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10 excerpts from Steve Biko Memorial Lectures

Today Professor Angela Davis will deliver the 17th annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at the University of South Africa, in Pretoria. The annual lecture seeks to promote a culture of critical dialogue and active citizenry. Since its inauguration in 2000, various luminaries have delivered the annual memorial lecture and we have selected 10 poignant excerpts taken from previous lectures, which reflect on Biko’s life, and ideas.

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Today Professor Angela Davis will deliver the 17th annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at the University of South Africa, in Pretoria. Davis is an American political activist, academic scholar, and author. The annual lecture seeks to promote a culture of critical dialogue and active citizenry in South Africa.

The annual lecture is held to celebrate the life, and commemorate the death of Biko. The lecture also honours Biko’s courage and leadership as a political activist, thinker, freedom fighter, writer and founder of the Black Consciousness Movement.

The lecture celebrates Biko’s intellectual prowess. Through his writing, and ideas on black consciousness, Biko led the quest for black people to unite, understand themselves and affirm their their common identity.

Since its inauguration in 2000, various luminaries have delivered the annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture and these include, leading politicians, writers, academics and entrepreneurs. Below are 10 poignant excerpts reflecting on Biko, and his ideas, taken from previous memorial lectures.

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1. “Steve Biko and his colleagues… were hands on activists who established practical community development projects. These men and women went beyond moaning and whinging about the plight of black people; they made their hands dirty… building health centres and running them, and facilitating the establishment of communal gardens in marginalised communities. In this way, they aimed to inculcate values of self-reliance and self-development in addition to self-esteem, self-respect and self-confidence”. Professor Zakes Mda (2001)

On Steve Biko: “A young man with a sharp intellect and flair for organisation and leadership". Photo: Bookslive

On Steve Biko: “A young man with a sharp intellect and flair for organisation and leadership”. Photo: Bookslive

2. “A young man with a sharp intellect and flair for organisation and leadership, Biko realised the need to raise the sagging morale of black people, to raise their consciousness and self-esteem; in his own words to ‘overcome the psychological oppression of black people by whites’”. Chinua Achebe (2002)

3. “Steve Biko, whom we have come to honour, is among this great gallery of people whose work and devotion have impacted those beyond the native shores, and which make it possible for us even to talk about the possibilities of a new Africa out of the colonial ashes of latter-day empires”. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (2003)

4. “History from time to time, brings to the fore the kind of leaders who seize the moment, who cohere the wishes and inspirations of the oppressed. Such was Steve Biko,a fitting product of his time; a proud representative of the reawakening of a people”. Nelson Mandela (2004)

5. “Citizenship as stewardship is about taking ownership of the gift of freedom”. Mamphela Ramphele (2005)

6. “The best memorial to Steve Biko would be a South Africa where everyone respects themselves, has a positive self image filled with a proper self esteem and holds others in high regard”. Desmond Tutu (2006)

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7. “Steve Biko understood that to attain our freedom we had to rebel against the notion that we are a problem, that we should no longer merely cry out…that we should stop looking at ourselves through the eyes of others, and measuring our souls by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity”. Thabo Mbeki (2007)

8. “…the lesson that Biko taught us. Democracy is something to fight for, constantly. Development is not something handed out at the welfare office. It is a conscious process of building capabilities, giving communities power to change their lives, empowering young women and men to make a contribution…” Trevor Manuel (2008)

9. “We need to reincarnate Biko’s rigour, his high-standards and his forensic questioning of society and of all of his assumptions. We need to keep alive Biko’s fierce and compassionate truthfulness. In fact, we need Biko’s spirit now more than ever. If he were here today he might well ask such questions: Is the society just? Are we being truthful about one another? Has there been a real change of attitudes and assumptions on both sides of the racial divide?” Ben Okri (2012)

10. “The decolonization of the mind starts with our sense of self as Africans, a sense that is developed through our socialization – both in the families, communities and schools – and increasingly in today’s information age through the media”. Nkosaza Dlamini Zuma (2013)

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