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Dear Biko

In these times of open letters I have decided to pen one to you, and I feel it is long overdue. That we can write open letters without fear or favour should make you proud as one of the bringers of our freedom. So thank you for walking that path so we, your progeny, may never have to walk it. And may we never abuse these freedoms.
I must say I miss your voice of reason. Since you’ve been gone the gains have been very little and the sacrifices plenty for this freedom of ours. Do not worry I have no intention of whining but rather I seek answers that will propel us into action, because you’re a hands-on kind of a guy, this is the depth of your passion.

I remember your calculation of what the apartheid state would do were they to be forced to cede power to the rightful owners. You spoke of a buffer zone that would help protect their ill-gotten privileges. How did you know?

South Africa is the richest economy in Afrika. This is true and it is beautiful – but who are these rich people when two thirds of the country lives on under R2 500 a month? And who are these poor people living such miserly lives?
Why has every state initiative to alleviate poverty and balance the scales of justice failed? Why has the face of our oppression become so invisible? Discussed over tea by the elite who have no intention of being hands on.

You spoke of a separation of powers. Today I see the effects of the separation of political power from economical power spanning the last 18 years. I also see the overzealousness of the buffer zoners in pursuit of excellence in buffer zoning. I see the advent of neocolonialism because the buffer zoners have been duped into doing nothing for their people, playing into the stereotype that we are not capable of governing ourselves, and playing into the hands of our oppressors. Of course you cannot govern without passion and love for your constituency. And when you have passion and love you have vision.

The truth is we are a defeated people. You knew that and you planned for it. You planned our revival and put it to paper so it would outlive you. How could we have gotten it so wrong?

We bent over backwards for the idea of freedom and in the process lost the right to raise our fists in the air in salute of the people’s power. That power had been swindled right under our feet in secret meetings while we were caught up in the euphoria of a free Mandela. Secret meetings that would create a buffer zone to lull us into a rainbow slumber.

How much of a sacrifice do we require of our leaders? Is 27 years enough? Is your death enough? Did you even choose to be a leader for us to have all these expectations of you? Or was it a matter of circumstance?

As obviously has become apparent, the outcome of the secret meetings was not the desired one for us. What should happen now?

I’m asking you because you connected people, got them on the same page. The ball game is slightly different now. The fight is to now inspire. Our leaders lack the will to do right. Our people have given away power over their lives.

See, you were right. This freedom has to start on the inside. I can believe that despite the skewed negotiations of 1992, you would still have pushed a rigorous education campaign because education trumps all oppression. Education is initiation into life, it teaches us how to fish. Skewed negotiations or not we would have made strides that would have equipped us with enough knowledge to dismantle this system that has such a chokehold on our everyday existence even in the days of our ‘freedom’. This knowledge in the hands of a few becomes either a weapon to be used against the masses or, it is used to give reason to ridicule those who dare impart it to the masses. They become ostracized by a society well experienced in policing itself.

Now education has become a class symbol. I remember walking barefoot to school. Uniform 2 sizes too small, on a stomach filled with sour milk or sweet water and umphokoqo (pap). I remember my teachers were not so well equipped, what with Bantu Education and all – but I remember their passion. I remember the books that were available to me at school. I remember Michael Jackson’s soy mince and pap lunch meal donations. The feeling in the air was that education was the way out. Most of us never bunked school. Those who did, had to hide from the whole community because everyone was your parent and had a right to spank you all the way back to school. It was more about the quality of the knowledge/education than it was about whether we were freezing our buttocks off, barefoot in winter, in windowless classrooms. This knowledge gave us the tools to break our oppression so that no other child would have to go through that.

I remember also that your understanding of the freedom that education brings stems from being shaped by a similar environment. This environment shaped most of our leaders as well.

That is why I fail to understand the disconnect between our leaders and us, the people, today. How have they failed to use those tools to implement change? How could they feel better than the rest when they were once where the majority of our people are stuck in? How did they get to those positions if they are so uninterested in the plight of the people? Or what has changed?

I believe that, overwhelmed by the weight of concessions made at the negotiations, our leaders decided to save themselves and their families rather and do what they can for the rest. So our wellbeing became a job for them instead of the next stage of our liberation. That is why they are so hard on us and are even slightly disgusted when they see the true face of blackness in our stark poverty. Then they will say things like, ‘pull up your socks, no one owes you anything’. This can only be a show of their disgust at their own failure, again playing right into the hands of our oppressors. I can imagine that this weighs heavily on those within the power structures who do not see governance as a job but phase 3 of liberation. I feel for them.
Now ‘blacks are lazy’ has become the mantra of the privileged and those who aspire to privilege, even as they are being served on, hand and foot, by our broken backed mothers and fathers.

This is what makes me sad ‘Ta Biko. We have become agents of our own demise. We no longer have a common vision. Individualism becomes a trap if not understood within the concept/context of Ubuntu. Unfortunately it is a trap that ensnares not only those who fall into it but anyone else within reach. We have become victims of individualism, populism and of our leaders’ shortsightedness. These leaders, rather than put their heads together and draft a way forward after The Deceit, they squabble over positions and ideals, dividing us – and the people lose. At election time they bring our people bags of millie meal, t shirts, and remind them who pays their social grants. Do you think a revolution is necessary to bring everyone back to the fold? Or is there a chance we can still talk to each other?

