Terri Barnes
Terri Barnes

Back to Biko

Hello, cyberpublic. Let us read Steve Biko, I Write What I Like, page 31.

“…the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality. The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth. This is what we mean by an inward-looking process. This is the definition of ‘Black Consciousness’”.

At my desk at UWC I find a paper saved on my hard drive that I didn’t have time to read last week. It was written by Hans Engdahl, a professor in the UWC Religion and Theology Department. When he gave a seminar on his paper Steve Biko and Complicity last month, I got the time of the presentation wrong, and missed it. But Hans kindly emailed me the paper. The main point of the paper is Biko’s assertion that complicity with evil is something that marks us all. Of course that was before. Now it is after the xenocide, as a fellow blogger has so aptly called it. Now I read Biko’s words with from a new perspective — from the other side, as it were — and once again, from the grave, he has put his finger on the problem. And he has identified exactly where the current state has gone so wrong.

If I could assign an image to this violence it would be of an ugly, infected, pus-laden boil that finally burst and spewed putrefaction into the world. An infection that was never treated, that was allowed to fester and swell. The source of the infection was the racism that taught black folks in South Africa to hate themselves. No one with pride, dignity or self-respect would laugh and hurl rocks at fleeing children. Yet that is exactly what has just happened all over the country. I think people first were pushed and now jump to the masochism of getting in touch with “who they really are” — their “cultural/national identity” — by descending voluntarily to the rock-bottom place that the system has always assigned to them.

The answer therefore is not to condemn and blame some shadowy, minority Third Force-type element, to look for “a few South Africans behind the violence.” The answer is to examine how people have been taught to hate themselves by the fact by being treated as if they were less than human. If the state treats you as if you were some kind of dim-witted livestock in a kraal, eventually that may be what you grow to believe yourself to be.

All politicians from all the political parties must immediately issue a directive to all their branches that if there are any more victims of xenocide anywhere in their communities, that the leaders of those branches will be held accountable. They will lose their positions. They must go out find the displaced people from their communities, escort them back to their homes, help them rebuild. They must sit down with their membership and tell them that anyone inflicting violence is unacceptable, and that such behaviour will not be tolerated now or in the future. They want to be leaders? Let them lead.

“This thing” is not criminality, it is the explosion of two kinds of hatred — self-hatred and horrible xenophobia. It must be confronted as both. Biko asks us all to search our souls. Not to find a scapegoat somewhere out there. In the meantime new t-shirts must say: 100% HUMAN.