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Yes, Steve Biko’s legacy is still largely relevant to the South African Muslim

Sep 15, 2014

umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming – 2014.09.15 | 20 Dhul Qa’da 1435 

 

September 12 brought the 37th death anniversary of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko. A relevant question at any commemorating function would be Steve Biko’s response to a series of racist public attacks on the Indian community in South Africa. This would include playwright Mbongeni Ngema’s “AmaNdiya” and campaigns against Indian businesses by the Mazibuye African Forum over the past two years. Is it still that important to us to be identified as Black or African, asks umm Abdillah?

 

The South African Hindu Maha Sabha, led by Ashwin Trikamjee recently laid a complaint of hate speech with the South African Human Rights Commission against the AmaCde rap group over anti-Indian lyrics. Trikamjee also cited comments by Judge Issac Madondo during judicial interviews that an Indian judge could not appreciate the oppression of Africans. He noted verbal attacks on Indian traders by former Durban mayor, now ambassador to the UK, Obed Mlaba, during the city’s failed attempts to move Indians out of the city’s morning market and replace it with a shopping mall. He also complained about the use of the term amakula (coolies) by EFF leader Julius Malema when he was at the helm of the ANCYL.

 

The 37th death anniversary of struggle-hero Steve Biko is an opportunity to unpack the dichotomy of our divided identity and allegiances. Of the hallmarks of the Black Consciousness Movement led by Biko, was the development of black culture, black pride, black intellectualism and black literature. Its focus on blackness as the major organising principle was very much downplayed by the late Nelson Mandela who emphasised instead the multi-racial balance needed for our post-apartheid nation. Is it still a question of how much is being done for or against the black man in this regard; OR is it more progressive to unshackle our own identity politics? Steve Biko’s movement defined black to include other “people of colour” in South Africa – most notably the large number of South Africans of Indian descent. The movement stirred confrontation with not only the legal, but also the cultural and psychological realities of Apartheid, seeking “not black visibility but real black participation” in society and in political struggles. Biko didn’t want another political party or group squabbling over local spoils, but a fundamental mobilisation and change in attitude and outlook of the black oppressed and destitute. Do we? Straddling three worlds – that of skin colour (heritage and ancestry); self-identifying as simply (the post-apartheid) “African”; and being a post-911 “Muslim” can have us trip over laces we have affirmatively left untied.

 

“They realise at last that change does not mean reform, that change does not mean improvement.”

 

“Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity, ” said Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth.

 

Biko saw the struggle to build African consciousness as having two stages: a “Psychological liberation” and a “Physical liberation”.

 

Regardless of heritage, if we self-identify as African, the same type of African ‘person of colour’ Steve Biko identified, it would logical that we stop grappling psychologically with the above-mentioned issues as if they’re hot potatoes and physically free ourselves of the need for such compartmentalisation. Yes, there may be a minority in South Africa who currently deem the issue of our heritage and skin colour as one of interloper. More pressing however is that we physically and psychologically leave no margin for that possibility. As Muslim South Africans we have far too positive and deeply consequential allegiances to religion, country, culture and Faith above all else. It means we fight tyranny and injustice internally, then whenever and wherever, as part of Faith-propelled patriotism.

 

“Part of the insight of the Black Consciousness Movement was an understanding that black liberation would not only come from imagining and fighting for structural political changes, as older movements like the ANC did, but also from psychological transformation in the minds of black people themselves. This analysis suggested that to take power, black people had to believe in the value of their blackness. That is, if black people believed in democracy, but did not believe in their own value, they would not truly be committed to gaining power.”

 

“’Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or is oppressed.’ A man asked: ‘O Messenger of Allah, I know how to help him when he is oppressed, but how can I help him when he is an oppressor?’ The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: ‘You can restrain him from committing oppression. That will be your help to him.’” [Narrated by Al-Bukhari & Muslim]

 

Likewise, the power of the Muslim South African in emancipating the oppressed citizen, (sometimes even the mind of the citizen) or the wrongly incarcerated prisoner, or an oppressive leader, Muslim or not, lies in real participation rather than waiting on people to identify or decode whether you’re Black or African enough. That is, if people of Indian ancestry believe in the moral, social and economic prosperity of this country, but do not believe in their own value in achieving this ideal, we’ll always leave those laces untied. Lacing up the proverbial bootstrap is thus the start of a fitting tribute to the legacy of Steve Biko.

 

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