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A post humous award to the late Cde Stephen Bantu Biko at the commemoration of the 35th anniversary of his passing on

By Paul T. Shipale
With the commissioning and official inauguration of the Oshikango Railway Station, our Government has indeed silenced all those doubting Thomas who argued that a railway line cannot be constructed in the northern parts of the country because the soil was too soft to withstand the loads, among many other reasons they advanced.

Nevertheless, that is not my topic today. Our Founding President and Father of the Nation, H.E. Dr Sam Nujoma once said, our memories are enriched by those who have achieved heroic stature and thus our men and women who have achieved a place in our memory because of their deeds and believed in the liberation of our countries and nations within their own narratives, must be celebrated and remembered and their deeds emulated by the present and future generations and recorded by our own historians for us to be able to embrace our mutual heritage and claim the entirety of our identity.

Indeed, we must affirm the value of our symbols that enriches the lives of the people and bring us together as one nation. It is in this context that I welcome PACON's brilliant idea to honour the Late Comrade Stephen Bantu Biko, otherwise well known as Steve Biko, with a Posthumous Award and to commemorate his 35th death anniversary as an outstanding African Nationalist and for his contribution to the liberation not only of the body and soul of our people but most importantly to the mind of the oppressed black people in Africa.

In order for us to understand the significance of Comrade Biko's contribution to our struggle in Africa in general and South Africa in particular; it is worth recalling that three particular historical circumstances were central to the formation of Steve Biko as a young nationalist leader and an eminent representative of his generation.

The first of these is that Steve Biko's life was defined by the apartheid reality of "separate development", which the National Party sought to create from 1948. With regard to these historical circumstances, Steve Biko in his own word has said:

"Born shortly before 1948, I have live all my conscious life in the framework of institutionalised separate development.

My friendships, my love, my education, my thinking and every other facet of my life have been carved and shaped within the context of separate development. In stages during my life I have managed to outgrow some of the things the system taught me."

The second historical circumstance that shaped him is that Steve Biko came into his maturity at the time of the banning of the ANC and the PAC, and the destruction of the organised structures of the liberation movement in South Africa, with the systematic decapitation of the movement by the arrest of its leaders and activists. Relating to these circumstances, Steve Biko wrote: "Since the banning and harassment of black political parties - a dangerous vacuum has been created. The African National Congress and later the Pan-African Congress were banned in 1960...Ever since there has been no coordinated opinion emanating from the black ranks. "... After the banning of the black political parties in South Africa, people's hearts were gripped by some kind of foreboding fear for anything political. Not only were politics a closed book, but at every corner one was greeted by a slavelike apathy that often bordered on timidity."

The third is that this period of extreme reaction following the Sharpeville Massacre, seemed totally to have demobilized the oppressed through fear of arrest, torture, imprisonment and death in the hands of the repressive security organs of the apartheid state. With regard to these historical circumstances, Steve Biko wrote: "the Black man has become a shell, a shadow of man, completely defeated, drowning in his own misery, a slave, an ox bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity."

Against this background, a critically important part of the strategic brilliance of the intervention that Steve Biko and his comrades made to reenergize the liberation struggle was to mobilize the black oppressed around one message of the ideology of Black Consciousness Movement that would respond to the three historical circumstances mentioned above not only in South Africa but also in Namibia, as we recall that it was through this ideology that some of the Namibian youth such as the late Comrade Thabanello were moulded.

This is how Biko described this ideology: "Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time. Its essence is the realization by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression and to operate as a group to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.....The basic tenet of black consciousness is that the black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity." This was confirmed by the Chief Executive Officer of the Stephen (Steve) Bantu Biko Foundation, his son Comrade Nkosinathi, on Wednesday the 3rd of July 2012 at a public lecture organized by PACON; when he said is not enough to have been born in Africa to qualify as an African but what is important is to have Africa been born in you, if I may paraphrase him. In other words, what matters is an attitude of the mind.

The regime recognized the importance of this powerful liberating ideology which was in direct opposition to the apartheid ideology of Bantu education that was formulated in 1948 and designed to teach the blacks that they were sub humans, the perpetual "hewers of wood and drawers of water", as it was stated in Article 15 of the policy of what was ironically called 'the Christian National Education' which stipulated that "...the education of Africans must be based on the idea that they are an inferior race..." The Regime then wasted no time in engineering its demise as just over one year after the Soweto uprising of 16 June 1976, Steve Biko was killed in cold blood on 12 September 1977, and the Black Consciousness ideology and all its organizations were banned on 19 October 1977.

