On 12 September 1977, a heart larger than life stopped beating, its essence snuffed out by an uncaring regime’s police force. Steve Biko would have been 67 years old had he still been alive today. Instead he only lived in this world for 30 years. It’s unbelievable that he was only thirty years old when he died because of the immense influence that he exerted on the history and lives of South Africans.
Many words have been written about how he would behave today were he alive, about how our democracy would be much healthier and more egalitarian were he around to make his contribution. It is easy to judge the living by the standards of greats who are no longer with us. But dare we live up to his standards? What lessons can we learn from Steve Biko’s life that we can follow in our daily lives?
This short piece of writing will not discuss what Biko has done for us but rather ask more questions about what are we are doing to live up to such a powerful example set for us in our land? Reflections about a life like Biko’s must galvanise us all in every corner of the country to strive to improve our lives and those of the people among whom we live. In short: to reject selfishness in favour of doing greater good through both words and deeds.
At the height of his political activities, Biko said, ‘Black man, you are on your own!’ These words had no racial segregationist intentions but simply meant that the oppressed black people had only themselves to look to for their freedom. Instead of sitting and hoping someone would come from somewhere to help them, they must act for themselves.
How apt could these words be for the millions of South African children today seeking to escape from the trap of poverty? It is through education that generations of poverty can be broken. Therefore, those of us in the education field must ask the question today, ‘Who will free the black child from poverty?’ Surely more than 30 years after Steve Biko’s death we cannot ignore the plight of these children?
A clear trend in Steve Biko’s life was the stubborn pursuance of education in spite of the obstacles that came in the way of his studies. It is said that he inherited this from his father who had, quite early on, encouraged all his children to pursue an education as the only possible route to upward social movement and independence. While many remember the Black Consciousness philosophy espoused by Biko, I hold dear the notion of self-reliance and doing it oneself that he bequeathed to generations that have come since. What better way to pay homage to a hero like Steve Biko than through the education of the children of South Africa?
'The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity.' (Biko, I Write What I Like, 1978)
Substitute‘black man’ for ‘South African child’ and our responsibility becomes clear. ‘Pride and dignity,’ will be restored through a good education. It becomes a privilege, therefore, for those of us in the Gauteng Provincial Literacy and Maths Strategy (GPLMS) to work for those children lacking educational opportunities. Let us all remember Steve Biko’s words, life and example and let them inspire us in our work.