Steve Bantu Biko: Towards Black Empowerment

Thirty-four years ago today, a thirty-year-old Steve Biko breathed his last breath at the hands of the apartheid regime.

A lot of people will point to that event as the turning point of the struggle as international pressure on the regime was increased.

Steve Bantu Biko

What is often ignored is a lot of what the man stood for. I remember the first time I looked at his works, I was overwhelmed. In such a short life, the man had spoken extensively on one of the most basic yet completely ignored tenets of humanity – the need for identity.

For Biko, black consciousness was not racism. It was in the mantra ‘black is beautiful’. It empowered a black person in a world which convinced him he was inferior. “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”, he said. It was the perpetuation of that mind-set that he sort to fight.

Without that identity we had nothing to live or die for and we would cater to the whims of the pop psychology of the day. If you believe in nothing you will fall for anything comes to mind.

The first step was to accept that one was black, not by virtue of pigmentation but as an attitude. An attitude that had been drilled into us was that as long as you were black you were inferior. And so too, in the whites by social engineering were brought up to believe that because they were white they were superior.

So as a prelude whites must be made to realise that they are only human, not superior. Same with Blacks. They must be made to realise that they are also human, not inferior.

– Boston Globe, 25 October 1977.

The sad thing is that for a lot of people, again by the creation of value system that consciously or sub-consciously rejected the beauty of blackness. Their minds and attitudes have maintained a system that simply re-brands old world ideologies and seeks to keep stripping away any chance of a move towards identity. Some of the champions of this, are people who themselves lack identity. They refuse to have identity and want to preach the gospel of a unified world, in which they have no place unless they strip anything that identifies them as black.

“It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die”, was another gem that he lived by. It is thirty years since he died for an idea that still lives today in people who simply want to be equal. They want to have the same opportunities to succeed and fail, not because of their skin colour but because of their own skill and determination. The fact that some are cited as exceptions and said to be going against the grain is an insult to a race steeped a great history of tolerance, innovation and humanity.

Of course, when my people don’t know their heritage and some of their history was rewritten to further colonial objectives, can we expect anything else?

Steve Biko wanted to give South Africa a more human face. One day the world too must have one. For the consciousness and empowerment of black people to happen, the oppressor and more importantly the oppressed must both change. We can’t do anything about the oppressor. About the oppressed, we can.