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Report from public meeting: Celebrating the life and works of Bantu Steve Biko
Uhuru Network
September 26, 2007

Opening remarks- Biko Mutsaurwa- UHURU Network

Social activists including young people converged on the 26th of September in Harare to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the death of Bantu Steve Biko who died at the age of 30 years during the apartheid regime in South Africa in 1977.

The objectives of the public meeting under the auspices of Uhuru Network included -

i) Enabling people to reflect on the legacy of Steve Biko's contribution to freedom and to ensure that young people can be inspired to follow the lead.
ii) A deep reflection on the changes in the struggles (from racism to neo-liberalism)
iii) The need to draw anything on the struggles that Steve Biko was engaged in.

The public meeting was characterised through presentations in plenary sessions, poems, and questions and answer sessions as highlighted in the following presentations.

Takura Zhangazha's presentation

In his presentation, Takura Zhangazha was inspired by Steve Biko during his days at University of Zimbabwe in 1997. He read a lot of work published by David Woods. He noted with concern that there was no commemoration or celebration of a national liberation hero in Zimbabwe. Hence, there was a need to separate and interrogate who Steve Biko was and also interrogate the ideal of Steve Biko. He also noted that the idea of Steve Biko has been problematic and it was also important to note that Steve Biko was a man who believed in his blackness, empowerment of the black people

Takura went on to state how Biko was becoming an idea which had been idolised by the world. He also noted that Steve Biko led a movement and that movement was not all charismatic, but in essence, he was a leader like the rest of every young person .Takura went on to note that Steve Biko led at a time when there was nothing the ANC (African National Congress) of South Africa was doing during the apartheid in terms of driving the process of change. Steve led the community based organizations where people were taught life skills in building clinics as encouraging young people to be involved in sports like football among others. Takura also stated that at the present moment, there was an absence of young people's voices in Zimbabwe that is united and its single legacy was to declare the Black Consciousness movement.

He noted that being a leader meant that Steve Biko had to lead a movement that was horizontal, hence his criticism towards apartheid and a danger to the white rule system. He also noted that there was need for young people to look at Steve Biko not as a myth and that the youths should learn to critique such people like Biko as they are. Takura also stated the need to learn that one cannot do anything at a local level without linking it to the global context, since Steve Biko was both a community activist and a national activist. He also stated that there was also need for young people to fill in a voice which the political leaders have failed to fill in, and also the need to engage each other with ideas, as Steve Biko was able to articulate ideas.

Takura went on to encourage young people to assess their reality within their local context and at the moment the challenges that face young people includes borrowing other ideologies in the region. Thus, there was a need to come up with solutions that address the scenario. He noted that at the moment, young people in Zimbabwe needed to have their own messages based on what is happening within their context. In other words, youths should be in a position of appreciating the fact that Zimbabwe's ideology is different from the Steve Biko ideology. At the end of the day, young people were encouraged to come to terms with their own identity and look at the progression of the new struggle today

Way forward

Takura encouraged young people to position the current situation with what they believe in, and should also be articulators of the new messages. He concluded his presentation by stating that young people should be the 'new Bikos' and reflect on their role in the current struggle , and be in a position to re-contextualise and re-organise themselves

Issues arising from the plenary session

  • Young people should be able to reflect and seek themselves on whether they are prepare to pay the ultimate price for freedom, by being ready to die
  • Young people need to reflect on their values in relation to what society says

Vimbai- ZCTU Informal sector department representative

Vimbai noted that Steve Biko was a black man subjected to two forces (neo-liberalism and racism), was oppressed by the external force. She also stated that neo-liberalism survives on instilling fear, distancing people from what they originally own and the same applies to how capital survives where there is chaos.

She noted that new technology has made people become distanced from our humanity, hence the need to reflect on how Steve Biko's ideas influenced the rise of social movements throughout the 3 decades since his death.Vimbai lamented on the participation of few women in local and national public meetings which has reflected on how the struggle against patriarchy still needs to be won. She concluded her presentation by urging young people to know who they are in this era of global capitalism.

Macdonald Lewanika - Students Solidarity Trust (SST) and Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesperson

Macdonald stated that Steve Biko was a mere mortal who came from humble origins who was able to inspire young people around the world. Thus, this should be able to inspire young people to carry forward with the daily struggles that they encounter.

Macdonald went on to lament on the state of the education sector which has deteriorated over the past years. He noted that Steve Biko was against the Bantu education system which was racist in nature, and reflecting on the present situation, the black rich people now afford the best education at the expense of the poor black people. He also noted that between the age of 22 and 30, Steve Biko was able to put the ideas together which was a good example of youth activism. He urged young people to ask themselves, that, within the Zimbabwean context, young people should be clear on their responsibilities and be able to understand the deep roots that inspired Steve Biko.

Macdonald also encouraged young people to appreciate the fact that Steve Biko was part of a community (university environment) where ideas were shared. Hence young people also needed to acknowledge the fact that Steve Biko was a good listener and an avid reader who had good inquisitive skills. He stated that Steve Biko was inspired by previous African leaders and intellectuals who included Kwame Nkrumah, Franz Fanon, Senghor and other leaders from the Negritude movement in United States of America and Latin America.

Way forward

MacDonald urged young people to think about new roles or ways of consciousness as it is only way that could liberate people. He also noted that the society should be able to regain their humanity that they have lost and urged young people to know themselves better and be able to assert their own identity as African people

Issues arising from the presentations - plenary session

  • How did Steve Biko address the need for gender equality where women are respected by men as mere human beings (friendship between the late Steve Biko and Mamphele Ramphele - the chancellor of University of Cape Town)? if this was not adequately addressed, can it be a situation that explains why few young women attend public meetings?
  • There is a need for the young generation to reflect on the role of women in various struggles, including the struggles that we have in Zimbabwe
  • Those in Biko's generation were writers and poets, hence as young people there is need to revitalise the art of poetry as well as writing articles on our thoughts in relation to the way we see the struggle
  • There is need to appreciate the politics of South Africa during Steve Biko's time and the question of the 20th century was the issue of colour (racism)
  • Steve Biko also influenced political parties of his day namely the AZAPO and out of it, Pan African Congress (PAC) was formed as well as its guerrilla movements (APLA). The PAC centred its struggles on the need to emancipate the position of the black person in the white South Africa apartheid.
  • There is also need to analyse Steve Biko alongside other African leaders who have died including the late Thomas Sankara
  • There is also a need to appreciate the fact hat ideas come with a cost (life), as well as appreciating the fact that since Steve Biko used to have mentors among the older generation that he looked up to, the same should apply to young people who should be able to look up to the older generation for advice.
  • There is also need to point out the relationship that existed between Steve Biko and our president, Robert Mugabe during that period and even though he's dead, his ideas continue to inspire many people.

* Uhuru Network is a youth based organization based in Harare working on issues of social justice and youth empowerment.

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