Leaders not upholding values Steve Biko was martyred for
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