Looking at South Africa today, it is clear that the approach of the ANC has not ensured socio-economic justice for the majority of South Africa’s blacks. Indeed, the rich-poor divide has broadened, and South Africa has become the most unequal country in the world. The same can be said of many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. But as South Africa’s tiny neighbour, Swaziland, is finding out, the solution might lie in the past, so to speak, more than in a future that has failed the test of time. The ideas of Steve Biko certainly seem to be popular in Swaziland’s democratic movement. One of Swaziland’s prominent pro-democracy activists, student leader and political prisoner, Maxwell Dlamini, professes to be heavily inspired by Biko, and the main vehicle for civic education in Swaziland, the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice, uses an approach to raising consciousness amongst people in Swaziland that is akin to, if not inspired by, that of Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement in the nineteen-seventies.
Steve Biko grew up in the Ginsberg Location near King Williams Town, where nearly two hundred families shared around 40 communal taps and toilets. He also studied medicine and law at university, and was therefore acquainted with the plight of all walks of live in apartheid South Africa. Biko was the father of the Black Consciousness Movement, as well as its main thinker and key catalyst, although he deliberately tried not to be dominant to enable others to assume responsibility and discourage a personality cult. Biko’s general fearlessness in openly opposing the authorities such as during the SASO-BPC trial (where the apartheid government prosecuted and convicted nine members of the BCM for “subversion by intent”) in 1976, his unhesitant response to insult and his disregarding of his banning were probably contributing factors to his early death – he died in police custody in September, having been tortured and severely beaten. On the other hand, showing that he was not afraid of the authorities was also an important contributing factor in fostering the culture of fearlessness that helped end apartheid.