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Forty-one years after his brutal death at the hands of apartheid security police, the spirit and legacy of Black Consciousness Movement leader Bantu Stephen Biko remains a resilient and undying one.


For many, his teachings continue being a source of strength and courage to take on and address the prevailing challenges affecting the black masses – from poverty and inequality in South Africa in general to access to education and employment opportunities for the young people of the country.

These were some of the musings from young people who were part of the panel at the 8th annual Steve Biko memorial lecture, speaking under the theme “Youth Touched by Biko – The Quest for a more Human Face”.

The memorial lecture, held annually at Nelson Mandela University, saw hundreds of school pupils, academics, students, politicians and followers of the Pan-Africanist movement fill the South Campus auditorium to near-capacity.

Panellists shared how Biko’s ideology of Black Consciousness has touched and influenced their own beliefs and informed their activism in their efforts to tackle the present socioeconomic and other challenges in the country. For the students, this was in relation to the #MustFall campaigns of recent years, that called for the decolonization and Africanization of the higher education sector and the widening of access to previously disadvantaged people.

The panellists included Uitenhage High School Grade 10 pupil Camille Jacobs, Mandela University analytical chemistry student and activist Vuyo Tshingila, AZAPO national deputy spokesperson Cikizwa Dabula, Mandela University law student Bwanika Lwanga, black power activist Veli Mbeli and writer, editor and publisher Dr Andile M-Afrika.

Biko lecture panel '18

The panellists at the 8th annual Steve Biko memorial lecture are, from left, Dr Andile M-Afrika, Veli Mbele, Cikizwa Dabula, Vuyo Tshingila, Bwanika Lwanga and Camille Jacobs.

Dr M-Afrika, who authored – among a host of works – the book Touched by Biko: The Interviews, spoke briefly of his upbringing and association with the South African Students Organisation (SASO) that had Biko’s teachings at its intellectual heart.

“To Biko, and SASO, education was very important. SASO advanced our intellect and taught us that besides developing ourselves intellectually, we can work in our own communities ourselves much like the missionaries did, albeit the latter in line with colonial policies,” he said.

The three books he has written on Biko were on sale at the lecture venue.

Panellists spoke about how they saw today’s South Africa as not quite the one envisaged by Biko and his contemporaries, with a shared view that political leaders were removed from those they serve and their needs.

“Are we living in a time that Biko envisaged?” Camille asked in her contribution. “Our government is marred by many challenges – education and health are in a shambles.”

Vuyo told the audience how Biko taught her to express herself.

“It is through Biko’s teachings that black students, through #FeesMustFall, highlighted how the political elite were removed from the needs of the masses,” she said.

Bwanika shared how he grew up in a Pan-African home, which he says exposed him to Biko’s teachings, which have influenced his activism.

“Though Biko [and his ideology] is not so present on this institution ... we all know that when Biko arrives he never leaves,” he said.

“He taught me how to love my self. He taught me solidarity and taking his vision forward. We can’t claim that Biko lives [within us] and not take his works and vision forward. We must work towards an intersectional society.

“Let us also be weary of only dealing with the symptoms, but also tackle the real issues plaguing our society.”

Echoing the sentiments, Veli said: “Indeed a young people touched by Biko ... does not just identify structural inequalities but confronts them courageously.”

Biko, who died in police custody in Pretoria on 12 September 1977, is a revered leader of black consciousness, whose ideology was somewhat captured by his famous statement that “the greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”.

His ideal was for a country where there is no minority or majority, but just people who enjoy the same status before the law and have equal political rights, in a socialist economy.

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Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777