By Veli Mbele
In most cases, when we examine the political phenomenon that is uBab’uBantu Biko, we often focus more on his razor-sharp intellect, eloquence and organisational genius. We rarely look at his leadership persona.
Leading up to our recent #Mutapa Biko lecture, I was telling my Brother and fellow activist, Shweme Vuyisile Mshudulu that I am not sure how many Black activists actually understand the depth of uMgcina’s (Biko) contribution to Black liberation.
I was telling him that, for the 10 years that he was politically active, Biko helped found a national liberation movement (SASO/BPC), a number of Black self-help projects, produced an insightful set of political essays, and through them, reignited Black political activism and hope in Black people, at a time when they had been terrorised into silence.
Even when he was no longer the primary formal leader of SASO/BPC, Biko did his utmost to show the leadership of the African National Congress ( ANC), Pan Africanist Congress ( PAC), Unity Movement and SAPC, the utmost respect.
He even went as far as to call for the unity of these movements with his Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). But what I find most instructive about Biko’s leadership persona is when, in December 1976, he single-handedly and openly called for the unbanning of the ANC and PAC and the release of the senior leaders.
Biko was in his late 20s when he did most of this. He did this in spite of some of the leaders of these movements often dismissing him and the BCM as ‘immature’, ‘lacking experience’ etc.
And of course the most unfortunate, he would later be branded a ‘CIA agent’ by some of the leaders of the very movements, for whose unbanning, he was fighting.
When Biko and BCM came onto the political scene after the banning of the ANC and the PAC, he could have easily chosen to be haughty (as some political activists or movements have done) and project himself or the BCM as the sole representatives of Black political aspirants in South AfriKKKa.
He didn’t. Instead, Biko chose to be magnanimous and unfortunately, his magnanimity and largeness of mind were not always reciprocated. Below are some extracts from the book ‘I Write What I Like’ that attest to Biko’s maturity, humility and magnanimity.
“Who are the leaders of the black world then if they are not to be found in the apartheid institution? Clearly, black people know their leaders are those people who are either now in Robben Island or in banishment or in exile-voluntary or otherwise. People like Mandela, Sobukwe, Kathrada, M.D, Naidoo and many others will always have a special place of honour in our minds as the true leaders of our people. They may have been branded communists, saboteurs or similar names – in fact, they may have been convicted of similar offences in law courts but this doesn’t subtract from the real essence of their worth. These were people who acted with a dedication unparalleled in modern times. Their concern with our plight as black people made them gain the natural support of the mass of black people. We may disagree with some things they did but know that they spoke the language of the people.”-Biko.S.(2004) I Write What I like, p40.
“America must insist on South Africa recognising the need for legitimate non-government-initiated platforms like the Black People’s Convention. Equally, organisations banned in the past like the African National Congress should be re-allowed to operate in the country. America must call for the release of political prisoners and banned people like Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Steve Biko, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Barney Pityana and the integration of these people in the political process that shall shape the things to come.” –Biko.S.(2004), I Write What I Like,p160.
“I personally would like to see fewer groups. I would like to see groups like ANC, PAC and the Black Consciousness Movement deciding to form one liberation group. It is only, I think when black people are so dedicated and so united in their cause that we can effect the greatest results.”-Biko.S.(2004) I Write What I Like, p169.
Veli Mbele is an Afrocentric essayist, political historian and secretary of the Black Power Front
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