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.



Sandile Memela

Sandile Memela is a journalist, writer, cultural critic, columnist and civil servant. He lives in Midrand.

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