Steve Bantu Biko was studying medicine when the imperatives of the struggle for freedom swept him off that course. We cannot know whether he would have made a good or happy doctor.
We do know that he was critical of doctors who would not get involved in the struggle to liberate their people from political and social conditions that contributed to their poor health.
Most of us experienced Biko as a teacher, philosopher, political theorist, organiser, leader and activist. He thrived on bringing people together to talk and share ideas. His writings teach us about ourselves: our culture, psyche, politics, religion, education and more of what makes us what we are. His writings attest to his intense preoccupation with the condition of his society and the need to beat a new, more positive path.
It is marvellous that the Steve Biko Foundation, in collaboration with the department of arts and culture, launched the Steve Biko Centre on November 30 in Ginsberg, Biko’s township, outside King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape.
The centre will bring people together in a way he would have applauded. There will be market spaces enabling economic activities in much the same way as Biko’s self-help project, the black community programmes, did in King William’s Town.
A conscientising tool
The archives and library resource centre will enable the community, especially the youth, to acquaint itself with its history; this will hopefully create better citizens. The training facilities at the centre will certainly enrich lives in the community.
The South African Students’ Organisation, in which Biko first distinguished himself, believed in using the arts, especially performance, as a conscientising tool. The centre will have a performance and production section to continue this tradition.
Considering Biko’s work for liberation as well as the horrible manner of his death, such a centre would be incomplete without a garden honouring human rights.
The centre is not just a grand structure to catch the attention of everyone entering Ginsberg. It is a facility of immense value to the community in which it is situated and those beyond it. It is easy to see students of history, the arts, community development and other fields visiting the centre for inspiration and to do research. Its value will be utilitarian, spiritual, educational, cultural and economic.
The challenge that faces the Biko foundation, the arts and culture department, other funders — and all of us — lies in sustaining the centre for many decades to come so that it can benefit generations of South Africans well into the future. It is an inheritance they deserve.
Mosibudi Mangena is a former Azanian People’s Organisation leader and former minister of science and technology