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Steve Biko’s vision for South Africa was nurtured by courage and commitment and a desire to attain integrity of life, writes Itumeleng Mosala.
Johannesburg - There are two basic parts of what might be called Steve Biko’s vision of South Africa. The one part has to do with his assessment of South Africa’s collective social anthropology.
The one side of this anthropological coin of South Africa consists of the psyche and self-conception of white South Africans who from the beginning, throughout the passage of South Africa’s history and as we speak – protestations and legalities notwithstanding – regard themselves as and feel superior to blacks in general and South African blacks in particular.
The other side of the coin has to do with the distortions and damage of colonialism on the soul and psyche of black South Africans who throughout the history of their interactions with the subjects of colonialism and the protagonists of white racism have regarded themselves as and feel inferior to white people.
Biko articulated his views on this collective anthropology of South Africans clearly and simply when he wrote, “Whites must be made to realise that they are only human, not superior. Same with blacks. They must be made to realise that they are also only human, not inferior.”
In that understanding lay the vision of a South Africa that should have been.
This part of Steve Biko’s vision, therefore, was nurtured by courage and commitment and a desire to attain integrity of life. Some are alive to witness the post-1994 South Africa, but many fell in the Struggle in other countries and in prisons in our own country, the country of their birth.
The question arises 36 years later as to what is the political balance sheet of our country given the sacrifices of South Africans like Steve Biko? Can we read the balance sheet together today and forecast our country’s prospects?
My reading is this: our country is in trouble. There is, however, nothing unique about that. Many countries are in trouble. But ours is a deep crisis of leadership. We have had problems of leadership before in this country. Nothing is new in that sense.
There were times when the genuine leaders of our people and country were in prison, or exile, or dead from murders committed by the authorities in police detentions. In those same times the government leadership under apartheid was simply bad leadership with highly questionable moral integrity and suspicious intellectual wherewithal. Our country and people were like sheep without a shepherd.
For more than 40 years the world and our people understood our crisis of leadership and came to our rescue in more ways than one. We lacked leadership and yet we had leaders. The world supported our struggle to bring back our leaders to their rightful roles, to lead their country and their people. The leaders actually existed and exhibited the moral integrity required for leadership. Sobukwe existed and had the moral and intellectual integrity to lead; Mandela existed and had the moral and intellectual integrity to lead; Biko existed and had the intellectual and moral integrity to lead.
Today we are celebrating the specific contribution of Steve Bantu Biko to freedom and democracy in South Africa. We do this by remembering the leadership he provided to students and communities through struggle. One day, though, we shall celebrate his contribution to liberation.
How, then, can we not reflect on the situation of leadership in our country at this point as we remember Biko’s legacy and reflect on the contemporary politics of South Africa? We are leaderless in every area of our society today. I am not suggesting there are no people in important positions of leadership in our society. There are, of course, people in places and positions of leadership. But where is the leadership – in the economy, education, youth matters, student affairs, in academia, in politics? Where are the men and women of stature and integrity? Where is the voice of leadership that can be respected by the majority, if not all, our people because it speaks truth in a helpful and constructive manner? Where are the boys and girls of promise in whom we can see the future leadership qualities without which our country is doomed? Where is the leadership in the media? Not the noise; not the hyperbole; not self-righteous mediocrity.
If you want to see whether you have a healthy leadership profile in the country you must assess the health of the organisations which we have. Usually, healthy organisations exist because there is a healthy national or community leadership profile. I have been arguing that our country is in trouble at the leadership level. I now argue that bad leadership translates into bad organisations. Our business organisations are in bad shape – as a result, the South African economy has been in ICU forever; our church organisations are in trouble. A good sign of that is an unending proliferation of bishops. Our political organisations are sick; the ANC is unwell; the PAC and Black Consciousness Movement are languishing; the DA and all others of its ilk have never been well.
The ill-health of our societal organisation reflects directly on the state of bad leadership that our country is stuck with.
Above all, we have a crisis of identity. South Africa has no national identity. We never strived to build one and so we achieved none. There is no black identity; there is no white identity. There is no solidified working class identity. We are an unreconstructed colonial mess. We suffer the confusions and contradictions that were suffered by the progressive forces of French society during the revolutions of 1848 to 1851 in France.
The second part of Biko’s vision relates to his understanding of a non-racial society. It is a society that has to be fought for and not simply declared, as ours was. Who does not know that the non-racial project in South Africa has failed? In general, only white South Africans believe.
* Mosala is former leader of Azapo.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.