Mphutlane Wa Bofelo says that the programme planned by the Steve Biko Foundation as part of the 30th anniversary of the killing of Steve Biko looks like a homage to a writer and cultural worker rather than a tribute to a freedom fighter.
Looking at the weeklong programme planned by the Steve Biko Foundation at the BAT Center in Durban as part of the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of Steve Biko, I realized that it is focused on literary and cultural discourses and the exhibition of works on, about and by Biko. It is noteworthy that the joint programme of the Steve Biko Foundation (SBF) and the newly established Biko Legacy Reference Committee (BLRC) are also focused on literary and theatrical activities. It is as if the initiative is paying homage to an ingenious writer and cultural worker rather than a tribute to a freedom fighter whose work and that of the movement he belonged to straddled the worlds of socio-political activism, mass mobilisation, community development, labour and working class politics. Biko is presented as an icon whose only claim to fame is the monumental piece of literature, 'I write what I like', and dying a lonely and gruesome death in an Apartheid cell rather than as a social and political activist who was a member and leader of a socio-political movement.
There is a conspicuous absence of activities and themes overtly dealing with the local and global socio-political and economic state of affairs. There is nothing in the programme that investigates how far the country that Biko laid his life for is with regard to the reclamation of the collective human dignity of Black People and the enhancement of their socio-economic wellbeing, and how far it is towards advancing Biko's vision of a South Africa with a human face; an anti-racist society in which there is equal allocation of power and equitable distribution of the wealth and resources of the land.
However, it will be a travesty of history and the truncation of the legacy of Biko to remember Biko without raising issues such as genuine transfer of political and economic power to the black majority and without any initiative to let Biko (and BC) speak to the issues and challenges facing black people and humanity in the era of the attack on the environment and the economies, cultures and natural resources of the global south by the regimes and regiments of global capitalism and the Washington consensus in the form of the structural adjustment programmes (implemented as GEAR in South Africa), liberalisation, privatisation, deregulation, socially unequal taxation and dependence on direct foreign investment and speculative capital.
The historical fact is that his writings, political activism and community work clearly articulates that, as opposed to the ideologically neutral humanist that he is portrayed to be, Biko subscribed to the philosophy of Black Consciousness and his affinities were towards a pro-poor, pro-working class political agenda geared towards an egalitarian society. He was a member of the BCM under the flagship of SASO-BPC. He led and was led within the structures of the BCM. If not combated, the subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to de-link Biko from the philosophy of Black Consciousness, the BCM and radical working-class oriented politics in order to look sexy and to court corporate capital and be in the good books of the powers that be, will result into turning Biko into a piece of iconoclast and a collectors item the same way that corporate capital and the corporate media is doing with Ernesto Che Guevara.
Simply put, this will be the case of remembering Biko so as to forget him, or as others have said, a matter of murder by memory. While the Steve Biko Foundation is said to have insisted on the exclusion of the Umtapo Center (which held up the name of Biko and BC when doing so invited being 'necklaced' and other things), it is interesting to see who the important figures in the BLRC are. Muntu Myeza's assertion that renegades cannot be advocates of a cause they have deserted will be instructive in this case. Sello Rasethaba jumped from the BCM to join the ruling ANC, saying the philosophy of BC and the BCM has run its course and went on to become an associate of the late corporate hooligan, Brett Kebble.
Rakhs Seakhwa's credentials in as far as governance and fiscal discipline is concerned include virtually leading the once dynamic Congress of South African Writers to its (un)natural death. The tale of how Rakhs and his comrades through COSAW directed the Staffrider magazine away from a BC line is another story. Duma Ka Ndhlovu was recently reported to have received R4.5 million shares from Tokyo Sexwale as part of Sexwale's attempt to have influential people in society tied to his wallet. People who allegedly received Sexwale's shares include the SBF's Xolela Mangcu. Let's remember how Mangcu wrote an opinion piece extolling the virtues of Sexwale and overtly canvassing for him, immediately his chief announced his availability for the ANC presidential race.
I might be accused of being subjective in my argument that people with a proclivity to dance to the tune of corporate capital are not the right candidates to preserve the legacy of Biko. But who can argue that as it stands, the current programme of the SBF and the BLRC points in the direction of fossilising the legacy of Biko, restricting our memory of Steve Biko to the remembrance of 'that guy who wrote "I Write What I like" and died in a prison cell', and steering away from any recollection of Biko the member and leader of SASO-BPC and founder of the Black Consciousness Movement; Biko the activist, Biko the militant, let alone Biko the socialist? Otherwise, why is the BLRC constituted only by individuals who represent themselves instead of also including representatives from the various segments of the BCM, and why is the programme so apolitical?