Biko was meant more for the generations that came after him

2018-09-09 22:21

This year marks an important moment in the history of South Africa, namely the 50th anniversary of the founding of the SA Students’ Organisation (Saso), whose key driver was Bantu Stephen Biko.

The question that needs to be asked today is: What do we stand to inherit from Saso and Biko?

The legacy of Saso is reflected in its two glaring moments, the Saso movement itself and the 1973 bannings.

The movement saw the building of an organisation of young students that was meant to confront issues of national importance.

It was not the first time that young people were getting together to make their moment and to come up with an indigenous ideology.

Before Saso, there was the class of Anton Lembede and AP Mda, whose thoughts and actions culminated in the founding of Pan-Africanism.

Before Lembede and Mda there were writers such as Thomas Mofolo, Sol Plaatje and SEK Mqhayi, who had developed a whole treasure of thoughts through their writings, setting a strong foundation of African literature in this part of the continent.

What was special about the Saso movement was that being black was not only caused by the divisions created by apartheid.

Being black was propelled by the commonness between and among black groups as well as the universality of the black experience.

The overbearing need to define oneself, and not be defined by another, was the most pervasive spirit.

Today South African people do not have a shared vision. They are not able to coherently define themselves and they do not know where the country is headed.

The social value of a shared vision and its natural place in the growth of each person is absent.

The Saso movement was a highlight in intellectual advancement. Saso was made up of a group of highly capable and knowledgeable people. They were the elite, yet they were not elitist in their conduct.

Education was their top priority. They were training themselves to be experts of various subjects. Before university they were brilliant high school pupils.

Saso’s attitude was that people must always question the relevance and the morality of authority vis-à-vis their standing as people.

Saso did this by questioning the white man’s assumption that he is superior to all else on earth. As a result communities became spaces where ideas developed.

The legacy of Saso is also in literature. People were writing eloquently in their publications, which in turn became a major trendsetter for all the literary output that emerged from black communities at the time.

As for Biko, he was a researcher, content developer, editor and publisher of all Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) publications. His book, I Write What I Like, is a gem that takes pride of place on the African shelf.

But it was the 1973 bannings of Saso and the Black People’s Convention (BPC) leaders that brought a turnabout moment for this country.

The bannings were meant to crush the BCM. Instead, they infused verve and energy in the man who was at the centre.

On being banned, Biko was brought back home.

His banning was a package that included a long list of restrictions as well as unwritten rules that had to be observed and obeyed by the people who lived in his vicinity.

The rules included: Never talk to a banned person or else you will be in trouble; never greet a banned person; never look at a banned person; stay as far away as possible from a banned person otherwise the state will pounce on you.

Biko conquered all that, survived the isolation and managed to mobilise the people. He used his resources to creatively turn fear into boldness.

A highlight of that period was a national conference that was held in Ginsberg in 1975, where everybody was proud to be a part of the BPC.

In 1975, he finished building the Zanempilo Community Healthcare Centre, brick by brick, in Zinyoka village.

Many people in the villages of East London and King William’s Town benefited directly from Zanempilo.

It was meant to be a project that would be replicated countrywide in villages and settlements beset with abject poverty.

Zanempilo was not an ordinary clinic. It was a centre of politics, an activism institution in the hands of people who were committed to making a change through social action.

Everyone who cared in the 1970s had to come to Zanempilo.

With all the resources that are available, we still look away when calls are made to revive Zanempilo.

Our disregard, silence and inaction towards Zanempilo and other related projects is a greater form of action than the killing of Biko. Zanempilo and other projects reveal Biko’s rootedness, Biko’s touch with the most downtrodden.

His demonstration of confidence in the brilliance of his people signifies the rootedness of the man.

Biko was meant not so much for his generation, but for the generations that came after him. He was pivotal in building a consciousness that would be a foundation of all thought and action of future generations.

The best way to salute Saso and commemorate Biko is to go back to Zanempilo, put up a tent on her grounds and hold a conference for Biko and all liberation movements, where we will plan not only the revival of the healthcare centre, but the future of this country.

Zanempilo was where Biko sat and thought, and shared his vision with others.

Biko died on a trip seeking to bring all the movements under one roof. Let us organise a Biko conference not for elections, but for the purpose of building the country.

.M-Afrika is a research fellow based at the University of Fort Hare. His book, Touched by Biko, will be launched on Tuesday

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May 19 2019