Biko would not be happy with the lack of progress in the ‘new’ South Africa
When I took a brief tour of East Africa on the last leg of my scholarship at the Uganda Technology and Management University, I found myself at the border gate of Kenya crossing into Tanzania.
My sojourn in East Africa was largely inspired by my belief that the path to finding solutions to the myriad South African societal problems is through Africa. I took a decision to find a platform where, together with fellow Africans, we could find ways of creating an education system that would redefine our Africanness in the context of the ever-changing global socioeconomic landscape, especially in light of the United States’ changed political topography.
The East Africa academic platform continues to help me to redefine myself outside the pervasive divide that hinders our country from taking its rightful place in the world.
There I was in a queue with Tanzanians, Kenyans, Ugandans, Rwandans and many other Africans.
When I looked at the back of the queue, I saw five Maasai men dressed in their red and black blankets.
I had this sudden urge to take a selfie with the Maasai guys. But that inner voice warned me it would be a wrong move and that I could end up being embarrassed as a foreigner in Kenya.
The delay in stamping our passports by the stern-faced Kenyan immigration officials gave me some time to reflect on my thinking about the Maasai. I came to realise that my views were largely influenced by the media and that I saw them as “the other”, hence my thoughts of taking a selfie. I became ashamed of my prejudiced attitude towards my fellow Africans.
But unlike many other people, I immediately set my thinking right by treating the Maasai the same way as I would like them to treat me, which is that I belong to the human race that comes from Africa. I imagined how Steve Biko, the leader of the Black Consciousness Movement, would have reacted.
He would definitely not have approved of my thoughts of isolating the Maasai, taking a selfie with them and looking at them as “the other people” of Africa.
Biko would also have been disappointed with progress we have made towards creating a nonracial society in South Africa. In fact, he would have vehemently argued that we have abandoned the noble project of recreating a society in which people are not defined according to their race or the colour of their skin.
Our country embarked on a unique journey to build bridges that would enable the offspring of former colonisers to work together with those who were the victims of their oppression, dispossession and exploitation.
Forty years ago, Biko lost his life in pursuit of empowering the victims of an inhumane apartheid system. And if Biko were alive today, he would have encouraged all South Africans, irrespective of their socio-economic standing, to support programmes aimed at creating a society in which racial discrimination is frowned upon in all its manifestations.
The premise of Biko’s argument for working hard to build a non-racial democracy would first be the Freedom Charter, whose preamble states that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.
He would implore all South Africans to conduct themselves in line with the fundamental principles of equal rights, as enshrined in the Freedom Charter: “There shall be equal status in the bodies of state, in the courts and in the schools for all national groups and races; all people shall have equal right to use their own languages, and to develop their own folk culture and customs; all national groups shall be protected by law against insults to their race and national pride; the preaching and practice of national, race or colour discrimination and contempt shall have been a punishable crime; all apartheid laws and practices shall be set aside.”
Biko, as an intellectual, would be cognisant of the economic constraints that influence the development and implementation of government policies aimed at redressing inequalities of the past. At the same time, Biko would not have approved of the slow pace of progress to restore the pride and dignity of the previously oppressed under the ANC-led government. He would not have taken kindly to the revelations that the government, entrusted with building a nonracial nation, had allowed R100-billion to be lost to corruption and looting of state funds.
He would have demanded that those who hold public office and who have abused funds meant for the poor be hauled before the courts to answer for their misdeeds. In line with Biko’s mission of empowering the previously oppressed, all the funds lost to corruption could have been used to fund socioeconomic infrastructure aimed at lifting the majority of our people out of poverty.
Biko would have shunned our public discourse that is framed in racial terms and seeks to ignite hatred between white and black people in South Africa. He would have taken exception to President Jacob Zuma when he accused the protesters calling for his removal from office of being influenced by white people.
Biko would have been amazed that the ruling party took almost the entire day to debate whether monopoly capital should be qualified by the word “white” (which insinuates that white South Africans should be held responsible for not redistributing the wealth of the country).
He would have sought justice for those who have become victims of racial hatred, especially poor people who work in rural areas. But Biko would not have blamed every white person for the racist attacks.
Biko would have raised both his arms in the middle of the small town of Coligny and demanded justice for Matlhomola Mosweu, without inciting racially inspired violence. Biko would have cautioned us that public conversations that perpetuate racial hatred are at odds with the dream of building a nonracial society for which many people paid the ultimate price.
Tutu Faleni is a Democratic Alliance member in the North West provincial legislature. These are his own views