Pityana reflects on legacy of Biko and black consciousness

13 September 2016

Stellenbosch University – Professor Nyameko Barney Pityana (71), professor emeritus of law at the University of South Africa and president of the convocation at the University of Cape Town, said South Africa is missing out on a society of intellectuals and the promotion of a thinking society, without black consciousness.

“Why is it that there is so much interest at an intellectual level in Steve Biko, but very little evidence in society in general and public life of his influence?” asked Pityana, as he addressed students and staff at Stellenbosch University (SU) on Tuesday, the day after the anniversary of Steve Biko’s death.

Pityana was a founding member of the South African Students’ Organisation and an important figure in the Black Consciousness Movement with Biko.

Pityana said that he wished black consciousness was becoming a tool for conversation and for understanding South African society today. “I wish it was a tool for framing much of what we are doing in South Africa today, for framing the new humanity which we are pursuing and what our constitution is actually about, for recognising that there is no future in the unequal society that we are today. There is no future in a society that has large numbers of poor people. There is no humanity in a society that is racist.”

Pityana said that neo-colonialism, neoliberalism, individualism and greed have destroyed the humanity of South Africans.

“The current government of the African National Congress lacks an intellectual frame in which it can move South Africa forward,” said Pityana, who, in an open letter written in 2013, asked President Jacob Zuma to resign.

“Black consciousness could affect leadership and values. It would provide leadership with tools for assessing what the appropriate values that we need in our society are.”

Pityana noted that there is “a growing influence and articulation of black consciousness, a growing readiness on the lips of many, particularly young people and scholars, and a growing number of studies that are being done on Steve around the world.”

Biko’s grandson, Avela Biko (19), who is in his first year of a Bachelor of Arts degree at SU, was also in attendance. He said that, as a young South African, it was overwhelming growing up with the knowledge that Steve Biko was his grandfather. “I never got the chance to meet him. It was always hard to hear things about him, but it’s been a pleasure growing up, getting more information and getting to know him. It’s a privilege to be his grandson, because he did a lot for the country and his influence is still felt today.”

See more of Pityana’s presentation below:

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