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The unifying spirit of Bantu Biko

I spent the whole weekend in Ginsberg, Bantu Biko’s township, on what I will call a pilgrimage. I left Polokwane on Friday the 9th of September 2022 and returned on Monday the 12th. This to mark the 45th anniversary of the cruel and brutal murder of Bantu Biko by the settler-colonial regime in September 1977.

On Saturday the 10th, we slaughtered two cows, courtesy of AZAPO, at the Biko family home, which is now a heritage site. We communed and reminisced with the family, relatives and the community of Ginsberg.

MOSIBUDI MANGENA

It brought back memories of us as young political activists, possessed as we were by youthful idealism and fervent patriotism, frequenting the Biko home to consult with him, especially when he was placed under banning orders. 

 Sunday the 11th started with a procession to the graveyard where Biko’s mother is buried. She was the matriarch that welcomed all of us into her home and fed us into the bargain. It looked then as though in her house, the pot was continuously on the stove.

The possession proceeded to the Steve Biko Garden of Remembrance where Bantu’s remains are interred. Wreathes were laid by different personalities amid much singing and stomping of feet.

We then moved to the magnificent Steve Bantu Biko Centre for an AZAPO rally at which four other political parties, trade unions and civil society organizations were invited. It was a spirited and emotional affair.

The symbolism of all those organizations meeting at the Bantu Biko Centre to remember him could not escape some of us. It would be remembered that he was arrested in Makhanda on his way from Cape Town on a mission to unite liberation movements for the purposes of ridding our country of oppression. To behold such a coming together of various political and non-governmental organizations seemed to affirm his unifying spirit in both life and death.

More tellingly, all in that rally were in one voice in decrying the perilous state of our republic. They observed with horror the degeneration of the condition of the vast majority of our people in almost all spheres of our lives: public education, health, roads, refuse removal, crime, poverty, joblessness, landlessness, immigration management, and etcetera. The political consciousness and solidarity that defined Biko’s life and work are replaced by crass materialism and conspicuous consumption of the vilest variety.

More uplifting was the expressed notion by many speakers that South Africa does not belong to a political party, leader or section of the population, but to us, the citizens; that it is the duty of all patriots to bend together and prevent our country from falling down the cliff and plunging us into a state of pain, despair and hopelessness.

At the end of the rally, a lot of people were journeying to Cqeberha in preparation for the visit to the cell in which he was detained and tortured at Walmer Police Station, the following morning of the 12th September, the day of his death. In the evening they would be joined by others to listen to a Steve Biko Memorial Lecture by Prof. Jeanine Ntihirageza at the Nelson Mandela University.

Jeanine, although based in the United States, is Burundian by birth, having fled her country due to the Tutsi vs Huti conflict that saw her father being murdered. So, she deeply understands the pain of oppression and the inhumanity of human beings against others.

I returned back home encouraged by the attitude of the citizens of South Africa to stand up for their country. I have seen the same determination when I attended meetings and the conference of the Defend Our Democracy on the 1st and 2nd July this year.

I can only say: Let’s push on.

 *Mosibudi Mangena is a former President of Azapo, ex-Deputy Minister of Education and former Minister of Science and Technology in SA.