On Saturday 12 September, a commemoration was held to celebrate the life and legacy of Stephen Biko, following the anniversary of Biko’s death.
The event took place at the Rhodes University Environmental Learning and Research Centre and was hosted by Fingo Festival in conjunction with the Black Student Movement and Cycle of Knowledge. A group of approximately 50 people gathered to hear the speeches, poetry, raps and thoughts presented to celebrate the life rather than mourn the death of Stephen Bantu Biko.
The emcee, Oz, offered a quote to begin the proceedings, “The rest of those who come before is the unrest of those who follow” which foreshadowed the various items to follow. There were a number of performers including Yahav Ben Sar Ahmadiel, Njabulo Zwane and Lerato Mohale.
Much of the content consisted of various teachings and ideals from Stephen Biko’s book, I Write What I Like. This included Biko’s belief that one cannot destroy a revolution as it is essentially energy, and how this energy could either be used constructively or destructively. Oz reiterated this sentiment in his speech on anger and aggression having to not only be viewed as negative.
Zwane also offered his thoughts on the current student movements such as #RhodesMustFall and #Luister as manifestations of anti-theses to the poisoned thesis of colonial whiteness which is still in existence. Zwane spoke further on Biko’s Black Consciousness and stressed the need for Black people to develop new concepts of their own in order to reclaim the commodification of their traditions and ideas.
A major theme throughout the proceedings was ‘Black excellence’ which was celebrated and showcased through performances of poetry by Mohale, singing by Philisa and a trio of, what Oz referred to as, “all the other equally significant people” and various rappers including Sons of Law, who finished off with a crowd favourite, Africa.
The event’s taking place at Rhodes University carried particular significance, as Biko was removed from the university in 1968 and was arrested close by on 11 September 1977. It also testified to the legacy of Biko’s ideals, as such a gathering would not have been permitted in Biko’s time.
Biko was a prolific man who strove to encourage Black consciousness, self-worth and a same-minded determination for equality but not mere integration. According to Martin Luther King, to do so into an unjust system would be the same as seeking integration into a burning house.
The various performances and speeches proved both informative and entertaining, offering examples of Black excellence and pride which aptly celebrated and paid tribute to the work and life of Stephen Bantu Biko.
The Rhodes SRC also honoured Biko’s legacy, unveiling a commemorative artwork in the Stephen Bantu Biko building following the student body meeting on 16 September.
Words by Holly Allison