Opinion Piece

Busani Ngcaweni: Biko, we are not at ease

Many young people were leaving the country when you departed 40 years ago. Jails were getting full; so were cemeteries. Since you’ve been gone a lot has happened.

Dear Biko,

When you left on the 12th Day of September 40 years ago, Luthuli was long gone under suspicious circumstances. Fortunately he had inaugurated the armed Struggle and bequeathed powerful ideas about a peaceful South Africa.

The liberation movement remained banned when you were entombed. Tambo was leading from Zambia. Mandela was a prisoner. Sobukwe’s health was rapidly deteriorating leading to his death a year after you. Oh, remember how Tutu saved Buthelezi at that funeral! Only poor health from years of unbearable conditions in solitary confinement freed him from the draconian “Sobukwe Clause” which condemned him into a lifetime prisoner without rights.

You well witnessed the Sharpville massacre and your revolutionary ideas inspired the 1976 students uprising.

Many young people were leaving the country when you departed 40 years ago. Jails were getting full; so were cemeteries.

But Biko, since you left a lot has happened. Inkatha morphed into a killing machine and later reformed into a modern party displacing the ANC in crucial elections at eSandlwana (Nguthu).

Remember the ANC which was longed banned when you died; yes, that one which once led the liberation movement!

Cosatu was formed, became a force in the body politic of South Africa, or Azania as you preferred to call it. Even as it fractured and lost its hegemony in free South Africa, it still fought for the national minimum wage and partially remains at the dinner table making important noises.

You were long dead when the UDF and the MDM solidified in the ‘80s. You didn’t live long to witness 1985, the year of the youth as declared by the United Nations. From that year, old people couldn’t tell us anything. We were burning those Putco buses and burning municipality buildings.

For us that was the year of pass one, pass all, the year of the tear gas and Oqonda – violent stooges of the Homeland Police.

And Biko we must report to you today that Mandela did eventually come out of prison in February 1990 and Tambo came back and blessed the negotiated settlement; although he didn’t live long enough to witness Mandela moved to the state house.

You do know that there was no insurrection, right! We settled.

Biko, you now know that Hani, like you, September and Tiro also died brutally at the hands of the hating white men. They stood no chance, as the world watched us suffer.

Take comfort however, bra Steve, momentarily, that their ideas never died. They remain an inspiration even to the born “frees”, free to vote and associate but oppressed economically and psychologically.

Remember Biko that you died for more than ideas. Your sights were firmly set on economic justice as well. Just like Lembede who inspired you, political freedom is meaningless until conditions are fully created for black people to reach their full potential as humans, not as non-whites.

Biko, thanks to the 4th Industrial Revolution, today we have social media which have facilitated the rebirth of Biko and your fellow revolutionaries in Sankara and Fanon.

Our youth are not at ease. They are calling for Rhodes to fall. They have taken Rhodes down in Cape Town, the colonial city you were arrested while trying to reach elsewhere. Yes she remains a colonial city whose political economy humiliates black people, but in your name her colonial symbols like Rhodes are coming down.

We must apologise that Helen Zille who made a name for writing about your your passing retains the levers of power that reinforces coloniality in the Cape. Please bear with us sir, her being there is a consequence of our own goals, not the force of her ideas. Did you hear what she thinks of colonialism?

Thanks to your teachings we neither believed nor tolerated her prejudice. Yes, we saw her as a modern version of Kruger, Verwoerd and Botha who saw good in the suffering of the black majority. For them, learning English and drinking tap water were more important than economic freedom.

But brother Steve, Zille is not alone in this extravaganza of political indifference. She has the likes of Penny Sparow. That other bearded fellow who tried to be a Dalai Lama of bigotry had his life cut short by exploited farm workers in the now North West Province.

Bra Steve, times are tough in free South Africa. Sometimes we wonder where did we go wrong, as Ray Phiri pontificated. He too has died now.

But Bra Steve, maybe you need to know about the death of Bhomba of Mpumalanga and Magaqa of KwaZulu-Natal.

Both were councilors of the rulling party who died in what is now accepted to be politically motivated killings. Bra Steve, you will be uneasy if we tell you they were killed not by the white oppressors.

By the way, did you hear that Mme Mamphela tried her luck in electoral politics? Her exit was as spectacular as her unceremonious entry. She had even tried to make friends with liberals that she once purported to oppose in the ‘70s.

Yes, the self-love and black solidarity you told us about are disappearing into thin air. If we don’t agree with you, politically, we annihilate you.

We burn schools and libraries, although you warned against such. Nihilism is here. Not only do we thieve, rape and kill women and children, we now eat their flesh too for we don’t regard them as human.

Mafeje’s alterity that characterised us under colonialism is now a companion of the vulnerable in society. We abuse and under-serve them. We learned fron the master, sir.

Thanks to the 4th industrial revolution, your ideas, reawakened by growing inequality and social exclusion, have proliferated. They are our lighthouse.

Daily if not minute by minute, young people use social media to engage on subjects as heavy as the existential crises facing black people in a unipolar neoliberal world order up to such uncomfortable matters as sexuality and the representativity of national symbols.

That is why Rhodes has fallen at UCT, a first step in the burying of cultural oppression. Fees are also falling thus opening the doors of education.

As I contemplate this note to you sir, I stand here listening to a professor give an account of the milestones of the decolonisation project that young people for which you are zeitgeist fought for.

Biko, you are not dead. At least not yet. Lack of economic, linguistic, psychological and epistemological freedom keep you alive.

Your fight was beyond materiality. Advances in material conditions are but a pitstop in the long walk to remembering ourselves as human beings with history, agency and feelings.

Biko, we are not at ease.

Biko lives! DM

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