What Would Steve Biko Say?

August 18, 2011 § 3 Comments

I do not purport to know what he would have said today, nor do I claim to be a perfect representative of his ideas, nor a student of Biko, I am merely an admirer.

Every day when we read newspapers we see our leaders acting in ways contrary to what Steve Biko fought for. It is only proper that we ask ourselves the questions: What would he say of our leaders? What would he say of us that we allow the things that are happening, happen?

When the ANC proposed its media bill that would curtail media freedoms, I suspect he would have said, “I will continue to write what I like.”

On September 12 1977 Steve Biko died in police custody. He was only 30 years old. The good, so the saying goes, die young. It is unfortunate that we lack young people who have ideas as influential as the ones he possessed. He owned the single most dangerous mind for the oppressors, so they killed him. His mind and body may have been destroyed but his spirit stayed on. I wonder if the powers that be would have tried to kill him with the trappings of success. I don’t think he would have fallen for it.

What I know of Biko from his writings makes me believe that he would have played no part in the greed-infested politics of patronage that we are witnessing. When I asked the question “what would Steve Biko say” on Twitter, someone by the name of Zipho Mgadle, @z_ipho, cleverly used one of Biko’s most famous expressions, “Black man, you are on your own”. (Incidentally, my very second column on News24 was derived from that line, Black Man, You are on Your Own. Zipho Mgadle says Biko would say, “Poor, not politically connected black man, you are on your own.”

It is a sad truth. One wishes not to admit to oneself. If you are not politically connected, indeed, you are on your own. I believe that Biko would have been disgusted by the relentless pursuit of opulence by the elite while the masses become poorer. He would have pointed at the spiritual coldness, coupled with the gluttonous self-service of the ruling class. A class – even though they earn high government salaries – that still seeks to rob and plunder from the poor while they pay lip-service to the plight of the have-nots.

He would have spoken of the moral cowardice of South Africans, particularly the black middle class that has become too afraid to speak out because it fears losing its daily bread. You fear losing your bread, he would say, we feared for our lives, not mere bread.

One of the paragraphs I like to quote often is from philanthropist billionaire George Soros who wrote the following: “Unsure of what they stand for, people increasingly rely on money as the criterion of value. What is more expensive is considered better. The value of a work of art can be judged by the price it fetches. People deserve respect and admirations because they are rich. What used to be a medium of exchange has usurped the place of fundamental values, reversing the relationship postulated by economic theory. What used to be professions have turned into businesses. The cult of success has replaced a belief in principles. Society has lost its anchor.”

He would have spoken out against what George Soros said about “the cult of success which has replaced a belief in principles”. He would have spoken against those who have made material success a principle. In I Write What I like, Biko says, “One of the most fundamental aspects of our culture is the importance we attach to Man. Ours has always been a Man-centred society.” Yet liberation has caused us to turn into a material-possession-centred society. What car do I drive, where do I eat, where do I go on holiday? He would not have spoken against wealth, just against the fact that some have let it define them.

He would have spoken out against the “I can only talk to you if you can do something for me” attitude because our society is based on a “what can I do for you” philosophy. “This attitude to see people not as themselves but as agents for some particular function either to one’s disadvantage or advantage is foreign to us. We believe in the inherent goodness of man.”

He would have spoken against those who attain obscene amounts of wealth in a short space of time simply because of their political connections, not because of any brilliant skills they wield. Biko said, “We are prepared to have a much slower progress in an effort to make sure that all of us are marching to the same tune.” Yet today millions are left behind while the few gallop ahead.

He would have spoken out against the fact that some of the powerful think that they ought to be respected simply because they are powerful, not because they have earned our respect.

He would have spoken against the arrogance of power. He would have spoken out against the idea that if we don’t agree then we must be mortal enemies.

Above all, Steve Biko would have written whatever the hell he wanted to write.

