“The wealth of our country must be enjoyed by the people of the country.”
Tribute To Steve Bantu Biko
On 12 September 37 years ago, Steve Biko’s life came to a premature end. His brief but beneficial life was snuffed out as casually and callously as a person extinguishing a candle flame between their fingers.
He was a light that lit the path of the youth across Africa to help them overcome obstacles in their way. In living what he preached, he showed them what they could be, and taught them they were just as fine as they were. His message was clear: Be proud of yourself! Rely on yourself for your liberation.
He instilled them with a new confidence and they shed their sense of inferiority. He ignited a fire in the youth that continues to burn today. In his stride, he left indelible footprints, no other man has been able to fill now or follow ever since.
And it is from his thought tracks that I have extracted thirty-seven gems Steve Biko left with us. One for each year of the thirty-seven years since his premature depature.
All of the quotes below stem from the same source, i.e., his collection of writing or articles, collectively entitled I Write What I Like.
Some of the quotes are pretty familiar but some are not. However, they are all as relevant today as they were back then. They are applicable to many situations in the present, and not only in South Africa, but the rest of the African Continent and the Diaspora.
May his words continue to inspire you as they inspire us, Biko’s humble students of “Black Consciousness”.
1] “We have in us the will to live through these trying times; over the years we have attained moral superiority over the white man; we shall watch as time destroys his paper castles and know that these little pranks were but frantic efforts of frightened little people to convince each other that they can control the minds and bodies of indigenous people of Africa indefinitely.”
2] “The separation of the black intelligentsia from the rest of the black society is a disadvantage to black people as a whole.”
3] “The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look but the great gift still has to come from Africa – giving the world a more human face.”
4] “I think what we need in our society is the power to innovate – we have the very system from which we can expand, from which we can innovate, to say this is what we believe, accept or not accept.”
5] “Our originality and imagination have been dulled to the point where it takes a supreme effort to act logically even in order to follow one’s belief and convictions.”
6] “You are either dead or alive and when you are dead you can’t care anyway. And your method of death can itself be a politicizing thing.”
7] “For me as a black person it is extremely painful to see a man who could easily have been my leader being so misused by the cruel and exploitative white world.”
8] “We have felt and observed in the past the existence of a great vacuum in our literary world and newspapers. So many things are said so often to us, about us, but seldom by us. This has created a dependency mood amongst us which has given rise to the present tendency to look at ourselves in terms of how we are interpreted by the white press.”
9] “One must quickly add the moral of the story is not that we must therefore castigate white society and its newspapers. Any group of people who identity as a unit through shared interests and aspirations need to protect those interests they share. The white press is therefore regarded as doing a good service when it sensitises its own community to the “dangers” of Black Power… the real moral of the story can only be that we blacks must on our own develop those agencies that we need, and not look up to unsympathetic and often hostile quarters to offer these to us.”
10] “Blacks have had enough experiences of racism not to wish to turn the tables. While it may be relevant now to speak of black in relation to white, we must not make this our preoccupation, for it can be a negative exercise. As we proceed further towards the achievement of our goals, let us talk more about ourselves and our struggle and less about whites.”
11] “Organisational development among blacks has only been low because we have allowed it to be.”
12] “The whole community development program is in fact directed also at alleviating poverty, which is a form of physical oppression, and by physical liberation we also imply liberation from those actual living conditions which are oppressive.”
13] “If people want to be our friends they must act as friends, with deeds.”
14] “The struggle concept which is struggle from liberation of yourself, from anything threatening you, is continuous throughout history. At different times it is picked by different people in different methods. Okay, but the struggle is what we attach ourselves to.”
15] “When people are starving, unemployed and exploited, food, work and social security are higher priorities for them than individual liberty.”
16] “The Russians don’t stick fast afterward. Their record in Africa is one of material aid, then disengaging or being ousted. On the other hand Western aid against colonialism has several times led to Western economic imperialism. Look, I’m not starry eyed about the Russians, and I reject their basic ideology – it’s just that their brand of intervention has been more beneficial in Africa. Of course it is to suit their own cynical ends – but it is of more practical assistance than the oratory of Andy Young. The Andy Young’s are nice guys, but their approach is doing us no damn good.”
