Sandile Memela
Sandile Memela

Steve Biko joins the ANC

The ANC government deserves national applause for doing what it should have done a long time ago: honouring the legendary Black Consciousness visionary and icon, Steve Bantu Biko.

Since 1994 the ANC has been accused of being myopic and self-serving in honouring men and women who have played a pivotal role in the struggle.

In a significant political development, President Jacob Zuma opened the Steve Bantu Biko Heritage Centre worth more than R120 million in Ginsberg Township, King Williams Town, in the Eastern Cape.

Ironically, the media — except for the SABC — has not made a great song and dance about this. This may be because its owners have always been intimidated by what Biko stood for: black self-determination without white patronage!

After more than a decade of accusations and allegations that government name changes, monument building and memorial projects are reserved only for ANC members, the Biko Centre is a welcome development worthy of acknowledgement and celebration.

In fact, the investment not only bridges the gap between Black Consciousness exponents and ANC Charterists of progressive non-racialism but points to social cohesion and nation building that transcends partisanship. It is confirmation that not only has the ANC government reached maturity but embraces all national heroes irrespective of their ideological background and orientation. Perhaps some praise should be given to the Steve Biko Foundation for their hard work and single-mindedness of vision to promote the legacy of this almost forgotten and marginalised son of the soil. The project was started in 2002.

Today the Biko Centre comprises of a museum, a resource centre, commemorative garden, training rooms, media centre, retail and cultural performances spaces to revive community activities and commercial enterprise.

After almost 50 years of tension and rivalry over political dominance and ideological consciousness between Black Consciousness exponents and ANC progressives, the building of the centre makes it possible for activists and people to straddle the divides to live harmoniously with those who differ. Unbeknown to outsider, differences in political beliefs and ideological orientation have been a cause of great divide in the black community.

ANC activists and ideologues who were threatened by the development and growth of Black Consciousness in the 1970s and 80s mingled with their rivals to cheer President Zuma who, in turn, showered praises on Biko’s tremendous work that inspired self-determination and psychological freedom among the oppressed. This is an important step towards nation building.

As we prepare to look back in 2014 at what has been achieved in the last two decades, it is encouraging and inspiring to witness and experience the acknowledgement that the Black Consciousness message of self-reliance and independence from liberals and philanthropic capitalists is considered central to African development and progress in these times.

In this shift, we have witnessed not how much the ANC is reversing its historical revisionism but is now willing not to write off other liberation movements and their influential figures who contributed to the struggle. This is political open-mindedness and maturity.

However, it is intriguing that this milestone in black solidarity and movement towards ideological unity has not been widely covered by the media. Despite that, this remains a significant development that marks a turning point in national memory and preservation of political and cultural heritage.

There is no excuse why black people cannot determine their own issues and define their relationship with themselves. If blacks ever dreamed of having power to own their own agenda, the opening of the Biko Centre is the best thing to have happened to them in the last 50 years.

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    • Momma Cyndi

      I’m not convinced that this is an admittance that there were a lot of other people and organisations who fought for freedom. I suspect this is a hijacking operation. Just like the Youth Day celebrations. I hope I’m wrong.

    • ntozakhona

      Is it that when you raise questions about a philosophy or an idea you threatened by it? Strange animals these ANC ideologoues who do not understand that differences are the lifeblood of political life. I have reason to believe that such ideologoues exist only in the minds of rumour mongers parading as commentators and analysts.

      Historical record show that Steve Biko was murdered as he was preparing to meet Oliver Tambo to devise closer working relationship with the ANC. They will show that in 1987 Oliver Tambo and the ANC organised a commerative event in London in honour of Steve Biko. They will also show that those who were closer to Steve Biko in SASO and BPC ended up as senior leaders of the UDF and the ANC. They will show that a major hospital in Tshwane and other institutions in various municipalities are named after Steve Biko. What a threat?

