag) December 18, 2017
—anti-apartheid martyr Steve Biko, born this day in 1946 pic.twitter.com/KIaVn4FIyH
We continue to celebrate and remember Biko, in Black Consciousness and the quest for true humanity.