Simphiwe Dana: Dear Steve Biko

In these times of open letters I have decided to pen one to you, and I feel it is long overdue. That we can write open letters without fear or favour should make you proud as one of the bringers of our freedom. So thank you for walking that path so we, your progeny, may never have to walk it. And may we never abuse these freedoms.

I must say I miss your voice of reason. Since you've been gone the gains have been very little and the sacrifices plenty for this freedom of ours. Do not worry I have no intention of whining but rather I seek answers that will propel us into action, because you're a hands-on kind of a guy and this is the depth of your passion.

I remember your calculation of what the apartheid state would do were they to be forced to cede power to the rightful owners. You spoke of a buffer zone that would help protect their ill-gotten privileges. How did you know?

South Africa is the richest economy in Afrika. This is true and it is beautiful – but who are these rich people when two thirds of the country lives on under R2 500 a month? And who are these poor people living such miserly lives?

Why has every state initiative to alleviate poverty and balance the scales of justice failed? Why has the face of our oppression become so invisible? The elite who have no intention of being hands on discuss it over tea.

You spoke of a separation of powers. Today I see the effects of the separation of political power from economical power spanning the last 18 years. I also see the overzealousness of the buffer zoners in pursuit of excellence in buffer zoning. I see the advent of neo-colonialism because the buffer zoners have been duped into doing nothing for their people, playing into the stereotype that we are not capable of governing ourselves, and playing into the hands of our oppressors. Of course you cannot govern without passion and love for your constituency. And when you have passion and love you have vision.

The truth is we are a defeated people. You knew that and you planned for it. You planned our revival and put it to paper so it would outlive you. How could we have got it so wrong?

We bent over backwards for the idea of freedom and in the process lost the right to raise our fists in the air in salute of the people's power. That power had been swindled right under our feet in secret meetings while we were caught up in the euphoria of a free Mandela: in secret meetings that would create a buffer zone to lull us into a rainbow slumber.

How much of a sacrifice do we require of our leaders? Is 27 years enough? Is your death enough? Did you even choose to be a leader for us to have all these expectations of you? Or was it a matter of circumstance?

As has become obviously apparent, the outcome of the secret meetings was not the desired one for us. What should happen now?

I'm asking you because you connected people, got them on the same page. The ball game is slightly different now. The fight is to now inspire. Our leaders lack the will to do right. Our people have given away power over their lives.

See, you were right. This freedom has to start on the inside. I can believe that despite the skewed negotiations of 1992, you would still have pushed a rigorous education campaign because education trumps all oppression. Education is initiation into life, it teaches us how to fish. Skewed negotiations or not we would have made strides that would have equipped us with enough knowledge to dismantle this system that has such a chokehold on our everyday existence even in the days of our 'freedom'.  This knowledge in the hands of a few becomes either a weapon to be used against the masses or it is used to give reason to ridicule those who dare impart it to the masses. They become ostracised by a society well experienced in policing itself.

Now education has become a class symbol. I remember walking barefoot to school in a uniform two sizes too small and on a stomach filled with sour milk or sweet water and umphokoqo (pap). I remember my teachers were not so well equipped, what with Bantu Education and all – but I remember their passion. I remember the books that were available to me at school. I remember Michael Jackson's soy mince and pap lunch meal donations. The feeling in the air was that education was the way out.  Most of us never bunked school. Those who did bunk had to hide from the whole community because everyone was your parent and had a right to spank you all the way back to school. It was more about the quality of the knowledge and education than it was about whether we were freezing our buttocks off, barefoot in winter, or in windowless classrooms. This knowledge gave us the tools to break our oppression so that no other child would have to go through that.

I remember also that your understanding of the freedom that education brings stems from being shaped by a similar environment. This environment shaped most of our leaders as well.

That is why I fail to understand the disconnect that exists between our leaders and us, the people, today. How have they failed to use those tools to implement change? How could they feel better than the rest when they were once where the majority of our people are stuck in? How did they get to those positions if they are so uninterested in the plight of the people? Or what has changed?

I believe that, overwhelmed by the weight of concessions made at the negotiations, our leaders decided to save themselves and their families rather and do what they can for the rest. So our wellbeing became a job for them instead of the next stage of our liberation. That is why they are so hard on us and are even slightly disgusted when they see the true face of blackness in our stark poverty. Then they will say things like: "Pick up your socks, no one owes you anything." This can only be a show of their disgust at their own failure, again playing right into the hands of our oppressors. I can imagine that this weighs heavily on those within the power structures who do not see governance as a job but phase three of liberation. I feel for them.

Now 'blacks are lazy' has become the mantra of the privileged and those who aspire to privilege, even as our broken-backed mothers and fathers are serving them on, hand and foot.

This is what makes me sad 'Ta Biko. We have become agents of our own demise. We no longer have a common vision. Individualism becomes a trap if not understood within the concept or context of Ubuntu. Unfortunately it is a trap that ensnares not only those who fall into it but anyone else within reach. We have become victims of individualism, populism and of our leaders' short-sightedness. These leaders, rather than put their heads together and draft a way forward after The Deceit, squabble over positions and ideals. They divide us – and the people lose.  At election time they bring our people bags of mealie meal, T-shirts, and remind them who pays their social grants. Do you think a revolution is necessary to bring everyone back to the fold? Or is there a chance we can still talk to each other?

Afrika has always had royalty, and in fact has thrived on royalty. This has been our system of governance from time immemorial. It is all we know. So I have no issues with political royalty, because royalty status could be withdrawn from one family and given to another if the people deemed this to be the best course of action. Yes, we had our National Executive Councils even then. I only take issue with royalty when it does not realize that the people anointed it to serve the nation, not the other way round

Why do we need governance if not for this?

Unfortunately, unlike in the olden days, we cannot break away from this mother tribe called South Africa and form a new tribe because the rules have changed. We have to stand our ground and fight for a better life. What must we do with all this brokenness? Tell me.

Could it be that it is only now that we are truly defeated? Because I find that the symbol of our oppression is being blackened everyday, while the true perpetrators lurk in the shadows. Could it be that now we will deliver ourselves willingly to neo-colonialism because it was right, we are like children, simple minded and incapable of governing ourselves? I ask because this sentiment is growing out here. There is no cohesion in South Africa; there is especially no cohesion within the black community. It is dog eat dog out here. Our centuries' old fear of being irrelevant and less haunts us, making us trample over each other's heads to get to the top. It is brutal.

The ultimate goal is to be a white black person with your own minions: The boss who's posterior everyone kisses. Yes we want the car, the suit, the job, and the farm. And that is ok – but we don't enjoy it unless there are others below who can envy us – and that is not ok. This is the individualism and lack of vision I am talking about. It breeds greed and classist superiority. These are traits of a defeated people not comfortable in their own skin. Surely in a country riddled by racist oppression we cannot afford that. It is a vicious cycle and will not end well. Why is our happiness and contentment dependent on being better than others? Is this not how societies break down? Why can't we work towards equality?

Our society is a reflection of who we truly are. The crime, hate, rape, anger, greed, powerlessness, poverty and lack of empathy is a reflection of a rot in our society. I foresee either a revolution or a police welfare state unless we, the people, engage on these questions truthfully.

I have so many questions. And the answers are mapped within the questions. I know it is not a single individual that can answer these questions, but all of us. The answers lie within. However we could do with guidance; someone to just plonk us on the right path and shake us out of our slumber.

I miss your voice of reason.

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