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Biko 70/40—inspiration beyond a lifetime

A charismatic giant who loved life—this is how Thenjiwe Mtintso, South Africa’s Ambassador to Romania, remembers the late Bantu Stephen Biko.

She was a respondent at the 18th Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at Unisa, held on 9 November in the year of the 40th commemoration of his death and the year in which he would have been 70 years old.

Prof Mandla Makhanya (Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor), Lebo Biko (Wife of Nkosinathi Biko), Samora Biko (Son of Steve Biko), Ntsiki Biko (Widow of Steve Biko and Trustee of the Steve Biko Foundation), Nkosinathi Biko (Founder and Executive Trustee: Steve Biko Foundation), and Prof Michael Temane (acting Unisa Registrar)

The university used the occasion to confer on Biko the posthumous degree of Doctor of Literature and Philosophy (honoris causa) in recognition of his sterling contribution to the cause of human rights and public health in marginalised communities.

Samora Biko, who accepted the degree on behalf of his father, and Prof Michael Temane (acting Unisa Registrar)

Widely regarded as the father of Black Consciousness and a leading human rights and political activist, Biko also contributed to the betterment of the lives of the community of Ginsberg in King William’s Town at a community development level. The Zanempilo Clinic and Crèche, the founding of the Zimele Trust Fund to assist political prisoners and their families, and the Ginsberg Trust to assist black students are testimony to his indestructible pride in and loyalty to his community.

The degree was accepted by his son, Samora Biko, on behalf of the Biko family and the Steve Biko Foundation.

National liberation movements have served their purpose

Dr Ibbo Mandaza, internationally renowned speaker, analyst, author and academic, and Executive Chairman of the Southern African Political Economy Series Trust, delivered the lecture, titled Pan Africanism, class and the state in Southern Africa. As a student activist in the 1960s and 1970s, he was part of the group that constituted the Zimbabwean offshoot of the Black Consciousness Movement, where he encountered Biko.

Analysing the African nationalist struggle against imperialist and colonialist domination and the resultant post-liberation Southern Africa, Mandaza said that the African nationalist era, inclusive of the national liberation movements, had long served their purpose as the agency for the attainment of political independence and the formal end of apartheid. “As a class project, it is both historically pre-empted and ideologically constrained from taking us further than we have come so far.”

Clueless leaders, mavericks, and megalomaniacs

It had been naïve, he said, to expect that the leaders who inherited state power would serve as the vanguard to drive the national development agenda and enhance the fortunes of the nation state in the making. “The ‘political kingdoms’ themselves have lost their gloss, increasingly tarnished by a breed of clueless leaders, mavericks, and megalomaniacs.” This meant that the post liberation phase thus far had been a resounding failure, especially on the economic transformation front.

Dr Ibbo Mandaza (Executive Chairman: Southern African Political Economy Series Trust) delivered the 18th Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at Unisa on 9 November 2017.

Mandaza bemoaned the fact that most people remained largely disenchanted and almost helpless after liberation across the African continent in the face of states characterised less by the commitment to democratic governance and progressive economic and social development than by crude and backward forms of mass regimentation instead of genuine mobilisation. This was exacerbated by an economy almost impervious to change and transformation, not only in South Africa but throughout post-liberation Southern Africa.

Clean up corruption and federate

There was light at the end of the tunnel, however, according to Mandaza. What was needed to combat this malaise was political and constitutional reform: “progressive constitutions and constitutionalism; adherence to the principles and practices of the separation of powers, including an accountable executive, a vibrant Parliament and a fiercely independent judiciary; restoration of national institutions, independent and non-partisan; and the respect of the rule of law, democratic discourse, and progressive social development”.

Everyone, especially younger Africans on the continent and in its diaspora, had to persist and intensify the struggle to achieve this reform, subscribing thereby to the Pan-Africanism slogan, to which Steve Biko would have subscribed: Don’t agonise! Organise!

Mandaza concluded by saying that it was time that SADC transcended mere economic cooperation in order to pursue ‘deep’ integration on the basis of a shared history and political solidarity, through what he called ‘Supranationalism’, by which he meant Pan Africanism. “It is the pooling of sovereignty on a wide range of policy issues, which can be the basis of a political union or the Federation of Southern Africa as a building bloc towards the realisation of the goals and objectives of the African Union, and on the basis of which Africa can take its place as an equal partner in the global community.”

Black Consciousness proponents Thoko Mpumlwana, Harry Nengwekhulu, and Thenjiwe Mtintso were the respondents, and regaled the appreciative audience with personal vignettes and evocative anecdotes of the time they spent with Steve Biko. “He made us feel special and intelligent,” said Mtintso, “while still challenging us.”

Prof Mandla Makhanya (Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor) said in his welcome address that the South African higher education sector was at a crossroads and facing a myriad of social, economic, and political challenges. “We are not where we were at the dawn of our democracy and independence in 1994, but, most significantly, we are not where we wanted to be. We have not seen the great promise of a liberated, just, prosperous and non-racial society.”

*By Sharon Farrell