Lead­ers not up­hold­ing val­ues Steve Biko was mar­tyred for

Cape Times - - OPINION -

SEPTEM­BER 12, 1977 is the day on which Steve Bantu Biko was bru­tally killed in cus­tody by the white apartheid po­lice of­fi­cers for his ideas at the age of 31. It is now 37 years since his death in de­ten­tion, and one finds it dif­fi­cult to re­sist the temp­ta­tion to spec­u­late on how our young democ­racy, which Biko would have loved to en­joy, fares on a lib­er­a­tion score­card based on the prin­ci­ples that Biko lived and died for.

There is no doubt that the found­ing fa­ther of the Black Con­scious­ness Move­ment would be im­pressed by the fact that this coun­try has a gov­ern­ment dom­i­nated by black peo­ple, with a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of them be­ing women who seem to be sur­mount­ing con­di­tions of dou­ble op­pres­sion.

He would see this as an in­di­ca­tion that his dream of an anti-sex­ist and egal­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety is slowly tak­ing shape. He would also be heart­ened that there were at least some at­tempts made to unite the three his­tor­i­cally black lib­er­a­tion move­ments in the coun­try, and the di­min­ish­ing breed of racist big­ots.

This would show that an anti-racist so­ci­ety and the black sol­i­dar­ity he died fight­ing for was not a pipe dream. He be­lieved that black sol­i­dar­ity would be an an­tithe­sis to the the­sis of white racism and that in­ter­ac­tion of th­ese fac­tors would lead to the cre­ation of an anti-racist and class­less so­ci­ety.

But he would be dis­mayed to learn that pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives and those in the lead­er­ship of our or­gan­i­sa­tions have de­serted the prin­ci­ples he adopted and preached – the prin­ci­ple of serv­ing the coun­try and the peo­ple with ut­most pride and dig­nity. He would not be in­spired by the per­for­mance of our young democ­racy on this score.

He would de­cry the fact that self­ish­ness and greed have come to char­ac­terise the lives of pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives. He, to­gether with many of his peers in the Black Con­scious­ness Move­ment and pre­de­ces­sors, sac­ri­ficed not only com­forts and priv­i­leges, but their lives too in pur­suit of what oth­ers to­day call “a bet­ter life for all”.

He surely would re­alise how pub­lic spirit­ed­ness, sac­ri­fice and solid pa­tri­o­tism have given way to a com­mit­ment to ad­vance­ment of self-in­ter­est. He would also be hor­ri­fied by the vot­ing pat­terns where vot­ers put politi­cians into power – in­stead of serv­ing the in­ter­ests of the vot­ers they ride on the backs of – for their own per­sonal glory and suc­cess.

Biko would find it chal­leng­ing to un­der­stand and ac­cept the con­tent of Dr Mosi­budi Man­gena’s (Azapo’s hon­orary pres­i­dent and the for­mer min­is­ter of science and tech­nol­ogy) ob­ser­va­tion that: “Our so­ci­ety is in a moral cri­sis. Me­dia houses, elec­tronic and print, are teem­ing with sto­ries of cor­rup­tion, bribery, fraud and theft in­volv­ing peo­ple in pub­lic of­fice.

“If it is not thou­sands of civil ser­vants il­le­gally ac­cess­ing so­cial grants meant for the el­derly, the in­firm and vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren, it is highly trained med­i­cal per­son­nel traf­fick­ing in hu­man parts. If it is not coun­cil­lors be­ing ac­cused of steal­ing mil­lions of rand from their coun­cils, it is mem­bers of Par­lia­ment or mem­bers of the ex­ec­u­tive abus­ing state money to en­rich their big bel­lies.”

He would be sad­dened by the ram­pant moral de­cay that seems to defy at­tempts at re­gen­er­a­tion. It would def­i­nitely be a daunt­ing task to try to give a mark for our democ­racy’s per­for­mance on the is­sue of self-es­teem and self-reliance. Where Biko taught black peo­ple to be proud, con­fi­dent and as­sertive, our so­ci­ety seems to have for­got­ten his words that “the most po­tent weapon in the hands of the op­pres­sor is the mind of the op­pressed”.

That is why we are fail­ing to give our coun­try an African face. Our lan­guages are en­dan­gered while we em­brace other lan­guages – lan­guages that we strug­gle to speak prop­erly. The con­tent and cul­ture of our pub­lic broad­caster fail to re­flect what the ma­jor­ity of our peo­ple hold dear. Biko and his com­rades taught self-reliance. They be­lieved that it was un­eth­i­cal and shame­ful for peo­ple to be vic­tims of a de­pen­dency syn­drome.

Many peo­ple are now be­gin­ning to lose hope as the process has come to be se­lec­tive eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment for a cho­sen few. The road ahead still re­quires ded­i­ca­tion, sac­ri­fice and clar­ity of vi­sion. The Strug­gle goes on and the har­vest will be bet­ter if we fol­low Biko’s ex­am­ple. Si­bongile Som­daka Aza­nian Peo­ple’s Or­gan­i­sa­tion

STEVE BIKO

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