Black History Month Human Rights

Steve Biko on our shelves

So, the Chair of African Legal Studies has just restructured a particular section of its library by stocking it with books that are predominantly on colonialism and racism. My first on the list, which I was reading alongside my daughter who is reading from a series of books by Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, is Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like. This reflection is made in the context of my encounter with Biko’s book and the lessons on black consciousness, white privileges, and wide and wild reading in the struggle for equality. These are some of the immediate random picks that I got from the book.

Black Consciousness

When my daughter first read the title of the book I was reading, she thought that I was going to be making notes in them, just as the first series on her collection of the Diary of Wimpy Kid interactively allows. So, I had to give a small lecture on what the book is about. This small lecture was from my quick browsing of the book’s preface, and from a few documentaries I have watched on apartheid, colonialism, and negritude poetry. In very simple terms, I told her that the book I was reading, is about the fight for equality by black people. This is not exactly how Steve Biko puts it when he defines black consciousness as the use of group pride and determination to fight with courage while realising that the greatest weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.[1] Nevertheless, I communicated this message when I further told her that the struggle that black people were facing in South Africa had more to do with the colour of their skin and how white people deemed it as inferior, demonic, less attractive, primitive, and all other bad things that white people perceived as negative enough to associate with black people. It was therefore necessary for the majority of the blacks to unite in their common plight to fight this notion. For Steve Biko therefore, black consciousness was about emancipation from this notion of inferiority that was cultivated in the minds of black people to the advantage of white settlers.[2]

White privileges

My daughter told me that she has friends who are white and others whose skin is darker than hers while some are a bit browner than her – a diversity of friends from different races. She said that these are her friends, and she shares spaces with them just as they share a laugh with her. To her, there is no difference in how they are treated within the classroom from being given the same homework to enjoying the same meal, and taking the same bus. She wondered what will differentiate the treatments they will get when they are outside the confines of a classroom, how (un)special are they; why would they be treated differently; who determines these different treatments. I seriously did not have immediate responses. However, the idea that white people possess the natural passport to a pool of white privileges[3] was an immediate thought that I had problems simplifying to communicate my thought while trying not to paint an unfair picture of the unspoken thoughts of her young white friends. I postponed the talk and promised to give her responses when I am done reading the book, which I have finished but the conversation has been forgotten for now, so I think.

Wide wild reading

A couple of days later after our conversation, she proudly announced that she has finished reading the first book in her collection, had already started another one, and was already on page 14. In all smiles, while looking at me, she threw in a funny dance, running around to announce her victory as a winner in a reading competition I was not aware of. While admiring her speed and interest in books, I started reflecting on how Steve Biko’s testimony during a trial of students from the Black People’s Convention (BPC) and the South African Students Organisation (SASO) demonstrated his immerse reading and knowledge. The testimony he gave speaks volumes of his rhetorical prowess and how well-versed and confident he was in the drive to fight apartheid in South Africa. His ability to sustain an argument with Judge Boshoff on how politics was unfolding in Kenya and how other African states were demystifying the invincibility of whites[4] attests to his broad perspective of the African political landscape at the time. These, to me, are quality traits that can be borne out of a vast reading, a deep conviction in one’s goals, and the ability to speak and understand as many subjects as one possibly can, which I believe is also one of the many reasons why we have Steve Biko on our shelves in this particular section of the library.

Gift Mauluka is a PhD candidate at the Chair for African Legal Studies at the University of Bayreuth.

[1] Biko, Steve. I write what I like: Selected writings (University of Chicago Press 2015) 92



[4] Biko, Steve. I write what I like: Selected writings (University of Chicago Press 2015) 69


By Gift Gawanani Mauluka

Gift Gawanani Mauluka is a PhD candidate at the Chair for African Legal Studies at the University of Bayreuth.

3 replies on “Steve Biko on our shelves”

Big up big man, you are making big strides, the next Malawian president in making. Keep up the good work.

Well, I like the exposure and enlightenment that reading widely brings along. One can only be bold if they are well versed in what they are preaching. Steve Biko had immense knowledge in global issues. It’s good that most curricula these days are encouraging kids to develop and nurture a reading culture.

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