*originally appeared on News24.com 2010-09-14 08:25

Black man, you are on your own

August 18, 2011 § 11 Comments

I wrote a blog that lamented the fact that 91% of the CEOs of some 295 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are white last week, and boy did I get called names. I was called a racist amongst other things. To be honest I didn’t want to carry on writing about that subject on this column, but the interest and emotion that it seemed to provoke in people left me with no choice but to tackle the subject even further. The subject of race and economics, that is.

What I have come to realise is that it is almost impossible to address the issue of race without being labelled a racist. It does not matter how reasonable one is being on the subject – a clear sign that we have not healed as a nation and it will take some time before any healing takes place. We are divided, often along racial lines; where racial lines are closing class lines emerge. The topics that people have around their dinner tables and braai stands reinforce the “us and them” attitudes. Some politicians prefer it that way, keeping us divided because this gives them power over us. They tell us to fear those people, not to trust them, not in so many words but the clues are there.

I am currently reading Doris Kearns Goodwins biography on Lincoln, Team of Rivals. (Be warned, it’s a thick book, rivalling the Bible but remarkably shorter than Gaddaffi’s speech at the United Nations last year.) At a point when America was deeply divided over the slavery issue with the South refusing to free its slaves, Lincoln made his “A House Divided” speech during his Senatorial race (which he lost). In 1858, two years later he would be propelled to the presidency on an anti-slavery platform.

He said a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Incidentally Lincoln made that speech on June 16, albeit a different year, 1858.

A divided South Africa on the economic front cannot stand. Take a look at our neighbours up north – Zimbabwe. They were split racially and economically. A politician exploited the divisions. If the private sector does not mend the economic divisions, some politician will widen them. In the end the corporate world will lose what it thought it was protecting.

We find ourselves divided when it comes to the economic front. Some white people feel that they are being robbed of their right to make money. Others feel that they are no longer wanted nor needed in South Africa because of the colour of their skin. What they fail to understand is that there are black people who feel that this freedom is worthless because they still have nothing. They still see white people prosperous while they get poorer and poorer. Each side sees themselves as worse than the other. Each side paints itself as a greater victim than the other. Some scream reverse racism while others scream economic apartheid.

The truth is there are no victims. There are many who expect manna from heaven. There will be no such thing. People were on their own during apartheid, or if you wish, the desert years. There was no manna then, there will be none now. In the words of the great Steve Biko, “Black man, you are on your own”.

We have to make things happen for ourselves, study, work and above all, make a way where there is none; that is what every celebrated captain of industry has done. To borrow and to use his words as my own, White man, you are also on your own. South Africans, you are all on your own.

Taking individual responsibility is the only thing that will end these divisions. Entitlement will widen them. South Africans, you are on your own. If we are to be a great nation we have to realise that the path to greatness is not achieved through excuses.

*originally appeared on News24.com

‘Black man, you’re on your own’*

June 23, 2010 § 5 Comments

I wrote a blog that lamented the fact that 91% of the CEOs of some 295 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are white last week, and boy did I get called names. I was called a racist amongst other things. To be honest I didn’t want to carry on writing about that subject on this column, but the interest and emotion that it seemed to provoke in people left me with no choice but to tackle the subject even further. The subject of race and economics, that is.

What I have come to realise is that it is almost impossible to address the issue of race without being labelled a racist. It does not matter how reasonable one is being on the subject – a clear sign that we have not healed as a nation and it will take some time before any healing takes place. We are divided, often along racial lines; where racial lines are closing class lines emerge. The topics that people have around their dinner tables and braai stands reinforce the “us and them” attitudes. Some politicians prefer it that way, keeping us divided because this gives them power over us. They tell us to fear those people, not to trust them, not in so many words but the clues are there.

I am currently reading Doris Kearns Goodwins biography on Lincoln, Team of Rivals. (Be warned, it’s a thick book, rivalling the Bible but remarkably shorter than Gaddaffi’s speech at the United Nations last year.) At a point when America was deeply divided over the slavery issue with the South refusing to free its slaves, Lincoln made his “A House Divided” speech during his Senatorial race (which he lost). In 1858, two years later he would be propelled to the presidency on an anti-slavery platform.