Afrika has always had royalty, in fact has thrived on royalty. This has been our system of governance from time immemorial. It is all we know. So I have no issues with political royalty. Because royalty status could be withdrawn from one family and given to another if the people deemed this to be the best course of action. Yes, we had our National Executive Councils even then. I only take issue with royalty when it does not realize that the people anointed it to serve the nation, not the other way round.

Why do we need governance if not for this?

Unfortunately, unlike in the olden days, we cannot break away from this mother tribe called South Africa and form a new tribe because the rules have changed. We have to stand our ground and fight for a better life. What must we do with all this brokenness? Tell me.

Could it be that it is only now that we are truly defeated? Because I find that the symbol of our oppression is being blackened everyday, while the true perpetrators lurk in the shadows. Could it be that now we will deliver ourselves willingly to neocolonialism because it was right, we are like children, simple minded and incapable of governing ourselves? I ask because this sentiment is growing out here. There is no cohesion in South Africa, there is especially no cohesion within the black community. It is dog eat dog out here. Our centuries’ old fear of being irrelevant and less haunts us, making us trample over each other’s heads to get to the top. It is brutal. The ultimate goal is to be a white black person with your own minions. The boss whose posterior everyone kisses. Yes we want the car, the suit, the job, the farm. And that is ok – but we don’t enjoy it unless there are others below who can envy us – and that is not ok. This is the individualism and lack of vision I am talking about. It breeds greed and a classist superiority. These are traits of a defeated people not comfortable in their own skin. Surely in a country riddled by racist oppression we cannot afford that. It is a vicious cycle and will not end well. Why is our happiness and contentment dependent on being better than others? Is this not how societies break down? Why can’t we work towards equality?

Our society is a reflection of who we truly are. The crime, hate, rape, anger, greed, powerlessness, poverty, lack of empathy, is a reflection of a rot in our society. I foresee either a revolution or a police welfare state, unless we, the people, engage on these questions truthfully.
I have so many questions. And the answers are mapped within the questions. I know it is not a single individual that can answer these questions, but all of us. The answers lie within. However; we could do with guidance. Someone to just plonk us on the right path and shake us out of our slumber.

I miss your voice of reason.


About Simphiwe Dana

Musician, Writer, Activist, Mom


11 thoughts on “Dear Biko

  1. A must-read.

    Posted by Perfect | September 13, 2012, 01:02
  2. This craft is so well articulated and honest. An honest outcry to our leaders and visionaries. How I wish they could read this piece and go back to the drawing board. ’tis true that we, black men, are lost souls and need leaders, visionaries and strategists.

    Vuka mnt’ omnyama

    Posted by Siya Nako | September 13, 2012, 02:02
  3. Such a powerful message!I don’t have words to say,you’ve said it all.

    Posted by mawethu | September 13, 2012, 02:22
  4. Dear Simphiwe, thank you for this tribute to this wonderful man! I find the great intellectual work produced by this philosopher of a True Humanity always inspiring and prophetic. My wish is that every child in this country can read and truly understand his message. #TrueHumanity

    Posted by Linda Stewart | September 13, 2012, 02:55
  5. The letter is so powerful and inspiring many of our freedom fighters are dissapointed by what its happening infact their tears are falling on us in their graves asking us sithuleleni when we suffer like this kutheni singamamenemene and not support our brothers and sisters when they are protesting for better living. All we have to do is to change our government and vote for a delivering party for we don’t owe no party loyalty after being mistreated like this from all sides of life of a black being.

    Posted by Thandokazi | September 13, 2012, 11:46
  6. Its like you have been reading my mind…

    Posted by 3rdworldhippie | September 13, 2012, 12:15
  7. There was a question posted on radio and Twitter this morning: ‘what is the role of whiteness in Black Consciousness’. Maybe Steve Biko would have been able to answer?

    Your letter stirs huge emotion in me, some contradictory in nature. But overwhelmingly a sense of concern for our country, to find a way for us to live and survive, where the concept of ‘wealth’ is not only monetary, but also the ability to live with dignity, to meet the basic needs of our families on a daily basis, the ability to communicate freely, to be complete participants in our beautiful country, to rely on our collective selves, to sustain a society not reliant on our ‘leaders’ but on our ourselves. We CAN talk. Give us a table or a tree and we can plonk our ourselves on the right path

    Posted by Paul Krynauw | September 13, 2012, 15:06
  8. Sad but true! We are fucked!

    Posted by Mfundo | September 14, 2012, 18:29
  9. Why are Europeans called whites because they are more pink than white? I also do not want to be called black because I am not. I am a proudly African.

    Posted by Happy | September 15, 2012, 21:25
  10. Good viva BCMA

    Posted by Siso mchunu | September 24, 2012, 21:56

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