The annual Steve Biko memorial lecture, on the 40th anniversary of his death, laid bare the consequences of mental slavery during and after apartheid while highlighting the importance of a collective black consciousness movement to an audience dominated by young academics and school leavers last night.
Held at the Nelson Mandela University in conjunction with the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (Canrad), the seventh such lecture stirred up strong emotions while showcasing the life and times of Biko.
Professor Molefi Kete Asante, from the department of Africology and African-American studies at the Temple University in Philadelphia in the US, kept the packed auditorium engaged with his emotive talk, which tore down concepts of what black consciousness meant by using Biko’s influence in “the universal struggle for freedom”.
“Wherever you find black people, you find a universal condition. Why? Steve Biko asked this before he turned 30,” Asante said.
“The problem is not inherent in black people – there is nothing wrong with black people except mental slavery and the addiction to whiteness.”
Attended by local government officials, including mayor Athol Trollip, as well as a number of schools, university students, academics and activists, Asante delved into Biko’s proclamations while unpacking his theories and ideologies.
According to Asante, after years of black people being told they were not worthy, it was “no wonder black people think God is white”.
“It worries me that books at schools are those of dead white men and women,” he said.
“Include a sense of [black] consciousness and you will have a different curriculum in the education system.”
He said he did not understand why Biko was not considered one of the greatest leaders of South Africa when he was one of the most revered names in African history.
“He is not just an icon here in Africa, but he is an icon around the world.”
Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo) national chairman Nelvis Qekema said the evening was a special occasion to pay tribute on the 40th anniversary of Biko’s death in detention after being interrogated by state security police in Port Elizabeth.
“On this day 40 years ago a life was lost, somebody died so that you learners could live and live longer,” Qekema said.
“You learners are the leaders of tomorrow.”
Acting NMU vice-chancellor Dr Sibongile Muthwa said the memorial lecture was more special as it fell on the day of Biko’s death and there had been a renewal of interest in the ideologies of Biko.