Rhodes>Perspective>2014 Archive

His ideas touched the elements of identity and pride WE HAVE never fully recovered from the loss and emptiness that the death of Steve Biko caused us. We have buried many of our loved ones after Biko. Our bodies have moved on but our minds are still with Biko. Just as we have done every year since 1977, we will visit his grave yet again on September 12. Others who cannot reach his grave — not because of the 1977 police roadblocks — will say their prayers as they reflect on today's South Africa in their respective areas. My own reflections today are on the youth of South Africa.

Young people across the country are obsessed with Steve Biko. They sing about him. They compose poems about him. They carry his image on their T-shirts.

Yet, as much as they are in their prime, with high energy levels and signs of boldness, their knowledge of Biko and Black Consciousness does not seem to be enough to make them rise to their own inherent greatness.

They appear like, as black Americans will say, "hoe(ing) with a short-handle".

When we were younger our own reorientation and re-education happened within groups. These were student organisations, youth clubs, fully fledged political organisations, trade unions, churches and community projects. In that way we arrived with ease at collective consciousness.

Today, many adults among us are finding it hard to negotiate the next logical step, achieving a complete internally pillared individual consciousness that enables you to move on even when groups have collapsed and leaders have either been killed or have just sold out.

That which we managed at a collective level we are battling to manage on an individual level.

The youth are at an advantage. They are not constrained by the past because they live now. They look at us, their parents, with predictable eyes. To them we are quiet, fearful, extremely tolerant and at best politically dead.

We talk about the leaders of old and present political substance in our homes, but in the wider world we are absent. The youth look at us, their parents, who recite ancestral lineages and passages of a proud history with precision, yet when called to move mountains we disappear like a small pin in a heap of cloth.

Biko and Black Consciousness are important and central in the lives of today's youth. I know this because I was once young, energetic, wanting to move and wondering why everybody was scared.

At that time my mind was beginning to see the transforming agency in Black Consciousness. All things that were around me, that I thought I knew so well, were beginning to have a new meaning to me. My own attitude, beliefs, values and ways of behaving were experiencing a serious transformation. My eyes were seeing much clearer. Biko and his idea of freedom had touched the elements of identity, pride and commitment to black upliftment within me.

Before me, Biko had gone through a similar situation. When confronted with that period in his life, he acted in his own way, hence he remains different from most of us. He had listened to the ANC and PAC people while he was at Lovedale College.

He saw the futility of competition between the rival political groups of the time which was arresting progress. With his original mind he took a bold intellectual step forward, a step that has created the possibilities that we see today in our youth.

The founding of a collective consciousness such as Black Consciousness as an instrument for a people who lived and still live in a predominantly white-defined environment, was very important.

It enabled us to respond to the forces that surrounded our world. We refused to be defined by anyone else other than ourselves. We could afford to behave that way because we were marching behind a collective that had taken over the English language.

Biko and his generation of Black Consciousness leaders brought into English strong patriotic formulations and expressions. They employed English in the task of controlling black thought, not in the way of suppressing, manipulating and permanently confusing blacks, but in bringing a much needed harmony, clarity and forthrightness. In concert, they did what Aime Cesaire did to French.

I am happy with this development in our youth. I am happy with the universities in this country and abroad whose students, researchers and academia continue to be drawn to this man and his idea of freedom. I am happy with the fashion world, musicians, writers and public discussants who bring Biko and his verses onto the screens of our minds.

Yet, I do not wish to see our youth "hoe with a short-handle". I wish to see them humbling themselves to learn the essential grounds on which Biko and the idea of Black Consciousness were founded. It is that study that will allow them to bring the idea to their times. Biko is a living shade next to each of us.

Article by: Andile M-afrika

Article Source: The Sowetan