IN 1977, 12 September it was, whites in charge of apartheid South African killed one of the brilliant thinkers and philosophers of southern Africa, Stephen Bantu Biko. One of the gross mistakes made by many involved in the writing and narrating of history particularly that of the liberation struggle – and struggles against colonialism and apartheid – is that of overgeneralisation.
Often we see the narration of history that simply describes everyone involved as a freedom fighter without going into the details of the contributions the individuals made in this fight for freedom. While it is a well-acknowledged fact that the struggle against colonialism and apartheid was to be fought at various fronts, this is not a convincing argument not to enter into the details of the work individuals did. Indeed, while those who successfully complete the Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae (MBChB) degrees and later get registered with a body such as the Health Professionals Council, are all known as medical doctors, there comes a time when patients and researchers would require the services of not every medical doctor but those who specialise in a particular illnesses.
For those of us involved in radical knowledge production, we have long departed from generalisations and started focussing on the specifics. When a brilliant martyr is placed together with other anti-apartheid activists as if there are no clear distinctions, we will quickly ascend to the pedestal to point out specific differences that are inherent in a given category. It must, indeed, be mentioned that amongst freedom fighters there were cooks, students, combatants etc.
Steve Biko was not just an anti-apartheid activist. He was a philosopher and a thinker who had reached a high level of analytical thinking. Had he lived, he would have produced and made more contribution to African philosophy leading to a rapid consciousness of the masses of the African people. Listen to what one youth said when the news came that Jacob Zuma admitted his guilt of corruption and thus paid back the N$7 million Nkandla upgrade money; “Had Biko lived, the masses of the South Africans, including those inside the African National Congress, would have been orientated to a point where it becomes impossible for a compromised character like Jacob Zuma to occupy the highest chair in South Africa”. White people knew that Biko was not only an ordinary anti-apartheid activist. They moved very quickly to curtail his emancipating message for which the majority of youth black students and activists where hungry for at the time. It is for this reason that they had to ban him in to avoid the spread of Black Consciousness ideals. Millard Arnold, writing on the testimony of Steve Biko during the 1976 trial of South African Students Organisation and Black People’ Convection, explains what banning of Steve Biko meant; “Biko had been banned or restricted to the magisterial district of King William’s Town. In South Africa, a banning order, among other things, forbids a person from being in the presence of more than two people; addressing an audience; being quoted by the media or having anything he had written, whether before or after his banning order, published or disseminated”. Whites could not allow the spread of Biko’s ideas for they knew for sure that such an occurrence will bring white minority rule to an end.
It is in the arena of philosophy, the arena of ideas, this columnist would like to distinguish Biko’s activism. Biko’s intellectual work, in the domain of ideas, is so sacrosanct that he remains relevant today. Biko’s ideas and powerful message resonates beyond the borders of South Africa. In the entire history of the liberation struggle of Namibia, particularly the one that took place at the time when Biko was still alive, we have not produced anyone that can be compared to Biko.
In fact, most of the freedom fighters and anti-apartheid activists in Namibia are not known for any progressive thought or ideas apart from being part of the collective that fought against apartheid. When these fighters die one day, for death is inevitable for all, the only thing they will leave behind is photos of themselves and wealth they obtained from looting state resources for 26 years after independence. There will be no single idea that will be credited to them. Biko died 39 years ago, the reason we are writing about him today is because there is something worthwhile he left behind. Thomas Sankara understood the importance of ideas and emancipating thought. He knew very well that generations to follow will not remember the leaders for preaching peace and stability and slogans of respecting corrupt elders but will remember those who have significantly touched the lives of the people. “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas” so explained legendary Sankara.
When we see the politicians such as Mr. Helmut Angula travelling all over the country speaking ill of popular ideas pioneered by youth who qualify to be his great grandchildren, we are left with this question; has the commercial politician not heard of Victor Hugo novelty that “no army can stop an idea whose time has come?” Ideas are more powerful than the money one could make from political connections. This is why we still invoke the name of Steve Biko.
Generations after ours will still invoke the name Biko and his contribution to the emancipation of the youth. If Steve Biko is compared to Mr. Helmut Angula, even the unenlightened at cattle post will be able to identify who is a bicycle and C 63 between the two. When future generation google the name of Mr. Helmut Angula one day, they will not find any noteworthy idea apart from his anti-youth statements and association, as we read, with Julius Klein Diamond Cutting and Polishing (Chairman), Dynamo Diamond (Chairman) HK Transkunene Consulting Services and Associates (MD), Halle Investment Number 370 (Director), Alcon Consulting (Director), East Gate Properties (Director), Onyuulaye Trading and Investment (Director), and proposed Goldbard Capital Corporation (Director).
Despite opposition to their ideas; ideas of economic emancipation, social justice and opportunities for the masses of our people – opposition from political heavyweights such as Mr. Helmut Angula – the youth must find courage in the ideals and resilience of Steve Biko. Last week, the Steve Biko Foundation brought fearless activist Angela Davis to deliver a talk on the commemoration of the death of Steve Biko. Angela Davis provides noble ideas on what should constitute the work of activists. Listen to her; “I think the importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and to consider yourself not as a single individual who may have achieved whatever but to be a part of an ongoing historical movement”. She pushes the contours on what is considered the norm in post-independence black polities by stating the following; “the idea of freedom is inspiring. But what does it mean? If you are free in a political sense but have no food, what›s that? The freedom to starve?” Steve Biko’s lamp must continue to illuminate hearts and minds of activists in their new struggles.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015