4 December 2012
The newly opened Steve Biko Centre in the Eastern Cape will serve as an intellectual resource while providing an economic opportunity for the region, says President Jacob Zuma.
“It is meant to be a living monument that utilizes memory to channel local energies towards contemporary development challenges,” Zuma said at the official opening of the heritage centre in Ginsberg, near King Williams Town.
This year marks 35 years since the Black Consciousness leader died in police custody in August of 1977.
Teaching, practising self-reliance
Biko did not only preach self-reliance, he also practised it. This was evident in his work for black community programmes in Durban after his university days.
When he was banished to his hometown, he established the Zimele Trust and the Zanempilo Community Health Centre in King Williams Town, which is situated about 60 kilometres from East London.
“All these institutions were rooted in the communities, promoting self-reliance projects that sought to affirm that blacks can earn their own keep with dignity and care for one another,” Zuma said.
“Our intention, working with the Steve Biko Foundation, is that this centre must serve as the epitome of the values, norms and mores that Mr Biko wanted to inculcate among all the oppressed people of South Africa,” Zuma said.
He said the centre would educate people about Biko, his leadership and his contribution to freedom and democracy. It would also contribute to poverty eradication through the development of local cultural industries.
Biko Heritage Trail
Built through a partnership between the Department of Arts and Culture and the Department of Tourism, the centre will serve as the cornerstone of the Biko Heritage Trail, a series of Biko-related sites running from Port Elizabeth to King William’s Town.
A number of these sites, including Biko’s home in Ginsberg Township, the Biko Bridge in East London, and Zanempilo Clinic, which Biko co-founded in the mid-1970s, have been declared national heritage sites.
The state-of-the-art building boasts a museum, archive centre, library resource centre, commemorative garden honouring human rights activists, and a community media centre.
Zuma urged the community to ensure that the name of Steve Biko lived on forever in the country, and that the youth fully understood and appreciated his contribution to the liberation of South Africa.
Earlier in the day, Zuma visited Biko’s grave, where he laid wreath and led a prayer.
Former Unisa vice-chancellor Barney Pityana, a long-time friend and fellow activist of Biko, said that Biko “was committed to the idea that people should take responsibility for their own development. One hopes that this centre will be a focus of development for the region”.
Pityana was hopeful the centre would be a place that built and developed young people in a way that reflected Biko’s commitment to young people.
“It should serve as a place where young people can think, can be activists and serve the better cause of society,” he said.