      It is not certain how 50years has been arrived at as the Black Conciousness philosophy is South Africa has been hardly propounded for 40 years. If he is confusing Pan Africanism with BC then Pan Africanism is more than 100 years old in South Africa. Talking about Africans determining own agenda, it would be pleasant one day to distinguish the likes of Momma Cyndi and Sandile Memela by the issues they propagate and the agenda they seek to set. For now, eish, bayafana (they think alike).

    • Sicelo

      Perhaps a highly significant historical event but at risk of partial or even complete misreading and consequent false interpretation as possibly reflecting in the headline of the article.

      With regards your third last paragraph i.r.o “shift” from “historical revisionism; I quite disagree as there is absolutely nothing new in this sphere.. Both Mandela and Mbeki’s government had always given the recognition; with leaders and or key members of different black ideologies not recognized in their death, but called upon to actively serve and contribute to policy development and implementation in the country for the benefit of ALL South Africans. Azapo’s Masibudi Mangena is one such example.

    • Indira

      If Black Consciousness were a mandatory subject taught in schools to South African scholars, that would be a great way to commemorate Steve Biko.
      Biko preached BC for it to have direct, practical relevance to liberate the black soul, not as some unobtainable philosophical ideal. Millions of South African blacks still live in shackle, the ANC is not walking the talk.

    • ntozakhona

      One finds it hard to connect Steve Biko with AZAPO or any of the existing multitudes of factions claiming to be the sole custodians of his legacy and that of the SOUTH AFRICAN Students Organisation. Be that as it may, it is the posturing of these fringe formations that leave them out of Scoring the recording and making of history. They are trapped in the perpetual boycott mentality and in some instances base their decisions on the internal matters of the ANC. How does one explain AZAPOs withdrawal from Kgalema Motlanthe’s cabinet?

      The ANC led government is and has always been a partner of the Steve Biko Foundation, it has never hesitated to participate materially and actively in the annual Steve Biko memorial lecture and other activities of the foundation.The scoring of cheap political points to appear as objective to the rightwing will not take us anywhere.

    • Bernard K Hellberg

      The ANC is focussed on symbolism – pity about the execution of plans and strategies. But then, what’s a mere R120 million for a Stalinist-type structure in the middle of nowhere.Let them eat cake, I say.

    • Fakier Jessa

      It is a good thing that now there is a Steven B Biko Heritage Centre on the soil of South Africa. I do hope that the SBBH Centre will promote the following through its structures and functions: (i) Promote a non racial, non fragmented and open society, (ii) actively engage in the continuous political education of the working class through the adoption of programmes in support of this (iii) educate citizens on the futility and anti-social elements in (of) corruption in government, (iv) promote quality and high standards of social and economic life for all citizens.

    • jandr0

      Hi ntozakhona, I have got a theory.

      The ANC did not liberate South Africa.

      The theory does allow that the ANC played a role in the liberation of South Africa, but only a smaller role next to the big contributions to South Africa’s liberation:

      1. The collective developmental growth of the peoples mostly of European descent, which gave more and more expression and realisation to philosophies such as humanism. This was the primary driving force behind sanctions and the isolation of South Africa. The ANC simply got onto this bus that was already travelling.

      2. The major 20th c. ideological position between “free individuals” (primarily USA) versus “state control” (primarily U.S.S.R and China). Once again, the ANC lucked out, because big powers used South Africa as one of their world-wide territorial chess board areas (with, of course, also a promise of minerals!).

      3. The increased interconnectedness of the world (globalisation), especially thanks to technology. Empathy was enhanced because the reality of issues were brought into your living room.

      4. 1 & 3 above impacted the mindset of whites in South Africa. Initially slowly, but increasingly faster, they were OF THEIR OWN CHOICE moving away from apartheid.

      5. The advances that Spike Lee, Martin Luther King, et al were making in the USA, effectively levering the opened door of humanism.

      Did the ANC contribute? Certainly. Were they the prime “saviours?” My theory suggests no.

    • ntozakhona

      Jandro your theory is based in the assumption was some rational philosophy open to persuasion. I am not going to hold it against you as you experienced apartheid as a beneficiary than the target of its brutality and venom.

