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In which Steve Biko’s life invokes unpatriotism in me

By Lawrence Hoba

I am 31. I am born-free, and as if that is not enough, I still feel that I have nine years before life really starts. I mean, there is still some time for me to lose myself, forget the world and change nothing before I try to do anything meaningful.

All my life I have never had to question my being a born free. I have gullibly accepted this moniker, knowing that it bestows upon me certain rights, and perhaps no responsibilities, that those who liberated this country reserve for themselves and a select few. Who cares about responsibilities? After-all, I haven’t met any bill of responsibilities in my years in school or the working world.

But rights, one cannot take rights lightly. I know those who sold out during the liberation struggle or chose to make tea for the whites will not, and cannot be allowed to enjoy the rights of liberators. As a born-free, with no history of selling-out, I have celebrated with the liberators, every year for as long as I can remember, the end of white oppression and the birth of freedom. I have helped bar those who, whether black or white, should not enjoy the rights of freedom. After-all, this is freedom on our own terms, which does not have to be based on any white ideals.

So maybe it is a revelation that, while counting down the end to my 31 years on this earth, I come upon a book commemorating the life and death of Steve Bantu Biko; a man who died when he was, my age. Of course I have heard of Steve Biko before, I even have a clip I downloaded from youtube on him, but never before had I seen so many voices speaking on different occasions about the man. It was the range of these people, from Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki to Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Chinua Achebe and a whole host of other luminaries in-between that got me to paying a little more attention.

Reading through each article talking about Biko in its own way, I could not help but focus on my own worthlessness, ineptitude and cowardice. Here was a man who died at 31, the same number of years in which I haven’t even started to live, and he had changed the world so much so that four decades later, his ideals and ideologies are still fresh. Thabo Mbeki would not even shy from saying that, Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement reawakened even the ANC and liberation movement, after a decade of retreat in which virtually nothing else had happened towards the fight for freedom.

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So, it is maybe not strange that something is also awakened in me by the man’s life. Is it that I have lacked consciousness? Have I not looked around me and realised, like youthful Biko that maybe life is what is happening to me while I plan to make the big change at forty?

But Karl Marx says, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Given such profound words, I want to absolve myself, to think that maybe Biko had a driving force behind his ideals and ideologies, and may not have had them if he was born-free. I am free, born free, and enjoy my rights. I don’t have to worry about racism, about colonialism or even oppression. Even Biko stated that the Black consciousness approach would be irrelevant in a colourless and non-exploitative, egalitarian state. Like Zimbabwe.

In chastising South Africa and maybe me, Trevor Manuel said, “Perhaps there is something consistently wrong in our communication of the message of freedom, perhaps we have lulled our people into a sense that the struggle had ended the precise moment when the flag changed?”

I want to argue with Manuel. To tell him that maybe there is no need for continuously focusing on a new kind of freedom because we are black people ruling each other. How will Biko’s Black Consciousness apply to my present circumstances, if it is a fellow black person in power?

Yet, looking at my life, at my ever-increasingly deplorable circumstances, at the dreams and hopes I have watched pass by annually, I feel tears filling my eyes. Is it that maybe I have been blind all along? Have I forgotten my responsibilities (those things no one taught me about) to myself and fellow Zimbabweans? Or is it that my liberators have systematically and consistently made it more and more difficult for me to understand what it means to be free, to have freedom, in the same way they understood freedom back then when faced with White oppression.

Is it that with each passing Independence celebration with the liberators, as it has become a bigger and even more pronounced event on 18 April I have also been losing my independence. That even as memories of the oppression by white people fade into a more than 3-decades ago tired narrative and by not looking out for new forms of oppression and demanding responsibility upon myself and my liberators, I have been systematically losing my rights and ultimately my freedom.

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Or have I, like my fellow countrymen in our millions, made myself so unconcerned with that which concerns me that I have lost my consciousness, and in the process if I am to use the Heideggardian phrase, made myself easily guidable by another to wherever the guide wants to take me, even to my own death.

It is then that I question myself, did freedom start at the same time that oppression should have been ending in Zimbabwe in 1980, 3 years before I was born? I become conscious then to the fact that freedom is not a permanent state but an ideal which maybe neither has an end nor a beginning, but exists in an ever-changing state. And that daily, maybe we have to watch out and ensure that freedom still exists, and we are fighting for it; for in oppression freedom is born and in freedom, oppression lurks.

For who can know where freedom ends and where it starts? And maybe, just as must, I came across an in-depth look at the life, actions and philosophies of Steve Biko as I am about to see the end of my 31st year. For the first time I feel my own consciousness being awaked. I realise that I have to redefine what it means to be born-free, to be a Zimbabwean, and a human being who leaves a legacy that will transcend generations.

But in the meantime, as I become Biko’s intern, let me be conscious and ascertain my right to draw an image of myself that negates and transcends the image of myself that was drawn by those who would weaken my fight for asserting my humanity, even if that means I will not see the last days of my 31 years before I turn 32. Indeed, “it is better to die for an idea that lives than to live for an idea that dies.”

Source: – Lawrence Hoba’s Linked

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