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Simphiwe Dana’s Sunday Times piece on not taking African languages seriously

Although I have written about this topic in the papers before, several years ago in the Mail and Guardian, this post is motivated by Simphiwe Dana’s courageous opinion editorial in this past weekend’s Sunday Times. There are a few aspects of Ms Dana’s argument that I disagree quite strongly with, but I do share many of the concerns that she articulates. The gist of her argument (in case something happens to the link above, as sometimes happens), as I understand it, is as follows:

a) In much of urban South Africa, outside of townships, looking for schools that teach Xhosa/Zulu/Sotho/Tswana/Swati/Tsonga/Venda/Pedi/Ndebele is a lesson in pain. She refers to experiencing this earlier when trying to get a school for her children in Cape Town. I am pretty sure she had similar hardship in Johannesburg.

b) The above is true because only Afrikaans and English, out of the official languages of the country, are taught in ways that take the languages seriously and in manners that encourage their use at first language level.

c) The status of a people’s language says a lot about the status of that people’s culture – to them, when they are in power – as well as to their (previous) oppressors.

d) Parents should not have to move or take their children to township schools in order to have language -which is their right legally – taken and taught seriously.

e) African languages carry more than the meanings in the words used to communicate. They carry a worldview and a series of abstract and concrete reference points that are present in various African languages. This is why Ms Dana cares less about which African language her children learn well than she does about them learning one (and the world it carries) well. This is an urgent task that we must take up or deal with the consequences of language neglect.

f) She suggests that Zulu be the official language that is taught at first language level in schools since it is widely spoken and relatively easy on the tongue.

g) We need to hold our current government responsible and accountable for the language mess in our schools even as we keep an eye to the historical context that brought us here.

h) Afrikaans is not an African language. It carries the arrogance of the Dutch colonisers and the apartheid establishment. Although the language was shaped through African location, its Afrikaner nationalist use ensured that it remained a language of wounding.

I am really glad that Dana wrote and submitted this article for publication because it raises several issues that I think need to be raised again and again until something changes. I know that the bulk of the responses will be defensive and vile because any questioning of Black marginalisation in this country elicits this kind of silencing. Mark my words, people will write back to her piece and claim that she has a chip on her shoulder, that she is playing the race card, that she doesn’t know what she is talking about. They’ll also write in and say she is out of touch with what is important in the world and the country, that most Black parents don’t mind the condescending third languages taught at Model C schools because they know their children need to speak English to make it in the world. How do I know? Because these are the stock responses that follow us everywhere. So, I applaud Dana because I think that we need to change the sorry state of education in SA, private schooling included. But I’d like to engage with the layers of her argument in more detail – agreeing and disagreeing with her, as I go along.

to a) I don’t think anybody can deny that what Dana describes is the state of language education in many SA schools post-apartheid. This is an insult of the highest order for the children who go through such schooling, regardless of which race they are. South African children should be able to speak various languages in their country – more than their parents can, even when their parents are polyglots. The school system should play a leading role in this. But it does not. This is a topic that has come up in various conversations with other parents in my own life. I was aghast, when my partner and I started looking at possible schools for our child, to learn that most schools we would have preferred – many with ‘progressive credentials’ – teach English and Afrikaans at first language level, and all other official languages at third language level until the end of primary school. I have various friends who did Xhosa third language at school. Many of them did so for twelve years. None of them can speak Xhosa beyond tentative understanding and elementary small talk. Learning a language at third year level does not teach you how to speak it no matter what your grades say. The fact that languages are taught at third language level at all is an insult.

to b) nothing more to add to this argument. This policy keeps all other SA languages marginal. It makes a joke of the eleven official languages policy/legislation since that is only true on paper. It also points to the inefficiency of our government on this point as well as – perhaps much more so – the irresponsibility of the parents who continue to leave this unchanged in the schools they pay fees to.

to c) yes. see my response to b) above. This current situation means that while these schools are located in a democracy, effectively, they operate as though they are in an apartheid state with two official languages.

to d) No, they should not. We should litigate, and in this respect follow Ntombenhle Nkosi’s example of taking a Durban High School to court, and who is quoted after her victory as having said “Parents must just not take it for granted that schools are going to do it for them, they won’t. Every parent must ensure that their language – be it isiXhosa, be it isiSwati, Zetswane, Sesotho Saleboa, Tshivenda, Tsonga – must be offered as the first language because the National Curriculum Statement states that every learner must choose the home language, not the home language of the school.” I will say nothing of the typos in the transcribed quotation, even though they, too, tell an interesting story about the disrespect of African languages.

