The apartheid gov­ern­ment killed Biko be­cause it feared his ideas

If we heed mes­sage of self-re­liance we can be free from men­tal slav­ery

Sowetan - - Opinion - Fred Khu­malo

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.

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