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

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