Could Biko not perhaps prove irrelevant for us today, regardless to how unromantic that may sound?
There are many in this season of Biko’s Celebration who seeks to arrogate a right to invoke Steven Bantu Biko as maximum symbol of what is wrong in our society. These have unilaterally determined what Biko would have had as an opinion and usually in the trapped state of their minds rush to conclude how he would have castigated this leadership.
I hold no one has a right to make Biko or Hani, Sobukwe or any fallen hero a Saint that would have had such rebuke as equated by those who claim to know these our heroes. These fallen heroes and cadres never claimed or appropriated a ‘Sainthood’ of mistaken sinfreeness, but their lives at different stations show their humaneness in all virtuous, bad, ugly and irresponsible shades. In the case of Biko, we may never know the agony of his true legal and legitimate wife, who is less visible though a champion of our collective course, who afforded our hero, the celebrated ‘father’ of modern-day South African Black Consciousness’ space to ride the waves until he met his untimely bludgeoned death. For the record none of those we often emotionally invoke ever ran a country, hence to draw a comparison is disenginious.
No one can objectively claim to know what Biko would have thought, said, and surmised. Regardless to how well these claim to have known him, be that in love affair or comradeship of Black Consciousness.
These now pontificate to us their acrostic ideals and parade them as the definitive views of a Biko. Biko remains a hero of this nation, a son of this soil, an independent mind, and one whom we all were denied to have with us.
Biko died and was less afforded to be physically present in this epoch. His ‘Black Unit’ remains the subject of much question, debate, and speculation. His hypothesis of a ‘black’ identity was for a specific season and time, perhaps like Black Consciousness was for a season, an important period though in our collective cognitive development and crafting of an elusive identity, the same we today found is not static, but often the confluence of experiences, events, exposure, preferences, economic definitions, class pseudo phenomenon’s, etc.
I find this disjointed reasoning to invoke Biko on our moral consciousness in an unwarranted form of bequeathed Sainthood deplorable if not at times repugnant in origin and less selfless in pursuit.
Biko was an ordinary African with an extraordinary resolve in a season when that was needed exemplified in a “black consciousness” the same some of us have argued is perhaps the proverbial ‘blackhole’ of our past, the horror of present and potential nightmare of our collective future. For I still contend, we were subjugated to a ‘black experience’ by those who believed they were ‘white’ and wanted us all to believe they are. My challenge why did we allow that which we were subjected to define us in eternity of embrace? Equally if we are today facing the scourge of HIV/AIDS are we to surmised that at some future in our wrestle with this invisible enemy we will become the scourge for it would have consumed us and defined our new identity? I hold colonialism and apartheid were ‘black experiences’ that the African mind never can celebrate either consciously or unconsciously or reactionary, in retaliation of psychology. We cannot defend this blackness for it did not come from us, we cannot redress it for any attempt at redressing is an implicit acceptance that those who called subjected us to a ‘black experience’ were right.
Is it possible that the beloved Black Consciousness, and its subset Black Theology fundamentally even unconsciously computed an error when it appropriated and became that which it was defined by and subjected to and sought to defend in newness of psychology. Lest we forget Basil Moore is really the father of Black Theology in South Africa embrace.
This appropriation of the construct of ‘black’ to define and describe a people has sent us into the proverbial wilderness in which we cirle the same dunes and now even in democracy is held hostage by why we have chosen to define every aspect of our society through this untrusted arbitrary construct of ‘black’ .
Today we talk of ‘black’ business, exactly what is ‘black’ business in this global economy? Why should there be a ‘black’ lawyers association, a ‘black’ chartered accountants association, a ‘black’ builders association, a ‘black’ plumbers association, the ‘black’ prostitutes association when we run this country for almost 20 years now as majority? Just when did Africans who never left these shores become ‘black’? If apartheid succeeded it has us today define ourselves and lives in ‘black’ when the opposite of ‘black’ is not defined as ‘white’ description. What did the progenitors and benefactors of apartheid so well understood to prove prudent not to label their entities, structures, societies, lobby groups etc not with the adjective of ‘white’?
