The nation’s politicians yesterday snubbed an event in King William’s Town to commemorate 40 years since liberation struggle icon and Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko was killed while in police custody in 1977.
This was unlike in previous commemoration events, where prominent politicians came out in numbers to the Steve Biko Garden of Remembrance in King William’s Town where Biko’s grave is located.
Yesterday fewer than a handful of prominent politicians could be seen among the crowd of more than 300 people in attendance.
Most of those in attendance yesterday were interdenominational religious leaders, hundreds of pupils, family members and staff at the multimillion-rand Steve Biko Centre in Ginsberg.
The most prominent provincial politician there was sport, recreation, arts and culture MEC Pemmy Majodina.
It is understood that Human Settlement Minister and ANC presidential hopeful Lindiwe Sisulu had visited the Steve Biko Centre a day before yesterday’s commemoration service.
In one of the previous commemorations, EFF firebrand leader Julius Malema and a delegation from his party’s national leadership, including party chairman and advocate Dali Mpofu, spokesman Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and secretary-general Godrich Gardee, made an appearance.
Premier Phumulo Masualle, provincial ANC spokesman and rural development and agrarian reform MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane and former Buffalo City Metro mayor and now council speaker Alfred Mtsi were some of those who in the past had attended the events to remember and honour Biko.
Speaking after he had attended the commemoration in September 2015, Malema said ANC leaders were not interested in commemorating Biko “because they believed there were no other political heroes outside the ANC”.
At the time Malema accused the ANC of joining the commemoration march just to counter his memorial lecture on Biko, which he delivered at the nearby Victoria Stadium where Biko’s funeral took place 40 years ago.
The Daily Dispatch was not able to determine at the time of writing why most of the provincial politicians had not attended yesterday’s commemoration.
However, the Steve Biko Centre spokeswoman, Bokang Pooe, on Monday said invitations had been sent to most of them and their departments.
Speaking to the Dispatch on the sidelines of yesterday’s event, Majodina said there was “parallel planning” for the event and that as a result, there were “disagreements between the Steve Biko Foundation [SBF] and the government on the programme to be followed”.
“Yes, I was the only one who attended.
“This is because when we engaged with national, we were informed that on September 11 and 12, commemorations would be held in Pretoria.
“For reasons unknown to me, there were some challenges where the government could not agree with the foundation on the planned programme.
“It seems there was parallel planning because as the province, we initially thought that we were to join national in Pretoria for this year’s commemoration.
“However, logistical challenges prevented many things,” said Majodina, who also revealed that she had heard only the night before the event that she was no longer going to Pretoria.
Yesterday in Pretoria President Jacob Zuma laid a wreath at a prison cell at Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre, the cell where Biko died.
He was accompanied by Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, and Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
In King William’s Town, Biko’s oldest son and SBF CEO Nkosinathi Biko, said he was pleased that his father’s teachings and ideologies were filtering down to young people in the country.
He could not be reached later on to comment on why there were so few politicians attending this year’s event.