Address by President Nelson Mandela

At The Commemoration Of The Twentieth Anniversary Of Steve Biko's Death (excerpts)
East London, 12 September 1997


Ntsiki Biko and members of the Biko family;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen,

We are gathered here to pay homage to one of the greatest sons of our nation, Stephen Bantu Biko. His hope in life, and his life of hope, are captured by his resounding words: "In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift - a more human face"

...Today's occasion speaks of our resolve to preserve the memories of our heroes and heroines; to keep alive the flame of patriotism which burnt in the hearts and minds of the like of Steve Biko; to redeem the pledge to give a more human face to a society for centuries trampled upon by the jackboot of inhumanity.

...History called upon Steve Biko at a time when the political pulse of our people had been rendered faint by banning, imprisonment, exile, murder and banishment. Repression had swept the country clear of all visible organisation of the people. But at each turn of history, apartheid was bound to spawn resistance; it was destined to bring to life the forces that would guarantee its death.

It is the dictate of history to bring to the fore the kind of leaders who seize the moment, who cohere the wishes and aspirations of the oppressed. Such was Steve Biko, a fitting product of his time; a proud representative of the re-awakening of a people.

It was a time when the tide of Africa's valiant struggle and her liberation, lapping at our own borders, was consolidating black pride across the world and firing the determination of all those who were oppressed to take their destiny into their own hands.

...From the start, black consciousness articulated itself as "an attitude of mind, a way of life". In various forms and under various labels, before then and after, this attitude of mind and way of life have coursed through the veins of all the motive forces of struggle; it has fired the determination of leaders and the masses alike.

The driving thrust of black consciousness was to forge pride and unity amongst all the oppressed, to foil the strategy of divide-and-rule, to engender pride amongst the mass of our people and confidence in their ability to throw off their oppression.

...One of the greatest legacies of the struggle that Biko waged - and for which he died - was the explosion of pride among the victims of apartheid. The value that black consciousness placed on culture reverberated across our land; in our prisons; and amongst the communities in exile. Our people, who were once enjoined to look to Europe and America for creative sustenance, turned their eyes to Africa.

I speak of culture and creativity because, like truth, they are enduring. It is then a happy coincidence of history that Steve Biko is honoured with a statue, sculpted in bronze by Naomi Jacobson, whom one can say is his distant home-girl. It also gives a certain kind of joy that the financial cost of creating the statue was footed by people in the creative field, including Denzel Washington, Kevin Kline and Richard Attenborough who will be remembered for the film on Biko, `Cry Freedom'. Another contributor is Peter Gabriel whose song `Biko' helped keep the flame of anti-apartheid solidarity alive. This collaboration of British and American artists bears eloquent witness to Steve Biko's internationalism.

In speaking about "a more human face", Steve Biko was rejecting the brutality of men who behaved as if possessed, in their defence of injustice. It is these brutes that he faced without flinching; and the true story of his last moments we are only now starting to fathom...

Source: "Mandela Speaks" - Speeches, Statements and Writings of Nelson Mandela - 1997. African National Congress.

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