      Apartheid had quarantined African people in poverty camps called townships and homelands, Our movement was closely monitored and controlled through pass systems and permits. It is the ANC that organised and led campaigns such as the Defiance of Unjust laws which apexed with the campaign to make South Africa ungovernable and apartheid unworkable. Behind the walls you might have witnessed these but your protectors were panicking declaring State of Emergency after State of Emergency.

      Internationally the ANC had more foreign missions than the apartheid regime. It was at the head of the people led campaign to isolate apartheid South Africa forcing reluctant western goverments of Thatcher AND Reagan to take note. Barack Obama explains in his biography taht his interest was prickled by his attendance of an ANC organised meeting.

      Space does not allow for me to demonstrate the significance of its armed propaganda and later peoples war than ensued from the 60s. Apartheid did not detain, murder, assasinate and maim ANC activists out of love, it was scared and desperate.

      Like I said I will not hold your ignorance against you.

    • Lenny Appadoo

      Or is it simply a question of the ANC stealing Steve Biko’s thunder in an act of desperation? Your twisted twist on things never ceases to amuse me, Sandile.

    • http://google Donald

      Hi All
      Steve Bantu Biko will always remain the greatest son of South Africa.A genius lost because of Apartheid’s evil masters! A giant intellectual we will never be able to reproduce!

    • jandr0

      @ntozakhona: “I will not hold your ignorance against you.”

      Thanks. I do not confess to know everything. So obviously I would be unaware of some things, and that is why I always try to understand everybody’s viewpoint, so that I can become better informed. I would like to think you do the same.

      I appreciate some of the information you provided to underline the role that the ANC played (the number of missions, and so on). You do recall, however, that I did not, and still do not, deny that role.

      My theory remains one about RELATIVE contribution.

      Firstly, I am nervous that the ANC is writing out of history or (deliberately?) downplaying the real contributions by the PAC, the SACP, the Black Consciousness Movement, the Black Sash, churches, SASM, and even liberal whites (who admittedly opposed apartheid mostly from inside the system, but also did provide safe houses and so on, thus putting themselves in danger too).

      Secondly, while I acknowledge that the ANC lobbied as heavily as they could, I doubt that was the biggest pressure on the likes of Reagan and Thatcher – McMillan’s “Wind of Change” suggests pressure was already building up at least two decades.

      Note: I have no intention of disparaging the ANC’s role. But I have another worry:

      The old National Party was good at skewing history for their own gain, indoctrinating people with false, blinkered views.

      Is the ANC also fostering its redacted “version” of the full truth?

    • jandr0

      @Sandile: FWIW, I have recently finished reading Steve Biko’s “I write what I like.” There is so much to admire in him as a human being. I can only imagine what pleasure it would have been to discuss philosophy and politics with him (say over a long, slow meal). While Steve leans more towards the collectivist side, and I tend to favour individualism, that does not mean you cannot disagree on some points but still respect a person for who he is. Steve definitely earned my respect.

    • Tofolux

      @Sandile, I suggest you and others read the autobiography of Steve Biko to better understand his role and contribution to our society. It is very narrow and obsessive to link everything to the ruling party as if there had never and will never to any other role-player who will build this nation and our society eg Trevor Huddlestone. It is the same narrow-mindedness that speaks of leadership and never acknowledges ordinary men and women who provides the necessary leadership on a daily basis in other spheres and in other non-related contexts. Steve Biko is an icon in our history, a ordinary man who provided great leadership at a certain point/time in our history. Our 350yr struggle has been always been about extraordinary men and women who contributed in an extraordinary way in articulating our fight for freedom. ANC members and leaders have a rich history with Steve Biko hence a dedication to his memory in the name of a struggle-library based in UWC. Also the Steve Biko lectures is and will always be supported by members of the ruling party. Steve Biko must be remembered for the vision he embodied hence he was a brother-in-arms and there is no ways that any member of the ruling party will ever dismiss his contribution and the price he paid for that contribution. Members of the liberation movement have more in common with the Steve Bikos of our history because our struggle was his struggle. So there is no need for opportunism but mere reverence of an extraordinary human being.