e) I agree that this is always true of language. This is why even those of us who are polyglots often cannot translate a concept across unrelated language families. This is also why I have said over and over again that I would prefer to send my child to a school that teaches all SA languages on its books at first language. I am not overly concerned about whether the language is Tsonga or Zulu or Sotho. I am mortified that the only schools that do this in my area are schools whose other values are at odds with mine (mainly on consumerism). But I’d rather send my child to a bizzare school that takes his language and his right to language seriously (and deal with the consequences of helping him unlearn the capitalist values) than to one with “ostensibly” socialist, feminist and anti-racist politics but that tells him his language, ancestry and continent are expendable.

f) Here, I disagree on various technical points. First of all, I don’t see why our children should have to learn only one language when we speak several languages in this country and continent. Many of these Model C schools are capable of teaching SA children how to speak German and French alongside English and Afrikaans. I am sure with motivation, they can do the same with various official languages. The second technicality on which I disagree is on whether isiZulu is any easier than some other indigenous languages. I don’t think that there is such a thing as an easy language, where ease is similar for everybody. I think that what is easy for you is based on what you already know. So, no, I am not convinced that Zulu is easier than Tsonga. My third technicality is about adopting a language spoken by a larger group due to issues of possible future dominance – we will be saying something about Venda when we make Zulu more appropriately official. We do not matter because there are many of us. We matter because we are human beings.

g) Yes, let us do this as a matter of urgency. And not just our government either. Corporate SA needs to get with the programme too. In 2010, I am sick and tired of medicine inserts and packaging that comes in English and Afrikaans exclusively, as though it is 1990. This is where the power of coalitions and campaigns might be harnessed. A movement that says we matter and our languages matter is long overdue.

h) Afrikaans is an African language. Afrikaans comes from a range of languages and was formed as a creole in the mouths of slaves. The first texts written in Afrikaans were not written by people who were “Dutch” – the first Afrikaans texts were written in Arabic script because that was the script used by the first Muslims in the Cape, many of whom came as slaves from East African hinterland, East African islands, South Asia and South East Asia. This makes Afrikaans not Dutch any more than Caribbean creole languages are English or Swahili Arabic. At the same time, this once creole, once defiled by the Dutch, then became appropriated for Afrikaner nationalism in a manner that ensured that it could be used against the very people whose ancestors formed it and were punished for speaking it. Yes, someone who speaks Nederlands may understand parts of Afrikaans, and parts of Aukan (a Surinamese creole also formed by slaves using partly Dutch). However, Aukan is not Afrikaans is not Dutch, even if we do not dispute that they are related. At the same time, to say Afrikaans is African does not undo the fact that Afrikaans is also the language of wounding, misrecognition, displacement, oppression, apartheid. To honour part of our African ancestry we must remember the former because it was their mouths that crafted the creole and were punished for speaking it. To honour another part of our African ancestry, we must highlight the latter. For most Black South Africans growing up under apartheid, Afrikaans was the latter. For many Black South Africans (esp. some classified coloured), it was both. This is our thorny inheritance, and it all matters.

I hope we continue this conversation across all platforms. And, while I could have picked up the phone and had this conversation with Simphiwe in person, I chose not to. I think it is important to respond to what artists say in the public publicly – to honour the difficult task of making the important less privately. I am often very annoyed when people send me endless sms and emails disagreeing with me on something I deliberately wrote publicly, so that I have to engage them privately at the same time as engaging other responses publicly. It’s exhausting.

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Rest in Peace, Fatima Meer

Born 12 August 1928, in Durban, the courageous, inspiring and energetic activist-academic-icon, Fatima Meer passed away on 12 March 2010. She has been a staunch feminist, having co-founded both the Durban Disticts Women’s League (1949) and The Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) anti-apartheid activist who was banned repeatedly in the 1950s, 1970s, detained without trial, and otherwise tormented by the apartheid state. Fatima Meer was also a prolific writer in various capacities – biography, academic research, history with various books.

