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Please teach us self-reliance, Uncle Steve

Steve Biko was tortured and beaten in the Sanlam Building in Port Elizabeth, leading to his death in September 1977.

Steve Biko was tortured and beaten in the Sanlam Building in Port Elizabeth, leading to his death in September 1977.

Published Sep 20, 2015


Why weren’t you born later (To) sort out our economic enigma? Victor Kgomoeswana asks Steve Biko

Dear Uncle Steve Biko,

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I promise this is the last time I call on you, at least this Heritage Month, lest I am guilty of taking your name in vain; but I need a one-on-one chat with you, straight up.

Everybody needs an uncle in higher places. You and Amilcar Cabral are the two uncles of relevance in September. He was born in 1924 on September 12, the day on which you were assassinated in 1977. Just like you, Uncle Amilcar – who is credited with the liberation struggles of two countries, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde – had been assassinated for his incisive revolutionary thinking by those driven by fear and hate.

Heritage Day, on September 24, is looming and I need to ask a favour of you. If you do that for me, I will owe you one – as if I do not already.

For my sins, Uncle Steve, I speak and write for a living. On the eve of this holiday, a young man has invited me to facilitate a conversation with him to launch a book he has titled after your Frank Talk campaign. I recall that you used to write powerful messages using that alias, when apartheid had a reputation of banning the truth in the hope that it would fizzle out, forgetting how badly it hates to hide. This book is titled Let’s Talk Frankly – Letters to Influential South Africans.

He is popularly known as JJ Tabane, but he is also the namesake of a Black Consciousness activist from your time, Onkgopotse Tiro, who was killed by a letter bomb after making waves as a university student leader, like you.

Why is it that you were not born later, so that you could talk frankly and help us sort our economic transformation enigma – without paying the ultimate price?

I ask your indulgence one last time, Uncle Steve; and like a good uncle I am sure you will not mind.

Please grant me the following, and I will leave you alone

Teach us to buy black. I was part of a spirited discussion with an organisation of black business leaders, entrepreneurs, even government officials and politicians earlier this week. The organisation is the Black Business Council. It comprises several affiliate black business organisations that are trying to intensify the economic transformation of our country.

Sadly, much as I agree with the sentiments of this organisation, because we have had 21 years of political freedom without economic justice, I wish it would run equally aggressive campaigns to get black people to buy from one another more.

Otherwise, what good is a black person who is out there chasing a BEE deal, when they deny their own entrepreneurs their private or corporate procurement budgets?

Please, Uncle Steve, breathe your spirit down upon us to pursue this critical ingredient of our economic emancipation, with the same vigour with which we conference or workshop.

Second, Uncle Steve, self-reliance. I listened with apprehension this week when our president effectively blamed the refugee crisis in Africa on European countries.

“I’m sure it will be appropriate, Your Excellencies, to underline this point because you all recall that before the Arab Spring and before the killing of Gaddafi, there were no refugees fleeing or flocking to the European countries.”

Excuse me!

Why would Europe or any colonial power prioritise solving a problem that pinches us most? Was this not the reason you broke away from National Union of South African Students to form the South African Students’ Organisation, in the first place? Perhaps, if you spoke from your vantage position, our leaders and all Africans would appreciate that it behoves us to make sure that Africans feel reassured that Europe offers a more viable escape.

Thousands of Africans drown in the Mediterranean trying to flee to European countries. To a large extent, South Africa is hosting millions of immigrants from other African countries. Even worse, Uncle Steve, several African heads of state cannot trust their national hospitals to treat them when they are ill. Will Europe fix this as well?

Although it is factual that most if not all of the wars across Africa can trace their roots to colonial interference, I object to our inability to address the resultant socio-economic priorities with the urgency they deserve, until they explode.

When communities demand service delivery, we accuse them of being political pawns. When workers ask for higher wages, we do not mind their being shot and no one being blamed for their deaths. Remember how, when police torture killed you, no one could be held accountable?

The Arab Spring was fuelled by external influence because there were unresolved internal issues.

The first country to trigger the Arab Spring, Tunisia, did not flare up because of external interference. It was detonated when a 25-year-old street vendor called Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight on December 17, 2010.

He buckled under the pressure of desperation when his wares were confiscated. The dead-end street in which he found himself pushed him to the edge. We have many Bouazizis in all African countries who turn to crime because they have lost faith in their countries’ ability to offer them opportunity to meet their basic needs through enterprise or employment.

Uncle Steve, perhaps I am asking too much. If nothing else, please hook us up with the right consultant to help us learn self-reliance, Black Consciousness and use our private or corporate buying power to support black entrepreneurs.

If you do me this small favour, Uncle Steve, I promise to be a good nephew and make you eternally proud by taking my place in the realm of Black Consciousness Africans, not through what I say, but through what I do.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business, anchor of CNBC Africa’s weekly show Africa Business News and anchor of the daily show Power Hour on PowerFM. He writes in his personal capacity.

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

The Sunday Independent

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