by Nontando Mposo
Monday marks 39 years since South African anti-apartheid activist Stephen (Steve) Bantu Biko died in police custody in a prison cell in Pretoria.
He was founder of the Black Consciousness Movement and questions about the circumstances of his death remain.
During his lifetime, Biko’s writings and activism aimed at empowering black people and he captured the hearts of many here at home and throughout the world. His ideologies are still relevant today and live on in many mediums, including fashion apparel such as T-shirts and various art forms.
Trending in fashion circles is the “Who Killed Biko?” tote bag by stylist and blogger Siki Msuseni . We chatted to the 25-year-old owner of the collaborative platform for creatives in the fashion industry, Pigments Studio, about her statement bags.
What does Steve Biko mean to you?
Steve Biko is the perfect example of a brave, great leader. He was not apologetic of what he stood for… he was a valuable asset in dismantling apartheid. Even though apartheid ended 17 years after his death, he remains one of the forerunners who fought against inequality.
How did the idea for the tote bags come about?
The idea came from my observations that in our (past) school curriculum there was not a lot of information available about South African history. However, a lot of issues that were swept under the rug are coming to the surface 22 years later in post-apartheid South Africa.
I wanted to start a dialogue with ordinary South Africans through these bags. They are a form of activism without saying much. I approached graphic designer Xolani Dani with a brief to create the artwork for the bags which displays a portrait of Steve Biko crying on one side and on the other side the words, “Who killed Biko?”
I am trying to discredit the myth that for one to talk about matters concerning our politics, one needs to be well read and well spoken. The bags are a way of encouraging ordinary South Africans to start a dialogue, to engage and to open up meaningful conversations with each other around political issues.
Describe the customer/person you had in mind when you designed the bags.
This one is for the brave young people of South Africa, the ones who have been brave enough to stand up against the inequality still experienced in today’s South Africa. It’s for a youth that acknowledges the past mistakes of our parents but chooses to move forward in unity. I designed the bags for the young person who associates with the Black Consciousness Movement that Biko created.
What message, if any, are you hoping to carry through with the bags?
I don’t necessarily have a message but want to open a much bigger dialogue where everyone’s opinion about how Steve Biko died are valued. I want this to be a piece of public art that you carry, that will get people talking and looking deeper into our history. I am aware that I may be opening some raw and unhealed wounds, but these are important and necessary conversations we should be having.
If Biko was alive today, what would you say to him?
I have so many things I would say to him. I would thank him for being a vessel of black pride.
He encouraged us to be proud of our black skin and said we have something great to offer to the world.
What would you tell the younger generation about Biko?
I would tell them that conformity is a bad disease that can drown you.
Be like Biko – be brave and challenge the norm.
Always question everything they teach you at school… be revolutionary in your approach to life.
Your favourite Steve Biko quote?
“Black man, you are on your own”
* To connect with Siki or to purchase a Steve Biko tote, visit www.pigmentsbysiki.com or Instagram @SikiMsuseni and @pigments_sa