I met her only a few times, in gatherings where I spoke to her as one among various other women. The last time was at a South African Women’s Press Inititative (SAWPI) workshop in the Western Cape many years ago. But her words, her work, her life have been as important for me as they have been for a generation of Southern Africans. I am sad, and short of words, somewhat. Thankfully, I can turn around and borrow a sistah’s words, instead. Below, the insanely gifted poet, Bernedette Muthien’s ‘necessary grief’:

since dying is a wedding with the divine
why am i not deaf to the sounds of grief
wrenched from the very hearts of those left behind
blind to their vacant salted eyes
souls wrinkled brittle in suffering & loss

we are the stained
tattered
floor rags
wrung dry
by life’s exigencies
like made-up wallflowers without dance partners
dried up wombs & hollow testicles
trees without fruit
not even worthy of harvests
whipping boys on treadmills without red emergency buttons
cowed
seldom bowled over
often fucked over
the ugly sister dimwit uncle
unwanted
left behind
at divine weddings

is my sorrow sacred too?!!

take then the remnants of this carcass
and eat that too

as i rip the skin from my flesh
i remember
that some jews
still tear the clothes
from their own bodies
in simple grief

and thus i live

Jansen legitimises trivialisation of poor Black people

This is the longer version of my column in this past weekend (01 November 2009) in the City Press:

I have been as intrigued by Jonathan Jansen’s inaugural lecture as the thirteenth Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS) as I have been by some of the responses. Time may have shifted somewhat, but the Jansen saga is a reminder of various things we would do well to reflect on. Jansen lyrical references to the conflicted pasts of both the Free State province and the University itself did little to mask the real meat at the heart of Jansen’s talk: his decision on “the Reitz matter”. Although he claimed his interest in “closing the book on Reitz” and “reconciliation, forgiveness and social justice”, the University of the Free State’s first black rector legitimated the ongoing trivialization of working class black people’s lives. The ANCYL is wrong to expect us to claim him just because he is black and pretend no insult has been uttered. The workers who were victimized by the students the new UFS rector wishes to protect are also black. Who claims them?

Unlike Jansen, I am not surprised that the Reitz “atrocity could have been committed on the grounds of an institution of higher learning”. This is the easiest part of the entire Reitz video saga, unless we deliberately choose to ignore both history and the ongoing state of South African academia. It is the academy that first popularised notions of racial and other supremacy through scientific racism. Higher education continues to be shaped by this legacy in ways too numerous to list here, but on which much academic literature exists. Jansen knows this well. His claimed ignorance is a mere rhetorical strategy and not a very convincing one at that.

Having recognised that the racist performance captured on tape was enabled by institutional power, rather than individual deviant peculiarities, Jansen proceeds to re-enact it. First he treats the entire matter as though it is about sets of two arbitrary individuals set up against each other: errant young white men versus violated black workers who can be quickly compensated so that they may forgive. It is noteworthy that Jansen spends barely any ink on these workers. The bulk of his narrative is dedicated to those who matter: the young men whose futures are at risk, who need to be re-intergrated into the university community in order to acquire further institutional power. In order to mask this evaluation, Jansen is silent on the place of justice, responsibility and recognition. Not for these young UFS hooligans, the expulsion metted out to many other students who act in ways universities do not like, even if the latter’s transgressions are victimless. In Jansen’s book, the futures of the expelled UFS students are much more important than the lives of the students financially excluded from his and many other institutions of higher learning.

Jansen evokes that terrible convenient Christian narrative we had to all deal with during the fraught TRC to invite us to share his complicity. But Jansen takes it a step further, and unlike the TRC the violated are not even required to forgive, or speak at all. The workers who were publicly humiliated will be compensated in unnamed ways; they are not even important enough to consult. Legality stands between Jansen and the acknowledgement of their humanity. The workers are simply required to forgive these young men for their behaviour, and stop being difficult, like the rest of us. They need to just pretend that their humiliation is over and stop being a nuisance. This is one of the inheritances of the TRC: this terrible obligation of black forgiveness. Along with it, we are invited to turn a blind eye to the very many ways in which violence against poor black people is endemic at UFS and the country. Like many others with institutional power, the new UFS rector has chosen the side of power.

Jansen has felt himself pressed to frequent Reitz, but there is no mention of how hard he tried to connect to the man and women who suffered such indignities. After all, along with the burden of obligatory forgiveness, black people are ever-ready to take the money and run. Biko was wrong when he said that all black people’s feelings matter. According to Jansen, white supremacists need not take responsibility for their action, no matter how obviously rightwing. In Jansen they have a brilliant ally.

As for the proposed “Reitz Institute for Studies in Race, Reconcilliation and Social Justice”, I think it calls for a rare moment of action by South African academia: its complete boycott. I know that you could not pay this particular Black woman academic enough money to go anywhere near it.