Against this background, to celebrate the life of Stephen Bantu Biko is to invoke a vision that has over the years inspired all freedom loving Africans decisively to defeat the monster of apartheid and racism and realize the dream of liberation. Indeed, Steve Biko understood that to attain our freedom, we should stop looking at ourselves through the eyes of others, and defeat the brutal racial oppression of the apartheid system, we had to internalize in our hearts and minds as the critical driving force inspiring the risen masses, a complete and thoroughgoing repudiation of all racist ideas and all their consequences.

In this regard, Steve Biko wrote: "The philosophy of black Consciousness... expresses group pride and the determination by the blacks to rise and attain the envisaged self. At the heart of this kind of thinking is the realization by the blacks that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. Once the latter has been so effectively manipulated and controlled by the oppressor as to make the oppressed believe that he is a liability to the white man, then there will be nothing the oppressed can do that will really scare the powerful masters.

Hence thinking along lines of Black Consciousness makes the black man see himself as being entire in himself, and not as an extension or additional leverage to some machine. At the end of it all, he cannot tolerate attempts by anybody to dwarf the significance of his manhood. Once this happens, we shall know that the real man in the black person is beginning to shine through...and to rid his mind of imprisoning notions which are the legacy of the control of his attitudes..."

Steve Biko also wrote that: "In rejecting Western values...we are rejecting those things that are not only foreign to us but that seek to destroy the most cherished of our beliefs - that the corner-stone of society is man himself - not just his welfare, not his material wellbeing but just man himself with all his ramifications. We reject the power-based society of the Westerner that seems to be ever concerned with perfecting their technological knowhow while losing out on their spiritual dimension..." Here he was advocating for the Principles and ideals of PanAfricanism and referring to the spirit of Ubuntu or as we say in one of the Namibian languages, Uuntu womuntu ouli maantu or omuntu keshi omuntu ngele kapuna Aantu, meaning 'a person is a person through other people', and which reminds us that our lived philosophy or way of life does not allow for individualism that overrides the collective interests of a community contrary to the rapacious individualism which is corroding our social cohesion as exemplified by the murders, rape, baby dumping, alcohol and drug abuse, and all other evils which are repudiating the value and practice of human solidarity, and totally reject the fundamental precept of our humanity. Our philosophy enables members of the community to achieve higher results through collective efforts and places a premium on the values of human solidarity, compassion and human dignity like in the East Asian countries such as China which I had the honour to visit recently courtesy of the II Africa- China young Leaders' Forum that took place in Beijing from the 18 to the 20th June 2012.

On a different note, most of us have been, as we should, fixated on the goings-on at the ANC policy conference in Midrand that recently came to an end. In his opening address, President Jacob Zuma made the extraordinary claim that the structure of the economy was unchanged since 1994 as a result of compromises with white capital made in 1994. He argued that those compromises now needed to be unwound in order to deal with the growing crisis of unemployment, inequality and poverty. Of course, too much economic power remains in few hands, and there can be no doubting the urgency of lifting more of our people out of the -miserable circumstances in which they have been immured for far too long and as such much of what was spoken about was 'The Second Transition'. President Zuma also focused, correctly, on the need for the ANC to pay closer attention to what constitutes a functional branch - the nucleus of ANC growth. The party has attracted a myriad people with disparate intents, many of which have nothing to do with serving the poor. These people infiltrate the ANC in a bid to secure positions that will allow them to dispense power and patronage and to belatedly hijack the Party and infuse it with a different character. Tenderpreneurs are the latest craze! These, we are told, are those fascinated by BMWs etc.

One just hopes that the next month's SWAPO Party Policy Conference is nothing more than a platform for policies to be debated and not a leadership conference. Mbeki thought that the 2007 Policy Conference was about key issues that would propel South Africa to greater heights and to his surprise as an unsuspecting incumbent President, he realized too late that he was wrong to be deaf to the war talk and focusing on his much - loved policies while others were hard at work laying the ground for his eventual defeat. Fast-forward to this year, some are gearing up for ideological battles and a brutal leadership contest using the policy conference and all other gatherings as dress rehearsal for the December showdown.

Even if we all know that while discussing policy, it would be suicidal to ignore the elephant in the room; leadership contest, because policy and power are inextricably linked, I just hope that we would let these Conferences be about bread and butter issues and not about leadership contest with daggers drawn out to stab others in the back. As it must, our commemoration of the death of Steve Biko should resonate with heroism, a steely human resolve and a remarkable vision for human freedom in a true spirit of brotherhood and comradeship.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.





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