He said a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Incidentally Lincoln made that speech on June 16, albeit a different year, 1858.

A divided South Africa on the economic front cannot stand. Take a look at our neighbours up north – Zimbabwe. They were split racially and economically. A politician exploited the divisions. If the private sector does not mend the economic divisions, some politician will widen them. In the end the corporate world will lose what it thought it was protecting.

We find ourselves divided when it comes to the economic front. Some white people feel that they are being robbed of their right to make money. Others feel that they are no longer wanted nor needed in South Africa because of the colour of their skin. What they fail to understand is that there are black people who feel that this freedom is worthless because they still have nothing. They still see white people prosperous while they get poorer and poorer. Each side sees themselves as worse than the other. Each side paints itself as a greater victim than the other. Some scream reverse racism while others scream economic apartheid.

The truth is there are no victims. There are many who expect manna from heaven. There will be no such thing. People were on their own during apartheid, or if you wish, the desert years. There was no manna then, there will be none now. In the words of the great Steve Biko, “Black man, you are on your own”.

We have to make things happen for ourselves, study, work and above all, make a way where there is none; that is what every celebrated captain of industry has done. To borrow and to use his words as my own, White man, you are also on your own. South Africans, you are all on your own.

Taking individual responsibility is the only thing that will end these divisions. Entitlement will widen them. South Africans, you are on your own. If we are to be a great nation we have to realise that the path to greatness is not achieved through excuses.

*originally appeared on News24 http://www.news24.com/Columnists/Khaya-Dlanga/Black-man-youre-on-your-own-20100309

The ANC does not own liberation history

November 24, 2008 § 5 Comments

Allow me to make a bold claim: it was not the ANC that brought us liberation. It was a vehicle that the people used to bring themselves to freedom. Just like the newfound Cope cannot claim to be the defender of the Constitution. The people are merely using it as a vehicle to defend the constitution.

I have been somewhat disturbed by some things that I have heard from certain leaders of the ANC of late. Words such as: “Cope is stealing our history, it is stealing our leaders.”

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but does the history of the struggle for freedom not belong to all South Africans? To claim ownership is to belittle the contribution of those who belong not only to South African history textbooks, but also to the pages of world history. Freedom belongs to no party.

The moment the ANC feels that it has the right to the history of the struggle, it won’t be too long before it tells us that we, the citizens of this country owe it, and as a result must accept anything it does to the country because without it we would not be free. We cannot, and must not allow ourselves to be held hostage by the ANC. Or any party of that matter. Whatever we may owe as a people, we owe to the red, blue, black, white, green and yellow colours of the flag.

The people who contributed to the Freedom Charter were not necessarily ANC card-carrying members. They were South Africans from all walks of life who wanted to be free. Some even contributed despite their white privilege because they desired that all people enjoy the freedoms they also enjoyed.

When Nelson Mandela and others languished in prison for so many years, it was not just for members of the ANC, but for all South Africans. They did not only struggle for black South Africans, but for those white South Africans who were imprisoned by their own prejudices. Yes, they fought for the racists too.

If history belongs to a certain party then that means Oliver Thambo, Nelson Mandela, Chief Albert Luthuli, Beyers Naude, Walter Sisulu, Ruth First, Winnie Madikizela Mandela and many others should not be taught in schools, but rather to those whose parents belong to a certain party.

To allow people to carry on talking in this manner about the heroes of the struggle is to make them smaller than they are. Then we can say that the ANC does not appreciate what it helped bring. We shall all be eternally grateful to the ANC, and we cannot belittle what it did. However, by claiming ownership of the struggle, it belittles itself.

Robert Sobukwe does not belong to the PAC, nor does Steven Bantu Biko belong to the Black Consciousness Movement.

Therefore, the people of this nation have no loyalty to any party – owe no favours to anyone. But their allegiance belongs to the country that many bled and died for.

Once again, let us cherish the history of this nation by not making it belong to a group.

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