2009 Elections: wassup with COPE? (Dandala)

What is up with COPE and their presidential candidate? I have read the justifications in the papers and listened to discussions of this on radio and tv, and I still don’t get it. Why does COPE think that having Bishop Dandala as presidential candidate is a good thing? How does this move make COPE more attractive?

As far as I can tell, there are a few broad arguments in favour of Dandala’s election, and I find them all unconvincing. Then I have a few additional reservations of my own about putting my X next to COPE now. I am not saying that I was ever sure I’d be voting for them. But I was considering them for my national X, along with the two other liberation movements I had not considered seriously before. Terror Lekota’s face would have tempted me to put my national X for COPE, for I certainly will NOT be putting it next to Zuma’s face, so my national vote is up for grabs. How I feel about Zuma as state president is no secret, as I have noted numerously in public writing, here and elsewhere. But Lekota’s face I could have lived with, even if I knew the ANC would win anyway.

Before you send me lots of comments about how reactionary I am to say this, let me say upfront that I don’t care who thinks I am reactionary for not voting for Zuma. I won’t vote for a proud misogynist homophobe just to prove I am not reactionary. I am still torn about voting ANC privincially and eventually locally.

Many of my friends have already told me how absolutely dodgy I am to like Terror. And maybe I am dodgy. Maybe it’s nostalgia from when he was Free State premier and he kicked butt. Maybe it is because he is convingly anti-ethnicist and I just love it when he refuses to be bullied by people who claim to speak one language better than he does. I liked that when people were pulling the Xhosa trip when he said “uZuma akabhadlanga”, Terror retorted “that’s nonsense, I speak Xhosa as well as the next person”. He said he meant Zuma has no sense; they said he meant he was stupid. In English it sounds the same, but ngesiXhosa I am convinced it is not the same thing. Akabadlanga is closer to saying someone is crazy than to claiming that they are stupid. Maybe I like that Terror says he has changed his mind about various things, and he may keep changing his mind – like he did before when he moved from BC to ANC. All of this is perfectly fine because we are human beings, and we live in a democracy. But Terror is not going to be president, so that is a moot point.

The last thing I am going to say about Terror today is that he had a lot to do with COPE entertaining me in the first place. As can be seen from previous posts, I like being entertained in the run up to the elections.

With all due respect to Bishop Dandala, why should I vote for him? First of all, I don’t think just because Zuma is deemed “immoral”, that the best way to counter that is having a man of the cloth. I think that makes for predictable, boring politics. Give us someone we can believe in, who has charisma and who grabs and keeps our attention. You are not going to get me to vote for anybody based on a morality argument. That argument belongs in a religious community not in a secular state.

I want a president that is ethical, whether he is moral or not. Frankly, I don’t know what is moral and what is immoral. I do know what is oppressive, violent and as a result wrong. The language of morality is irredeemably religious and extremely shortsighted. Moral people have no problem with the death penalty, or throwing their lesbian daughters out of their homes when they come out.

I don’t care about Zuma’s morality. I care about the political implications of his actions and words. Morality is one of those fuzzy concepts like “taste” or “decency”. These fuzzy concepts can be made to mean anything, and historically they have worked in the most oppressive ways – against slaves, against Blacks, against the Irish, against the Jews, against lesbians and gay men, etc. As far as I am concerned, “moral regeneration”, “family values” and talks about morality, when they are not faith confined, are just conservative rubbish. I don’t even talk morality in church. Leave that kind of stuff to the ACDP.

I am an active Catholic, so this is not even about not believing in religion. Nor is it about that silly business of factionalism and denominations between people who identify as Christian. I would say exactly the same thing about a Catholic bishop, or an Imam or a Rabbi, for that matter.

Secondly, I like living in a secular state. Religion is a personal choice, and I cannot see how a priest in the presidency does not send the same kinds of worrying messages that a soldier in the presidency does. The only cool thing about a priest in the presidency would be the fact that the president goes drag sometimes. Let’s keep the uniformed people from powerful regulatory institutions (church, army, police) out of the presidency, please.

Thirdly, Bishop Dandala was the head of Methodist Church of Southern Africa until recently. The Methodist Church’s stance on termination of pregrancy and same sex marriage is unclear to me. I recognise that members of any faith community differ – just like I am feminist, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-reproductive technologies even though I have not left the church I was raised in. The Catholic church has policies that oppose termination, contraception and artificial insermination, but it also has a sterling record of fascist top leadership. (That was a trick “but”.) I am a walking contradiction in this regard, but my religious political hope comes from people like Sister Bernard Ncube, Father Smangaliso Mkatshwa and Archbishop Mpilo Desmind Tutu. So, I am not judging Bishop Dandala on what he chooses to believe in his heart. Nonetheless, a presidential candidate who wants my vote needs to tell me in a straightforward manner how he feels on abortion and lesbian marriages.

