City honours black consciousness icon Biko
The City of Johannesburg on Thursday, September 15, paid tribute to Stephen Bantu Biko, the father of the Black Consciousness Movement whose death at the back of a police van while being transported from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria on 12 September 1977 shocked the world and drew widespread condemnation of the apartheid government.
To mark the 39th anniversary of his tragic death, the City’s Department of Arts, Culture and Heritage hosted a dialogue session at the Joburg Theatre under the theme: “Black Consciousness – Its Origin and Development”.
In her address at the dialogue, Cllr Nonhlanhla Sifumba, Member of the Mayoral Committee for Community Development, urged South Africans to see Biko as a source of courage and inspiration. Cllr Sifumba, who called for his legacy to live on, said South Africans should keep Biko’s memory alive by asking themselves questions such as: Who was Steve Bantu Biko? What is the meaning of his life? What would he say about South Africa today?
She said the deep reflections, which are well-recorded in his writings, published under the title “I Write What I Like”, as well as the writings of his contemporaries such as Harry Nengwenkulu, Strini Moodley, Barney Pityana, Sipho Buthelezi, Themba Sono, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, Thenjiwe Mtintso, and many others, postulated the philosophy of black consciousness.
“This philosophy articulated an understanding that it was crucial to liberate one’s mind as a prerequisite to the holistic liberation of society. As MMC for Community Development, I find synergy in the vision of the City and Community Development – which was recently articulated in a 10-point plan – with the ideas of Biko and his contemporaries.
“Biko remains a source of reference on contemporary issues such as social cohesion, national identity and community development. Our department stands challenged to make its mark by marshalling our society’s intellectual resources and human capital to build a new society in Johannesburg,” Sifumba said.
Lizeka Tanda of the Steve Biko Foundation and Steve Biko Centre said Biko would have a lot to say about South Africa today, especially about the plummeting economy, disrespect of the constitution, the alleged capture of the state and corruption. She said there would, however, be certain things that he would be proud of. These included the #FeesMustFall campaign, fight for access to better education and youth rights. “Biko wanted us to understand who are we and what it means to be black and proud,” she said.
Dr Wally Serote, poet and Biko’s comrade and friend, quoted him as saying: “Being black is not a matter of pigmentation but being black is a reflection of attitude.” Dr Serote said he met Biko in 1971 in Alexandra. He said Biko had the ability to tackle complex matters in a simple way.
He said when he went into exile, he called Biko from New York and urged him to join him, but Biko refused. A few weeks later he heard the news that Biko had died in police custody.