Steve BikoIn our Mind the Gap framework we speak of how Xers cannot remember insitutionalised apartheid. I am one of them. Graeme posted earlier about the Youth Day public holiday on 16th June here in South African that commemorates the youth riots of 16th June 1976. Being a white 26 year old South African I have found the last decade and a half of transformation quite bland. This is for a few reasons. In part, I was sheltered from the news and experience of emergency state-like events of the 1980s because of propogandised media and the comfort of white suburbia. And then, as Barrie would say, a fish does not know it is wet as it has no benchmark of dryness to measure against. I grew up, and began my conscious awakening amidst the changes in South Africa, not really knowing where we had come from in terms of institutionalised apartheid.
And so, in recent years I have begun to explore my history as a South African … the history not taught to me when I was in school. I visited Soweto for the first time on June 10th this year. Feeling surprisingly safe, I drove past a sign that pointed to the Hector Pieterson Memorial. I decided then to visit the Memorial before the 16th. The Memorial requires a post of its own, but on the day I picked up a book called I write what I like by Steve Biko. In wanting to get in touch with significant characters of the past few decades, I’d heard a little about Biko and thought this book would be a nice starting point to learn about the man who headed up the Black Consciousness movement in South Africa.
Biko, under his pseudonym Frank Talk and through transcripts of his trial in 1975, speaks of how the physical manifestations of apartheid i.e. segregation resulted in significant emotional and psychological results that were the real intentions behind the regime. As the National Party came to power in 1948 apartheid gained momentum with the 1st generation of blacks experiencing the effects of the inferiority complex manifested by the system. As the years went on, we had a new generation (Boomers) who were born into the system, who in a manner similar to my growing up in a new dispensation, never knew of the relative freedom enjoyed by the parents before 1948. They inherited the inferiority complex. We then had young black who began to recognise this malaise and began to develop a renewed sense of self in their balckness. This movement was embodied in Biko’s Black Consciousness philosophy where balck people “rediscovered their soul”. This was the generation who protested against the teaching medium of Afrikaans on June 16th.
Biko was in his 20s at this stage. As a 20-something myself, I am amazed at how articulate and intellegient Biko was in his second language of English. He wasn’t ahead of his time like most social revolutionaries. No. Instead, he was beyond his years as a social commentator and revolutionary.
Now comes a new generation who have been born into the Rainbow Nation where apartheid is history. Standing in the Pieterson Musuem I was surrounded by a hundred black school children on tour. They were at least 10 years old. Being directed by their Boomer teachers, these youths displayed an intruge in facing a world they have not grown up in. Their teachers were serious about getting their students to understand the pain of the past and the amazing changes that have taken place in our country. And so, we have 3 generations who have experienced every side side of a revolution: forced segregation, protest, freedom. How does a new generation get in touch with the pain of the past and the joy of the freedom they do not have to fight for?
Some older whites may be surprised at my interest in Biko’s writing. In many ways he was demonised through propoganda and the media. The reality is that Biko’s writing is articulate, powerful, tough, brash and direct.

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