BIKO'S LEGACY: A portrait of Steve Biko, on a continental pillow case in the African-focused Xarra Books, in Joburg. The writer urges the embrace of timeless virtues immortalised by the gallant fighter. Picture: Denis Farrell / AP
Dear Biko, Since you’ve been gone, a lot has happened.

When you left on September 12, 40 years ago, Luthuli was long gone under suspicious circumstances. We recently marked the 50th anniversary of his passing.

Like Timol, maybe your death and that of Luthuli will be soon subjected to an inquest so that we can know the truth and bring perpetrators to justice.

Fortuitously, when Luthuli died 10 years before you he had inaugurated the armed struggle and bequeathed powerful ideas about a peaceful South Africa.

The liberation movement remained banned when you were entombed.

Tambo was leading from Zambia. Mandela was a prisoner. Sobukwe’s health was rapidly deteriorating leading to his death a year after you.

Remember how Tutu saved Buthelezi at that funeral. Only poor health from years of unbearable conditions in solitary confinement freed the professor from the draconian "Sobukwe Clause" which condemned him to a lifetime prisoner.

You witnessed the Sharpeville massacre and your revolutionary ideas inspired the 1976 students uprising. Need I remind you of the earlier (1973) Coronation factory strike which signalled the revival of labour activism in the face of deepening repression. Not even the abusive appeals to Zulu nationalism could quell workers' unease.

When your lifeless body was pulled to its final resting place by a donkey cart in the dusty streets of Ginsberg (Eastern Cape), many young people were leaving the country to join the armed struggle.

Jails were getting full; so were the cemeteries. This was long before limousines carried coffins. You wouldn’t have imagined the phenomenology of Zodwa WaBantu and Babes Wodumo in the contemporary moment.

But Biko, since you left a lot has happened. Inkatha morphed into a killing machine and later reformed into a modern party displacing the ANC in crucial elections at eSandlwana (Nquthu).

Remember the ANC which was long banned when you died; yes that one which once led the liberation movement, self-styled as the broad church!

Today you’ll frown if you saw the extent of its internal divisions. Even its own documents tell tales of a ruling party increasingly at odds with the people. They talk of the “social distance” between the leadership and the masses.

Since you’ve been gone, Cosatu was formed, became a force in the body politic of South Africa, or Azania as you preferred to call it. Even as it fractured and its star started to dim, it still fought for the national minimum wage and partially remains at the table making important noises.

You were long dead when the UDF and the MDM (Mass Democratic Movement) solidified in the 1980s. You did not live to witness 1985, the year of the youth as declared by the UN. From that year, old people couldn’t tell us anything. We were burning those Putco buses and stoning municipality buildings.

That was the year of “pass-one, pass-all”, the year of the tear gas and Oqonda - violent stooges of the Homeland Police.

And Biko we must report to you, Mandela did come out prison in February 1990 and Tambo came back from exile to bless the negotiated settlement; although he didn’t live long enough to witness Mandela moved to the state house.

You do know that there was no insurrection.We settled. The war ended in a draw. We got the right to vote and associate. The white man got the right to the land.

Biko, we report to you that Hani, like you, also died brutally at the hands of the hating white man.

Take comfort however Mr Biko, albeit momentarily, that the ideas of our martyrs never died. They remain an inspiration even to the born “frees”, free to vote and associate but oppressed economically and psychologically.

Remember Biko that you died for more than ideas.Your sights were firmly set on economic justice as well. Just like Lembede who inspired you, you believed that political freedom is meaningless until conditions are created for black people to reach their full potential as humans, not as non-whites in a Eurocentric ecosystem.

Biko, thanks to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, today we have social media which has facilitated the rebirth of Biko and your fellow revolutionaries like Sankara and Fanon.

Our youth are not at ease.They are calling for Rhodes to fall.They have taken Rhodes down in Cape Town, the colonial city. Yes, she remains a colonial city whose political economy humiliates black people, but in your name her colonial symbols like Rhodes are falling.

Decolonisation committees have now been formed at major tertiary institutions to explore ways of pursuing epistemological and linguistic justice.

We must apologise that Helen Zille who made a name for herself writing about your passing retains the levers of power that reinforce colonialism in the Cape.

Zille is not alone in political indifference. She has the likes of Penny Sparrow. There is a lot of hurtful democratic indifference among our ranks too.

That other bearded fellow who tried to be a Dalai Lama of bigotry, had his life cut short by exploited farmworkers in the now North West. Marikana also happened in that province. Elsewhere Tatane died demanding basic services.Times are tough in free South Africa. Maybe you need to know about the death of Bomba of Mpumalanga and Magaqa of KwaZulu-Natal.

Both were councillors of the ruling party who died in what are now accepted to be politically motivated killings. Bra Steve, you will be uneasy if we tell you they were killed not by the white oppressors who killed Tiro and September.

By the way, did you hear that Mamphela tried her luck in electoral politics? Her exit was as spectacular as her unceremonious entry. She had even tried to make friends with condescending liberals that she once opposed in the 1970s.

Yes, the self-love and black solidarity you told us about is disappearing into thin air. If we don’t agree with you, politically, we annihilate you. If we see you as being weak and vulnerable, we rob and rape you.

We burn schools and libraries, although you warned us against such. Nihilism is here. Not only do we thieve, rape and kill women and children, we now eat their flesh too.

Mafeje’s alterity that characterised us under colonialism and apartheid is now a companion of the vulnerable in society. We abuse and under-serve them. We learnt from the master, sir.

Thanks to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, your ideas, reawakened by growing inequality and social exclusion, have proliferated. They are our lighthouse.

Daily, if not minute by minute, young people use social media to engage on subjects as heavy as the existential crises facing black people in a unipolar neoliberal world order up to such uncomfortable matters as sexuality and the representativeness of national symbols.

Rhodes has fallen at UCT, a milestone in the destruction of cultural oppression. Fees are also falling, opening the doors of education for our youth.

As I contemplate this note to you sir, I stand here listening to a professor give an account of the milestones of the decolonisation project that young people for whom you are zeitgeist, fought for.

Biko, you are not dead. At least not yet. Lack of economic, linguistic, psychological and epistemological freedom keeps you alive.

Biko, we are not at ease.

Biko lives!

* Ngcaweni is a public servant writing in his personal capacity.

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

The Star