Biko: ‘a prophet impatient for change and freedom’

One of Africa’s literary giants on Thursday paid tribute to struggle martyr Steve Biko on the 25th anniversary of his death at the hands of security police.

Nigerian writer and social critic Chinua Achebe, author of the acclaimed novel ”Things Fall Apart”, was delivering the third Biko Memorial Lecture, after receiving an honorary doctorate in literature from the University of Cape Town.

The 71-year-old-Achebe, visiting South Africa for the first time, told an audience that included Biko’s widow Nontsikelelo and children that Biko had been a student activist with a burning passion for liberty and ”a prophet impatient for change and freedom”.

A young man with a sharp intellect, and flair for organisation and leadership, he had realised the need to raise black peoples’ consciousness and self-esteem.

Biko’s rhetoric had been neither extravagant nor out of place, nor had his insistence that white liberals take a hard look at themselves.

Achebe said South Africa’s victory over apartheid held many important lessons for the world.

Another was the fact that former president Nelson Mandela — who was also in his audience — handed over to a successor after four years, ”and this in a continent of life presidents.

”I say thank you to Nelson Mandela and his colleagues, I say thank you to all the people of South Africa, men, women, even children, who came out in support of the anti-apartheid struggle, who paid, too often, with their lives.”

Head of the Steve Biko Foundation Xolela Mangcu said earlier Achebe was there to celebrate one of the great spirits of the African continent.

”It is indeed our desire to preserve for our children the freedom we fought so hard to obtain,” he said.

”Too often those who have found freedom have become blase about it and before they knew it, it was gone.”

Mrs Biko said she was very touched by the occasion.

”I know it seems a long time, but to me [his death is] still new,” she said. ”I know his spirit is with us.”

In a citation for the presentation to Achebe, UCT vice-chancellor Prof Njabulo Ndebele, himself a writer of note, said the Nigerian had been ”a shining example and embodiment of excellence on the African continent that has radiated throughout the literary world”.

He had received a string of awards and honours, including the citation of two of his works in the recently-compiled list of Africa’s 100 best books of the 20th century. – Sapa

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Ben Maclennan
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