17] “One should not waste time here dealing with manifestations of material want of the black people. A vast literature has been written on the problem. Possibly a little should be said about spiritual poverty.”
18] “No doubt, therefore, part of the approach envisaged in bringing about”Black Consciousness” has to be directed to the past, to seek to rewrite the history of the black man and to produce in it heroes who form the core of the African background.”
19] “A people without a positive history is like a vehicle without an engine. Their emotions cannot be easily controlled and channelled in a recognizable direction. They always live in the shadow of a more successful society.”
20] “To expect justice from them at any stage is to be naive.”
21] “In laying out a strategy we often have to take cognizance of the enemy’s strength and as far as I can assess all of us who want to fight within the System are completely underestimating the influence the System has on us.”
22] “One need not try to establish the truth of the claim that black people in South Africa have to struggle for survival. It presents itself in ever so many facets of our lives. Township life alone makes it a miracle for anyone to live up to adulthood. There will be a situation of absolute want in which black will kill black to survive. This is the basis of vandalism, rape and plunder that goes on while the real sources of evil – white society – are suntanning on exclusive beaches or relaxing in their bourgeois homes.”
23] “People must not give up to the hardship of life. People must develop a hope. People must develop some form of security to be together to look at their problems, and people must, in this way build up their humanity. This is the point about Black Consciousness.”
24] “The wealth of our country must be enjoyed by the people of the country. Foreign investors come and exploit the wealth of the country with more advanced technological means than those we have in South Africa to siphon off profits which rightfully belong here, and these go to profit societies other than our own societies.”
25] “When there is violence there is messiness. Violence brings too many residues of hate in the reconstruction period. Apart from its obvious horrors, it creates too many post-revolutionary problems. If at all possible, we want the revolution to be peaceful and reconciliatory.”
26] “I think there is no running away from the fact that now in South Africa there is such an ill distribution of wealth that any form of political freedom which does not touch on the proper distribution of wealth will be meaningless.”
27] “It seems sometimes that it is a crime for non-white students to think for themselves. The idea of everything being done for the blacks is an old one and all liberals take pride in it; but once the black students want to do things for themselves suddenly they are regarded as becoming “militant”.
28] “What we want is not black visibility but real black participation.”
29] “The fact that we have differences of approach should not cloud the issue. We have a responsibilty not only to ourselves but also to the society from which we spring. No one will ever take up the challenge until we, of our own accord, accept the inevitable fact that ultimately the leadership of the non-white peoples in this country rests with us.”
30] “It was felt that a time had come when blacks had to formulate their own thinking, unpolluted by ideas emanating from a group with lots at stake in the status quo.”
31] “I am against the fact that a settler minority should impose an entire system of values on an indigenous people.”
32] “Material want is bad enough, but coupled with spiritual poverty it kills.”
33] “Ground for a revolution is always fertile in the presence of absolute destitution.”
34] “Black Consciousness” seeks to show black people the value of their own standards and outlook. It urges black people to judge themselves according to these standards and not to be fooled by white society who are white-washed themselves and made white standards the yardstick by which even black people judge each other.”
35] “Black people must recognise the various institutions of apartheid for what they are – gags intended to get black people fighting separately for certain “freedoms” and “gains” which were prescribed for them long ago. We must refuse to accept it as inevitable that the only political action the blacks may take is through these institutions.”
36] “Granted that it may be more attractive and even safer to join the system, we must still recognise that in doing so we are well on the way towards selling our souls.”
37] “Thus in its entirety the African Culture spells us out as people particularly close to nature. As Kaunda puts it, our people may be unlettered and their physical horizons may be limited yet “they inhabit a larger world than the sophisticated Westerner who has magnified his physical senses through inverted gadgets at the price all too often of cutting out the dimension of the spritiual.” This close proximity to Nature enables the emotional component in us to be so much richer in that it makes it possible for us, without any apparent difficulty to feel for people and to easily identify with them in any emotional situation arising out of suffering.”
Feel free to share and let us remember Steve’s words in everything we do to uplift the race and persent a more human face to the world. Let us emulate him in his selfless sacrifice for freedom.
Watch for my review of Steve Biko’s collection of writings, I Write What I Like, coming soon. Pray, I do it justice. One Love.