Can’t blow out a fire

Bantu Stephen Biko - This is the name that reverberates through my mind, especially on or around 12 September every year.  On that day in 1977, Biko was murdered in cold blood by the apartheid forces.
 
Biko was only 31 years old at the time of his murder, but he had such a huge impact on the minds and lives of the oppressed people in South Africa.  It has always puzzled me why many revolutionaries were either murdered or died naturally while still in their thirties, for instance, Patrice Lumumba, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, Che Guevara, etc. 
 
Is the ample quality of their lives supposed to be a compensation for the truncated quantity of their short lives?  How would the world have turned out to be, had we not lost these illustrious sons?    
 
For me, Biko has a tremendous personal meaning/influence.  Somehow, I am wearing Biko-coloured glasses in terms of my ideological outlook on life.
 
I was still too young during the heyday of his activism, and in the year of his death I was a freshman at high school.  So, I do recall vaguely some of the newspaper articles that talked about the Soweto Uprising in 1976 (dubbed Soweto “Riots” in the media at the time) and Biko’s death the subsequent year. 
 
One of the issues that Steve Biko talked about was “the non-whites”, when he stated that “…the fact that we are all not white does not necessarily mean that we are all black. Non-whites do exist…if one’s aspiration is whiteness, but his pigmentation makes attainment of this impossible, then that person is a non-white….Black people – real black people – are those who can manage to hold their heads high in defiance rather than willingly surrender their souls to the white man… it is important to define oneself as black, identifying as a black person, not [as] a non-white.”
 
In other words, there are black people who aspire to whiteness, and who thus become copycats of white people. This is a form of self-denial and is one of the biggest diseases among black people. 
 
For Biko, liberation for black people starts in the mind “Being black is a reflection of a mental attitude….The first step is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth. This is what we mean by an inward-looking process. This is the definition of black consciousness.”      
 
In order for us to understand the significance of Cde Biko’s contribution to the South African struggle; we must remind ourselves that, following the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960, the liberation movements, namely ANC and PAC were banned.  The people’s armies, namely Umkhonto we Sizwe and POQO, were also forced to go underground. Comrades Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe were detained and ended up on Robben Island.
 
Therefore, from around 1964, there was a kind of political leadership vacuum inside of South Africa, and it was during this phase that Comrade Steve Biko rose to the occasion of history.
 
This is how Biko captured it: “Since the banning and harassment of black political parties – a dangerous vacuum has been created. The African National Congress and later the Pan-African Congress were banned in 1960…Ever since there has been no coordinated opinion emanating from the black ranks…..After the banning of the black political parties in South Africa, people’s hearts were gripped by some kind of foreboding fear for anything political. Not only were politics a closed book, but at every corner one was greeted by a slave-like apathy that often bordered on timidity.”
 
There is so much to talk about Steve Biko, and the question remains, what role Black Consciousness, or Pan Africanism, plays in our independent countries?  Shall we continue living as non-whites when we have the political power to change our circumstances for the better? Or shall we continue to allow Europeans to manipulate us and keep us in a new form of slavery that we ourselves are guilty of? 
 
I suggest that we do as Steve Biko did when he left the multi-racial NUSAS and founded the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO). This is how Biko explained this historic move: “The blacks are tired of standing at the touchlines to witness a game that they should be playing. They want to do things for themselves and all by themselves.”
 
Let us play our game.
 
In 1980, the musician known as Peter Gabriel released a song titled Biko, which has these powerful lyrics:
 
September ‘77
 
Port Elizabeth weather fine
 
It was business as usual
 
In police room 619
 
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
 
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
 
-The man is dead
 
When I try to sleep at night
 
I can only dream in red
 
The outside world is black and white
 
With only one colour dead
 
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
 
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
 
-The man is dead
 
You can blow out a candle
 
But you can’t blow out a fire
 

Once the flames begin to catch
 
The wind will blow it higher
 
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
 
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
 
-The man is dead
 
And the eyes of the world are watching now
 
 
 
Ondjirijo. Hijo.
 
 
 
 

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