Biko’s “Black Consciousness” which in case developed in exchange with the American counterparts no different to Stokeley Carmichael’s “Black Power” were not new in origin of defining the concept of “black”, but proved an attempt at defining ‘consciousness’ and ‘power’ respectively. Neither defined ‘black’ for ‘black’ was already defined by one who had a specific mind on such. Carmichael in 1969 at Berkeley, at the birth of the ‘Black Power” movement did not define ‘black’, but power, because ‘black’ was already constructed I am afraid not by those who call see themselves as ‘black’.
The construct of ‘black’ to define a person did not originate from those who so eagerly sing its praise. These unconsciously appropriated the construct of “black” as a given, and did not engage the multiplicity of ramifications of such appropriation. Any appropriation and acceptance of the construct of black naturally necessitates the existence of a “white” identity of existence. So that when one charts the murky road of defending a “black” identity, you inadvertently defend the right of a white identity. It is a slippery slide; it is very possible that Black Conciousness was killed because it could not define this “black” in black consciousness. These are necessarily relational terms and live in sanguine unity in the circumference of such tainted umwelt.
What if some today claim Biko was wrong? What if others argue he is perhaps irrelevant for this time and cannot be superimposed as a constructive reality immanent in leadership morality meridian? Especially when by means of evolutionary thought we in democratic dispensation have sought to define ourselves free from the shackles of a wrongly even embellished “black and white” constructs. These constructs ubiquitous in nature, in which my son at UJ who does not know and maybe should not know this warped definition of identity has crossed the lines of these “black and white” proverbial farcical picket fences. And has found an identity in which he shares the same music, appreciation, clothing preference, values, ethic constituting his identity rooted in a humanity less coloured by a “black’ or ‘white’ tainted paradigms.
In which he found communality of persuasion less by his father’s influence who is a victim of apartheid, but has found fellow humans in which colour as a means to define another, proves vacuous odd and irrelevant.
What would Biko say to my son, who has crossed all those boundaries and less out of rebellion but as a natural progression of a found humanity?
Biko’s biggest contribution for my son is the fact that he was willing to die for an idea, perhaps that is where it ends and should end, and anything more is sacrilegious and an overstatement of truth.
Those who write regardless to how intimate they were with Biko and those who read his “I Write what I like” often misinterpret Biko and must quit invoking Biko on us, but tell us this is what they say in the name of our collective and dead hero.
Alas, I hold we are afforded a time to live in this earth, in which we must prove relevant for that epoch and future generations must understand our net worth or legacy contribution through the lens of such historical path. When we die, it is because our time was up, our purpose fulfilled and hence we in a sense become irrelevant for an evolving society. The same in which technology has made us family with others we less know hardly have seen yet share such strong communality that may even be argued as stronger than what we would have shared with our own. If our ‘own’ is defined in myopic “black and white” constructs of enslaved paradigms.
Please afford Steven Bantu Biko, Martin Thembisile Hani, Oliver Reginald Tambo and many others rest for their work is done. Equally, their relevance is historical and often an elusive mirage or a proverbial stray bullet from an unloaded gun exemplified in someone who less understood them, or is caught up in the presence of mind to prove astuteness of bastardised intellectualism. These mislead themselves and equally attempt to mislead us to know more about Biko often revealing an opaque grasp of Biko better than all of us who equally read him, Fanon, Mills and others. Some pseudo- new Black Consciousness propagators or as they claim ‘Bikoists’ like Andile Mngxitama, refuse to engage constructively and prefer to rather vulgarise the issues on the subject matter of Biko, Black Consciousness and its relevance in this era. In my understanding these prove an embarrasment to the true legacy of our common hero.
Biko must be contextualised as a son of his time who would have perhaps proven irrelevant for many reason today in this epoch.
In typical African traditional and cultual sense can we let the dead be respected and not resuscitated for less honourable reasons. As for me I am an African, my Africanness is not trapped in a surname, tribe or looks. I am an African, I am just not ‘black’ and will never appropriate this construct to define myself, because if I choose to be ‘black’ I must accept the lie of a ‘white’ identity, the same I resist for I am human and anything more is a sophism.
Bishop Clyde N. S.Ramalaine
September 18, 2012
Courtesy of “Tradewinds are blowing’ Political musings and contemplations