Biko showed the way for­ward

The New Age (Gauteng) - - COMMENT - KIM HELLER Kim Heller is a writer and com­men­ta­tor

THE curse of white supremacy struck South Africa, with its prac­ticed and rou­tine om­nipo­tence, on a som­bre day 40 years ago.

It was a par­tic­u­larly dark day, when on Septem­ber 12, 1977, a black god was slain on the pul­pit of white tyranny.

His revo­lu­tion­ary life hor­ri­bly and painfully snuffed out af­ter weeks of ag­o­nis­ing tor­ment at the hands of his op­pres­sors.

Steve Bantu Biko cut through the very lifeblood of white supremacy, ex­pos­ing it as one of the most per­ilous mal­adies for South Africa and its peo­ple. His po­lit­i­cal thought was of such po­tency that its wide­spread pre­scrip­tion would have put to death white supremacy and dom­i­na­tion.

Yet the life of this 30-year-old son, hus­band, fa­ther, ac­tivist, stu­dent and writer, was, like so much in South Africa, taken by brute force.

He was killed be­cause he had an an­ti­dote to the rav­ages of apartheid and colo­nial­ism and be­fore he could treat the lin­ger­ing lev­els of white wealth and black poverty.

A healthy dose of black con­scious­ness should have been ad­min­is­tered in 1994.

But we chose rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, the white man’s medicine, which has harmed rather than healed our na­tion, even if that was not the orig­i­nal in­tent.

The ar­ti­fi­cially sweet­ened happy pills of racial rec­on­cil­i­a­tion has not been ef­fec­tive in treat­ing the so­cial ills and chronic ca­su­al­ties of apartheid and colo­nial­ism, and the heady dose of rainbow­ism will al­ways be an in­ef­fec­tive po­lit­i­cal placebo for those af­flicted by a daily ra­tion of eco­nomic ex­clu­sion and de­pri­va­tion.

Non-racial­ism and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion can never be a rem­edy for so­cial ills in a post-apartheid so­ci­ety still in the cap­ture of white mastery.

A healthy mea­sure of non-racial­ism and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion can only form part of the heal­ing pro­to­col of a coun­try af­ter stolen land has been re­turned and when rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion is not seen as a bit­ter pill by those who hold eco­nomic con­trol.

Biko recog­nised that as long as white­ness dom­i­nates and dic­tates, the well-be­ing and dig­nity of black South Africans would re­main in a crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

Not only did Biko re­ject the cen­tral­ity of white­ness eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally – but he also snubbed its cul­tural, spir­i­tual and in­tel­lec­tual power bank.

His pol­i­tics chal­lenged the fes­ter­ing of white cen­tral­ity and rel­e­vance across or­gans of so­ci­ety, be­lief sys­tems and minds.

Biko said: “The ba­sic tenet of black con­scious­ness is that the black man must re­ject all value sys­tems that seek to make him a for­eigner in the coun­try of his birth and re­duce his ba­sic hu­man dig­nity.”

This week, black con­scious­ness aca­demic and ac­tivist Athi Mongezeleli Joja said a true Bikoist could be de­tected by his or her “demon­stra­tion of at­ti­tude to­wards the malaise of white supremacy and im­pe­ri­al­ism”, and by his or her abil­ity to “ac­tively step out of norms so as to take an ac­tive stance against white op­pres­sion and in­sti­tu­tion­alised ar­ro­gance”.

As we mark the 40th an­niver­sary of Biko’s death, there are a host of generic and pop­ulist analy­ses on Biko, many of which di­lute and tem­per his po­lit­i­cal rad­i­cal­i­sism.

Joja ob­served the many “re­gres­sive and con­sumerist male­dic­tions of Biko” and of how “mem­ory be­comes an in­stru­ment of fa­cil­i­tat­ing a sanc­tu­ary for white racism”.

Biko was un­equiv­o­cal and clear in his di­ag­no­sis of the white con­di­tion. He recog­nised and ar­tic­u­lated, with per­fect po­lit­i­cal pre­ci­sion, that “no mat­ter what a white man does, the colour of his skin – his pass­port to priv­i­lege – will al­ways put him miles ahead of the black man”.

“Thus, in the fi­nal anal­y­sis”, Biko says, “no white per­son can es­cape be­ing part of the op­pres­sor camp”, or part­ner blacks in the strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion in South Africa.

Biko’s di­ag­no­sis of whites in South Africa, as an un­dif­fer­en­ti­ated, un­de­servedly priv­i­leged so­ci­ety, was cor­rect, for as long as the phlegm of priv­i­lege shows a lily-white con­tam­i­na­tion, the earnest “left-wing white aca­demic”, the lib­eral main­stream white jour­nal­ist, the hob­by­ist white ac­tivist, and the ev­ery­day white South African who nurses racism daily, are in­deed one.

Biko gives no spe­cial li­cence or favour to whites who say they have “black souls wrapped up in white skins”, in fact he showed par­tic­u­lar dis­dain for this par­tic­u­lar af­flic­tion of priv­i­lege.

None, he ar­gued are able to con­ceive of or re­spect black con­scious­ness or par­tic­i­pate in lib­er­a­tion.

Biko pleaded for whites to stay out of the black strug­gle and urged con­scious whites to rather dis­rupt white­ness.

Biko would not have sat com­fort­ably in the Rainbow Na­tion. He wrote of the dan­gers of “hastily ar­ranged in­te­gra­tion” and was against any dosage of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween “un­equals”.

“It is rather like ex­pect­ing the slave to work to­gether with the slave master’s son to re­move all the con­di­tions lead­ing to the for­mer’s en­slave­ment,” Biko said.

If we had had a strong dose of Biko’s black con­scious­ness in 1994, we would be a health­ier, more lib­er­ated na­tion to­day.

True Bikoists can­not al­low the revo­lu­tion­ary wis­dom of this great tower to fade, rather they must en­sure it is im­bued across ev­ery facet of so­ci­ety in the de­ple­tion of white supremacy and in restora­tion of black vi­tal­ity and dig­nity. Con­scious­ness is lib­er­a­tion.

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