Fourthly, I am not sure that a “new” political face is the best way to go at this point. I am all for change, but too much change at once needs much explanation/clearly articulated direction. Change in an uncertain direction leads to insecurity. People don’t vote for parties they are unsure about. Did COPE not have enough headaches from the Affirmative Action controversies? Are they really as clueless as they pretend to be about how many Black votes that confusion has cost them? Do they not realise how pissed off many professional Black women are about the affirmative action PRACTICE at COPE which reinforces the national standard? Do they really have to make everything new?

Maybe they do, but then this will affect voter confidence. People won’t vote for COPE if they’re not really sure of what COPE stands for. This new kid on the block has a lot of potential, but COPE will need to do a lot to recapture the November excitement. If it manages to do that again, then the party stands a chance of double digit percentages in the polls.

There are many voters whose voting choices are unclear for the first time. COPE is neither giving me hope, nor making me feel particularly excited right now.

Steve Biko lecture by Achille Mbembe

Achille Mbembe’s lecture, “Black Intellectual Traditions and Democratic Thought” delivered on the 30th anniversary of Steve Biko’s death, delivered as part of Xolela Mangcu’s Platform for Public Deliberation programme for the year took place at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Great Hall. It also formed part of a larger programme by Wits to mark the historic day. It was quite an audience, as anything to do with Biko really draws an audience – hopefully for some interesting reasons as well. But Achille Mbembe is also quite a crowd puller, so I expected the hall to be quite full.

Mbembe chose to do a close reading of Biko’s _I write what I like_ and to also use the ideas of several other thinkers from the Black world – or more specifically the African world – to do this. So, he spoke partly through Du Bois, Garvey and Fanon, but also others which he did not always mention by name – there was a suggestion on Equiano and Cugoano, for example in Mbembe’s lecture. This was interesting enough. However, as two of us from the audience pointed out, there was an unacceptable erasure of Black women’s voices and agency as contributors – at all – to Black intellectual written thought from the mid-19th century. Mbembe defended himself by noting that Black feminist work would have added much value and nuance, but he had been speaking about Biko mainly. The linked points that Bunie M Matlanyane Sexwale and I had made about the erasure of writing and thinking by Black women as a way to reflect on Blackness transhistorically and of Black feminist work specifically for Matlanyane-Sexwale, nonetheless remained. It is clear to me that several women could have been made to work in similar ways as Du Bois, Garvey, Fanon, Equiano, etc.

The more interesting points by Mbembe for me included the following (with my comments in brackets following):

1. Breaking his body as they killed Biko was meant to be humiliating and objectifying in the manner of lynching specifically and slave death more broadly

(I find this reading quite compelling. It is also clear that the apartheid policemen who killed Biko did not succeed in achieving this. By this I mean that breaking Biko would mean so much more than breaking his body. Indeed, it is a strange irony that Biko was so concerned with interiority of Black people and how this was affected by how we are treated as a result of how our bodies are read and yet the state imagined that his broken body would undo Biko’s work. In other words, bodies were not the be all and end all of who we are/were or even where our Blackness and power resided. Of course, breaking Biko’s body would not break his allure or power then or today.)

2. Mbembe also noted that Biko could ask the following questions today:
a) What is the place and role of BC today?
b) What place and shape Black solidarity today given the stratification among Black people in SA due to class, etc?
c) How could we re-invigorate racial reconciliation in favour of a colour blind society?

(The comment I offered from the floor: I wonder whether two of the ways in which we might continue to find resonance with Biko’s thought today a) have less to do with the disappearance of difference per se, but rather the fundamental altering of what differences mean and how they work (a sentiment we see also in some of the more exciting throught of the Black world from the nineneteenth century onwards, and which includes Black women thinkers, something Achille seems to have temporarily forgotten today). Mary Prince writing in the 1830s speaks very powerfully to this notion of shifting meanings of Blackness, as do many women from the Caribbean in the 20th Century among others;
b) and have more to do with the need for us to stop thinking of Biko’s work as a mere response to white supremacy (or even liberalism), but also as an invitation to embrace a different kind of Black self-hood that is creative, radical, and varied even in a post-racist society – which surely cannot be the same thing as a colour-blind society)

3. It is important to reject “communal nationalism”, which Mbembe identified as residing in the works of people like Christine Qunta, and which he defined as “an authoritarian collectivism that holds that all Black people should act under the guidance of one ‘big man'”.

