By Raul Dimitriu and Jess Levy
A public lecture honouring the legacy of anti-apartheid activist, Stephen Bantu Biko, was held on September 17 at Rhodes University and the Student Union was renamed the Steve Biko Student Union.
Director of the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa, Dr Neville Alexander, delivered a speech as part of the commemoration of Biko, who died in police custody 30 years ago.
In keeping with Biko’s vision of promoting indigenous African languages, the Steve Biko 30 Year Commemoration isiXhosa Speech Competition was held in the preceding weeks.
The winners were announced before Alexander’s speech. The competition was hosted by the Rhodes African School of Languages, in liaison with the Fingo Revolutionary Movement. Among the distinguished guests present at the lecture were Biko’s son, Nkosinathi Biko, and Peter Jones, who was arrested by security police along with Biko outside Grahamstown in 1977.
“The past month represented a national moment of recollection,” said Alexander, who was also a political activist. He described Biko as a “kindred spirit” who, in his struggle against oppression, exhibited “boldness, vision, political imagination and relentless courage”.
The speech, entitled ‘Steve Biko’s last attempt at unifying the liberation forces’, focused on Biko’s leadership role in the Black Consciousness Movement and the visions he had for a democratic, non-racial South Africa–a country where there weren’t minority or majority groups, but just people. Alexander spoke on Biko’s belief that the nation’s politics and society should be underpinned by socialist ideals.
Alexander suggested that there should not only be ceremony and commemoration of Biko, but that concrete social action was necessary to “lift all South Africans”. He said that many issues remain unresolved and commented on how South Africa’s democracy still needs to be consolidated so that everyone can benefit from Biko’s sacrifice and vision.
Other events that took place in remembrance of Biko were the one-day colloquium at Randall House and an inter-faith service at the Cathedral of St Michael and St George that was addressed by Dr. Saleem Badat and Bishop Thabo Magoba.
In honour of Biko, the Rhodes University Student Union has been renamed the Steve Biko Student Union. “It is very important to commemorate Biko,” said SRC President, Ricardo Pillay, commenting on how Biko’s identity now embodies the building.