The apartheid government killed Biko because it feared his ideas
If we heed message of self-reliance we can be free from mental slavery
This week marks 40 years since Steve Biko was brutally murdered by the apartheid state for daring to dream that black people could be masters of their own futures, and not the perpetual slaves of white masters.
He was 30 when he was killed. It is fashionable these days to speculate as to where he would be politically had he lived. Would he have thrown in his lot with the ANC, or would he have gone along with Azapo?
Assuming he had joined the ANC, how would he have handled the sacking of Thabo Mbeki – would he have joined Cope, or would he have stuck it out?
With Biko around, would Mbeki even have ascended the throne in the first place?
Ah, save me the infantile claptrap! Having read Biko and the interpretations of his work by various scholars and commentators repeatedly all these years, I see a man who would have been frustrated by the strictures of narrow political ideology, or party political dictums.
Biko was a man of ideas. It is through his work, with his comrades locally and in black America, that black consciousness was crystallised. It stopped being just two innocent words celebrating black pride.
Black consciousness became a way of life. Its point of departure was deceptively simple: liberate yourself from mental slavery.
These were his exact words: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
While many activists got in trouble with the apartheid state for involvement in the armed struggle, and we thank them for their contribution, Biko got in trouble with government because of his ideas.
With his comrades he had started projects that inculcated black selfreliance. These included the Black Community Programmes to focus on improving healthcare and education while fostering black economic self-reliance.
Among other things, the BCP helped establish Njwaxa Home Industries, a leather goods company providing jobs for local women. In 1975, he cofounded the Zimele Trust, a fund for the families of political prisoners, and established an education fund to raise bursaries for promising local students.
Biko also did one basic thing people tend to underestimate: encouraged people to grow their own vegetables. This teaches you discipline and focus, but also goes a long way towards making sure you eat well, without spending too much.
Such projects would be more potent than a thousand AK-47s. If black people could take care of their sick, clean their own streets, run their own education system, spend their money in their own communities, then they were essentially free!
That is why the apartheid government killed Biko. They feared his ideas.
The Ginsberg of today is one of the cleanest townships in the country. The seed planted long ago by Biko and his comrades took root. Generation after generation of black people have been watering the tree of selfreliance in that community.
Just because many of our municipalities are run by thugs who give out streetcleaning tenders to their comrades and families who cannot do the job does not mean that we have to resign ourselves to a life of squalor.
We can do something, by embarking on regular street cleaning exercises. It can grow from street cleaning to other self-empowerment community projects.
That is what Biko preached – something tangible, something that could give birth to self-reliance projects that could restore black people’s dignity, while undermining an arrogant government.
As Biko also said: “In time, we shall be able to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift – a human face.”
Achieving full humanity will demand of us to take individual responsibility, and then proceed to join forces as communities. We can do it.
‘‘ Community projects would be more potent than a thousand AK-47s
The pride on the face of Petros Majangaxa as he tends to his vegetable garden at Mandela Park, Hout Bay, is unmistakable. Steve Biko encouraged people to grow their own vegetables.