INDEPENDENT MEDIA A member of Azapo holds a banner during a march to Pretoria Central Prison in 2007 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Steve Bikos death. File picture: Bongiwe Mchunu
It speaks to all of us on what can be done to free so many South Africans from the shackles of poverty, says Tutu Faleni.
Pretoria – The period of reflection on the time and life of Steve Biko puts those who cherish the Biko legacy in a precarious position. Many of us have resorted to throwing the Biko legacy into the dustbin of history and those who are privileged to possess the authority to write history have reduced the Biko legacy to the fringes of our collective national memory.
The true legacy of Steve Biko cannot be obliterated from our national memory and neither can it be thrown out of the broader political discourse on post-apartheid South Africa.
In fact the Biko legacy is more relevant to us as South Africans than ever before.
At the core of Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness messages is the need for those who are affected by political oppression and economic exploitation to change their mental attitude to free themselves from all forms of subjugation.
The Biko legacy speaks to all of us on what can be done to free so many South Africans from the shackles of poverty.
Ours is the most unequal society in the world and this is confirmed by the 2013 Global Wealth Report on global inequality.
The seriousness of the inequality challenge is further reinforced by the assertion made in the report that two of the richest people in South Africa own the same as 50% of the population.
Poverty and inequality have reduced most of the people to a state of economic exclusion and human degradation.
We need to articulate and act on the legacy of Steve Biko so that it prickles our consciences and propels us to collective action aimed at drastically narrowing the gap between the extremely rich and the poor. The warning to billionaires by American presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is relevant to the South African situation, that is: “Your greed is destroying South Africa, and we are going to end your greed!”
This would be Steve Biko’s message to the super wealthy people of South Africa. Such a warning should not only be a veiled threat but be accompanied by fierce contestation around what would be the best economic policies that would liberate our people from the degradation of poverty.
Biko’s legacy directs all of us to review the deteriorating economic situation in our country, which has left many families without food on their tables.
The decline of the mining industry which for years has been the backbone of our economy has left many people facing poverty. Despite the recent agreement between the industries, the looming retrenchment in both the mining and steel industries could ultimately result in more people becoming poor and more families starving.
A five-year study by the University of Cape Town’s African Food Security Unit Network in 2013 has revealed shocking information on the level of poverty and hunger gripping the country. It showed that more than 12 million South Africans go to bed hungry every night. It further exposed a food crisis that constitutes a “death sentence” for many and which the government has labelled as “serious”.
The plight of the poor and hungry was highlighted in 2011 when four children, aged between two and nine, died in a farmer’s field as they began an 18km walk in search of their mother and food in Verdwaal, North West. It was later discovered that they had not eaten for more than a week. The Biko legacy compels us to seek answers on how after 21 years of democracy we still have hunger and poverty at a scale that leaves all of us afraid that unless drastic measures are taken starvation will soon engulf the poor majority.
Professor Xolela Manqcu has proposed an alternative definition to Biko’s Black Consciousness where he argues that it should be seen as a historical experience instead of a racial one. But like all historical phenomena, historical experiences are subject to interpretation.
While history has created a majority of black people who have poor education and lack the required skills in the market, history again is creating a considerable number of white people who are beginning to experience a decline in their economic standard of living.
At the same time history in South Africa has given rise to a growing black middle class and a small super-wealthy class who are primarily beneficiaries of a misguided black economic empowerment economic philosophy.
Given such a situation, Steve Biko would compel all stakeholders to put their hand on deck and steer the country towards a situation where the economy would grow by double digits, industries would flourish and more people would get jobs, small business grow and employ more people than big industries.
The Biko legacy would direct all the stakeholders to grow the economy instead of some short-sighted politicians insisting on taking over mines and banks.
The important Biko legacy should not only redirect us towards seeking a balanced economy which provides security for employers and workers but also renew our focus as a nation on the complex issues of land restitution. It is commonly accepted that South Africa’s programme of land restitution and racial land redistribution (so-called “land reform”) have moved slowly over the past 21 years. Such an observation is based largely upon the failure of the ANC-led government to come close to reaching its redistribution target.
If the ANC government had chosen as its objective a sensible target rather than an absurd one for land redistribution it would be able today to proclaim its great success. Biko’s legacy would require all of us to accelerate the distribution of land, which will in the end help uplift the majority out of poverty.
In our quest to reconstruct Steve Biko’s legacy we need to go beyond and locate it within the harsh socio-economic challenges of the country.
* Dr T Faleni is a DA member of the North West Provincial Legislature.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.