The Steve Biko Centre: A Living Memorial

by Alicia M. Sanabria

The much anticipated day was before me and I felt honored to be part of the official opening of the Steve Biko Centre in the Ginsberg township of King William’s Town in the East Cape of South Africa. My colleague Michel Chagas and I were invited guests of the Steve Biko Foundation and the South African department of Arts and Culture. We were representing the Steve Biko Cultural Institute in Salvador, Bahia in northeast Brazil. Upon arrival to East London we met the other international guests of the Steve Biko Foundation which included Mireille Fanon and Omar Benderra of the Frantz Fanon Foundation and Alison Navarra and Tracey Gore of the Steve Biko Housing Association Liverpool. Later in the day Ivy and Alex Amponsah of Ghana/United States completed our international delegation. This group of Pan-Africanist human rights activist would forge a strong bond over the five days that we spent together.
The Steve Biko Foundation and the Steve Biko Cultural Institute have been actively collaborating on lectures, exchanges, and articles in this millennium. Black rights and consciousness activists in Brazil, as in other parts of global Africa (Africa and the African Diaspora) had protested and fought for the end of human rights violations under the apartheid regime of South Africa. Independent of language differences, there is an affinity and proximity socio-culturally, economically, historically and politically between Blacks in South Africa and Brazil. There is the common history of the marginalization and oppression of the Black majority.

A growing number in the Black population of both countries have overcome and triumphed in attaining education and preparation to provide leadership nationally and internationally for socio-cultural and economic development and empowerment of global Africans. Therefore, November 30, 2012 the official opening of the Steve Biko Centre was a day of triumph and celebration not only for Bantu Steve Biko’s family, friends and extended community but for all global Africans as well as non-Black worldwide supporters of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, victory and present day restructuring and redefinition.

The Steve Biko Centre Official Opening Weekend encompassed three rich and full days and nights of political, cultural and spiritual programming. In the South African tradition of generously hosting and caring for guests there were outstanding meals and attention bestowed to the local, regional, national and international guests.
I am part of the Ilê Asipá egun (ancestral spirits) society in Salvador, Bahia and was happy to be present at the Steve Biko graveside in the Garden of Remembrance. The spirit of Bantu Steve Biko was first to be visited and reverenced. The voices of the Zwelitsha Adult Choir sang by the graveside accompanied by heavy winds and rains. Steve Biko’s family: Mrs. Biko, Nobandile Biko, his children (represented by Nkosinathi Biko), Dr. Mamphela Ramphela, Steve Biko Foundation board members, President Zuma and other government representatives paid tribute to his spirit by placing wreaths on his grave.

After the Garden of Remembrance graveside homage to Bantu Steve Biko the family and guests went to the Biko home for the customary washing of the hands. The ritual entailed washing ones hands outside the house after visiting the grave of a departed loved one. There I met Mrs. Biko who immediately expressed her interest in visiting the Steve Biko Cultural Institute in Salvador, Bahia. We await her visit with open arms and hearts.

President Zuma also visited the Biko house. The guests were then taken to the outside space of the Steve Biko Centre to partake in the commemorative cultural manifestations and listen to various homages to Steve Biko by the opening panel members including the keynote address by President Zuma. The ribbon cutting of the Steve Biko Centre was performed by President Zuma. We were then able to walk through the museum that documents Bantu Steve Biko’s life and work and also gives homage to other Pan-African black rights defenders and African liberation leaders including Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Frantz Fanon, and Malcolm X to name a few.

The afternoon was filled with numerous activities including tours of the Centre, book readings, theatre and musical performances; documentary screenings and the filming of social history interviews for the Steve Biko Centre archives. I took the time to meet and dialogue with some of the immediate neighbours of the Steve Biko Centre and others that had known Steve Biko. These proved to be among the most valuable of moments during my stay. I had been in South Africa in 2011 for an African Union meeting and since then had been pondering over present day South Africa color and class dynamics. I was touched by the warmth and kindness of the South Africans and the spirit of purpose, victory and patience with the development of Nelson Mandela’s proposed rainbow nation and Steve Biko’s quest for a true humanity where all citizens would be guaranteed their human rights. Yet, it was perceivable that the patience and wait could not and would not go on forever. Black South Africans want change and continue to want to be protagonists in their self-determination and equitable distribution of lands and wealth.

Throughout the three day official Opening Weekend, I was able to interact with members of the Steve Biko Foundation board of directors which expressed interest in the work of the Steve Biko Cultural Institute in Brazil and the hope to visit us soon. In the true African spirit there were numerous meals to partake in, music, dialogue and laughter. Ideas were exchanged, links were forged and the commitment to Black Consciousness and human rights activism were renewed.

An outstanding moment in the Day two program was the Steve Biko and Black Consciousness panel featuring the international activists from the Frantz Fanon Foundation, the Steve Biko Cultural Institute, and the Steve Biko Housing Association. Each spoke of the work with and on behave of blacks in their country and challenges faced in continuing the work. The audience actively participated in a lively question and answer session highlighting housing, education and the need for further elaboration of exchanges among the organisations.

During the morning of the third day I was able to re-visit the museum and I spent hours reading and re-reading each panel and watching the videos of Steve Biko speeches and funeral. It was a time of reflection for me. Since I was a child the anti-apartheid struggles of South Africa had marked my being and had set my course to be a Pan-African human rights activists that would take me to numerous global African communities to learn and to teach; to align in solutions to our common challenges; and to think, create and act on ways of linking global Africans knowing that united across national borders, languages and ethnicities we are much stronger than addressing our challenges individually.

I had come to the opening event representing the Steve Biko Cultural Institute, that is full of vigor after celebrating 20 years of existence in July of this year, with a very specific agenda to address and solidify long term bi-lateral socio-cultural and educational exchanges between the Steve Biko Foundation and the Steve Biko Cultural Institute. There was also the issue of the Steve Biko Cultural Institute and a Brazilian publisher wanting to release a new Portuguese language version of Steve Biko’s book “I Write What I Like”. Now I see that there is a need for a think tank meeting that would also include the Steve Biko Housing Association in a triangular exchange of ideas, culture and knowledge that would empower our respective local and national settings.

It has been such a blessing to be a part of the commitment of empowering blacks over the years. It is evident that all the progress and change that has occurred for global Africans is due to the vision, perseverance and sacrifices of the ancestors. On December 18, 2012, I praise Bantu Stephen Biko and am happy that the greatest tribute that is possible to him has been erected. The Steve Biko Centre is a living and breathing memorial to a man, Bantu Stephen Biko that was raised by his community and in turn raised and changed his community, his country and the world. The Centre is a space that will prepare future black South African leaders that will keep Steve Biko's legacy alive locally, nationally and globally.

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