    • Graham

      Was reading until I read the blurb “This may be because its owners have always been intimidated by what Biko stood for: black self-determination without white patronage!”

      Then I stopped.

      Next timewhile you are writing, do some homework.
      You love to believe that the media is controlled by the ‘whities’ with their ‘secret agendas’ and whatever.
      Google any media giant in SA. Look up their shareholding.

    • jandr0

      @Tofolux: You say: “Sandile, I suggest you and others read the autobiography of Steve Biko to better understand his role and contribution to our society. It is very narrow and obsessive to link everything to the ruling party as if there had never and will never to any other role-player who will build this nation and our society…”

      Yes. Yes! YES!

      I could not have said it better. Thank you.

    • ntozakhona

      Jandro I am beginning to think your interest in South African history is genuine and would like to narrate to you so much. The ANC has never denied the role of civil society in the liberation of SA. In fact it has in prosecuting its strategy and tactics always insisted that it cannot succeed without the support and activities of the various organs of civil society.

      The ANC called and calls that its ”mass base”. The UDF captured the essence of the strategy very well and brought together student, women. welfare, civic and other social formations under its banner led by Steve Tshwete, Albertina Sisulu, Trevor Manuel and other known ANC leaders.

      The winds of change were not brought by McMillan, he observed them and warned apartheid SA that it will ultimately be swept away. The ANC had decades earlier inspired the formation of liberation movements in other African countries, ZANU evolved from the ANC of Rhodesia and Zambia and Tanzania still sing Nkosi Sikelela as their national anthem. The winds of change were brewed here and Reagan tried to resist. Obama says his interest in politics was prickled at an ANC meeting!

      AZAPO President Muntu Myeza acknowledged ANC as the main component of the liberation movement, his successor Dr Saths Cooper said the ANC is indelibly in the psyche of SA due to the longevity and impact of its fight against apartheid, The biggest marches and meetings in defiance against a myriad of apartheid laws were organised by the ANC and its…

    • ntozakhona

      The people who provided safe houses to ANC cadres and provided other important resources were not liberals but ANC democrats and communists. Their skin colour does not distinguish them as liberals but they are part of the glorious ANC history.

      I am happy you say the role of the ANC is not properly recognised. Braam Fischer, Joe Slovo, Ray Alexander, Jeremy Cronin, Ruth First and many other communists were prepared to sacrifice life, limb, priviledge for the attainment of ANC goals, those alive still do.

      I distinguish the aforementioned from the likes of Helen Suzmam, Helen Zille and Zapiro who former Sunday Times editor Tertius Myburgh charecterised as being opposed to the excesses of apartheid not its essence. The labelled our activities illegal and urged us to respect the laws of the country with the hope of changing them from within. Even the harmless Desmond Tutu was to them a demon for leading UDF marches.

      If you read Gillian latest contribution on Thought Leader you might appreciate what propels you to equate the ANC to the NP, why you are inclined to think that the oppresor is also the liberator. At least you have come to terms that apartheid was the most evil system since slavery and nazism.

    • ntozakhona

      Pardon, the role of the SACP is not properly recognised. I agree fully.

    • Darryl

      At 22, I am young and perhaps with a lot more to learn. I am currently a student at the University of Johannesburg studying Stephen Bantu Biko’s political thought and I must admit that I am disappointed in what the ANC has done so far. Some may say that Biko train of thought was too extreme to implement, however, as I look around me today the state in which of our people( particularly blacks) are living in is diminishing. The rate of poverty, inequality and unemployment is continuously increasing. Therefore, one could point out that those in power have done more to enrich their own pockets and those who fought in the struggle, instead of improving the standards of living for previously disadvantaged South Africans, to some I could label some of these ANC officials as “sell-outs”. The millions spent on salaries and luxuries by certain officials is shocking, while the gap between the rich and poor/ the haves and have-not increases. What I believe Biko stood for was the “cultural and political revival of an oppressed people”. Today we are still oppressed, the difference is we are now oppressed by our “own people”. Using years of struggle(which I might not fully understand since I wasn’t born yet) for personal gain. I repeat “I am young and perhaps with a lot more to learn”