Two women passing by a poster of Steve Biko. Picture: Cindy Waxa/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Two women passing by a poster of Steve Biko. Picture: Cindy Waxa/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Our youth should pick up the baton left by Steve Biko

By Brian Isaacs Time of article published Jul 7, 2021

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I was studying (1972) at UWC, when I first read about Steve Biko.

I raise the teachings of Steve Biko because I am re-reading Steve Biko‘s book “I write what I like”. What a brave young South African who influenced so many young South Africans at the time when they were looking towards people who could go against the hated apartheid system.

At UWC, I came into contact with student activists such as Mackie Kleinschmidt, Henry King and Allan Liebenberg. Leaders who had the courage to take on the verkrampte Afrikaner leadership of UWC. They gave hope to the students around the country.

Stepping into unknown political waters they filled a huge vacuum caused by the imprisonment of anti-apartheid leaders from the PAC, Non-European Unity Movement, Apdusa (African Peoples' Democratic Union of Southern Africa) and the ANC in the 1960s.

Many of their contemporaries at various “ethnic“ universities around the country banded together in 1969 to form the radical Saso (South Africa Students’ Organisation). Steve Biko was the first president of Saso. It was in opposition to the mainly “white” Nusas (National Union of South African Students).

I have always believed in the world being non-racial but was impressed by the manner in which the oppressed were beginning to express themselves.

Out of this emerged student leaders who would lead the struggle with pride and astuteness and give direction to the oppressed people of South Africa that nothing is impossible politically in the country. We owe these young leaders of the late 1960s and 1970s a lot for pursuing their dream of a free non-racial society where the workers of this country will lead the country to freedom in every sphere of life.

Black consciousness to me arose out of the fact as Steve Biko put it at the Abe Bailey Institute of Inter-racial Studies in Cape Town in 1971: “ Hence thinking along lines of Black Consciousness makes the black man (woman) see himself (herself) as a being entire in himself (herself), and not as an extension of a room or additional leverage to some machine.”

The students became confident about the struggle and what needed to be done. Steve Biko travelled the length and breadth of South Africa giving hope and strength to millions of South African students.

He influenced my life tremendously although at the time I believed and still believe in non-racialism. He risked his life so that we could be free today.

I write this because our young people and especially those at high schools and tertiary institutions must pick up the lessons of those who were involved in the struggle for freedom like the people mentioned above. They must be proud of the progressive political struggle waged by the student leaders in the fight against apartheid and economic exploitation.

Working with the present students I once again feel the seriousness and enthusiasm they are displaying in tackling the issues facing South Africa. Students are changing the role the government, education departments, circuit managers (school inspectors), most school government bodies and most principals want them to play.

They are stating they are not fund-raising bodies but the future leaders of society – leaders at their schools now. They are willing to make a contribution to what is happening in South Africa. The students of 1969 to 1994 were prepared to fight the injustices in South Africa, why not the students today.

Steve Biko in opposition to the apartheid government poked his nose at them and proudly said: “I write what I like”. One of the present education activists in South Africa, Durie Khan says: “I write what is right”.

* Brian Isaacs obtained a BSc (UWC) in 1975, a Secondary Teacher’s Diploma in 1976, BEd (UWC) in 1981, and MEd (UWC) in 1992. He is a former matriculant, teacher and principal at South Peninsula High School.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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