Steve Biko, a role model for today?

by Pamela Maringa

This year marks forty years since the assassination of one of the icons of the liberation struggle, Bantu Stephen Biko. Recently we celebrated and commemorated Steve Biko’s dedication and commitment to teaching black people to be proud, confident and assertive. Biko was one of the early leaders of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. He is known as the “Father” of Black Consciousness in South Africa. The movement aimed to unite Black people and to oppose white supremacy. It also sought to liberate black people psychologically through the realization of black worth and the need for black activism. Biko was brutally killed in custody by the police for his ideas of empowering the black nation.

As we celebrate this icon, one of the things that stands out about him, is the fact that Biko was only thirty years old when he was killed. Yet he was wiser than most people his age. It is almost as if he lived before his time. There is so much that we as young people can learn from his life. My favourite quote, from his book I Write What I Like, “One cannot be free unless one has attained mental freedom”. This means that unless we as South Africans free our psyche from being dependant on others, we will not be free.

Biko always emphasised self-reliance. He believed that it was unethical and shameful for people to be victims of what he called, “the dependency syndrome”. In his student days, Biko, together with his peers, built a dam in Njwaxa and a clinic in King Williams Town. He set up the Ginsberg Educational Fund which provides funding for university students and was involved in many other development programmes. Today as we look at this concept of self-reliance and mental freedom, people are failing to play their role in living out this ideal. Many young people believe that the government must deliver what they feel they are entitled to. Biko believed that political freedom will, with the passage of time, translate into economic freedom. Instead young people today are living on social grants and handouts because of lack of employment. Have we achieved political freedom?

I truly believe that heroes such as Steve Biko should be celebrated throughout the year. Young people need to be constantly reminded of such leaders. South Africa needs leaders of this calibre. Looking at Biko’s life we learn it is possible, even though we are young, to be leaders in our workplace and in our society.

Steve Biko teaches us to stand up for what we believe in and to learn to rely and depend on ourselves rather than on other people. He also teaches us to be fearless and to dream big. The greatest lesson we learn from Biko is to be proud of who we are, to respect our human dignity and to embrace our cultures and languages because they are beautiful. Biko believed that by standing together, we can fight for the change we need in our Society.

As the saying goes, “Show me your friends, and I will tell you who you are”. I say: “Show me your role models and I will tell you who you will become.”

Ms Pamela Maringa
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