(I also have reservations about Qunta’s recent writing, but found it rather unfortunate that the only time a Black woman writer and public thinker was mentioned was to show what can go really “wrong” if we don’t heed Biko. This is particularly the case given that Qunta’s earlier work, including her first book, were explicitly BC)

Another important point from the floor came from Gillian Marcelle, PhD, who cautioned against reading Black/African subjectivity only in terms of the US situation. She argued that such approaches were limited because there were fundamental differences between the strategies available to a numerical and legal minority than were available from Black people on the African continent who were in the position of majority. Therefore what we can offer the world is a redefinition of self-hood that is quite important and world-altering. And we could start this by not assuming that all Black agency needs to be read against imperialism and histories of white supremacy from the “West”.

I don’t know if Xolela Mangcu was agreeing with Marcelle later on when he evoked Biko’s caution about the dangers of Black obsession with white people (p 108 of _I write what I like_). He seemed to be doing so to me 🙂

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Still Loving Steve Biko – 30 years later

12 September 2007 is exactly thirty years after Bantu Steve Biko, revolutionary, founder of the Black Consciousness movement and genius was killed in detention by the apartheid state. Apart from the many events that are scheduled to mark the thirtieth anniversary of his death at the age of thirty, his words and life remain with us even if we never knew him personally.

I was four years old when he died, so I cannot claim to remember anything about him as a concrete historical being. However, I know that his thinking, life and writing continue to shape my life three decades after apartheid forces killed him. I know that much of how I feel about the world and my place in it owes much to the thinking that went into the Black Consciousness movement (BCM). I do remember all those black fists on white walls at the historic Black university that my father taught organic chemistry at. I do remember my parents’ amusement that even though I spoke no English then, I would repeat “Black power”, having heard the Fort Hare students repeat it.

Biko’s words that survive offered me a skin that I can hug, a voice that I am not apologetic about and confidence to claim the world as mine too. His thinking of psychological liberation – obviously also thought through in conversation with his comrades and co-founders of the BCM -were nothing short of world-altering. Unlike Bessie Head who prefered a comfortable skin offered by Pan Africanism over the proud one offered by Black Consciousness, I like that I can live within a skin shaped by both. Of course, it helps tremensdously that I was raised by a man who embraced BC and a woman who is an unwavering Pan Africanist – they would choose belong to the same organisation later on, but ideologically these stances did not change. I am glad I do not have to choose between the two because they offer me freedoms that I allow me to love my various selves in infinite ways.

And it is hard not to love Steve Biko, a man that left behind such a beautiful gift of love. bell hooks says loving blackness is a revolutionary act because Black people still have to learn to love ourselves. In other words, loving self for Black subjects is a process rather than a given. Biko left us a way to walk that journey to self-love and his vision remains more than relevant today.

Once, when Kimberley A Yates and I interviewed Mamphela Ramphele, co-founder of the BCM, feminist, academic and leader, who was at the time in office as the first Black and woman (and therefore first Blackwoman) Rector (Vice-Chancellor) of the University of Cape Town, she said one of her biggest sources of sadness was that “Steve’s voice had not left a larger imprint on the South African landscape” noting that it was always so hard to get him to write. Kim and I were graduate students both writing dissertations on aspects of Black Consciousness inspired South African literature published in English. I was working on Staffrider literature and she on political biography. That interview was included in the appendices to both our dissertations, and also published as Yates, Kimberley A., and Gqola, Pumla Dineo. 1998. ‘Some kind of madness: Mamphela Ramphele on being Black, female and transgressive’, in

    Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity

, no. 37, pp. 90—95.

This is amazing to me considering how much that young man was able to achieve in just three decades of his life, and how powerful the “little” that he wrote continues to be thirty years on. Biko’s wisdom and insight was far-reaching because it allowed us – Black people – to locate ourselves at the centre of our own lives, thinking, love, politics, stories and spirituality. This is why his thought had as much relevance as an affirming place of resistance against oppression and erasure, as it does for how we chose to treat ourselves and other Black people. It reminds us that love is political, and in a world that continues to devalue Black people’s lives, that how we relate to ourselves and each other matters in profoundly political ways.

Biko’s vision also is the embodiment of hope and joy in discovery, in communion. It reminds us that we are not just Black because white racism exists in the world, that we are never “non-white”. It also reminds us that the most sophisticated intellectual enterprise is political and livable, one day at a time.