Friday, 20 June 2014

Welcome Remarks 'Memoirs of a Born Free: Reflections on the Rainbow Nation'

Mwelele Cele
Book Launch: Welcome Remarks
Memoirs of a Born Free: Reflections on the Rainbow Nation

Good evening honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues … My name are Mwelela Cele, and I am the Librarian at the Steve Biko Centre Library and Archive. Our concern is with both the past and the future, honouring the legacy of Steve Biko and facilitating the application of his philosophy to help improve the prospects of our fellow South Africans, and the prospects of future generations.

It is indeed an honour to welcome you all this evening to the launch of a very significant new book: memoirs of a born free: reflections on the rainbow nation. Warmest greetings to the author Malaika Wa Azania, to Mama Biko, to representatives from government, friends of the author and friends of the Steve Biko Foundation and Centre. It is a particular pleasure to have with us our colleagues from heritage institutions in our region - librarians, archivists, curators, museum professionals. We appreciate the support of our friends and colleagues from Amathole museum here in King William’s Town eQonce. It is a pleasure to greet political and cultural activists, intellectuals and lovers of books and knowledge. I want to also welcome our partners in different projects, and welcome the neighbours of the Steve Biko Centre. I want to take this opportunity to thank Jacana Media, the publishers of memoirs of a born free: reflections on the rainbow nation, our partners in organising this event.

While I am greeting and welcoming all of you I want to take this opportunity to say a few words about the Steve Biko Centre. The Steve Biko Centre is a project of the Steve Biko Foundation (SBF), a community development organization inspired by the legacy of Steve Biko. The vision of the Steve Biko Foundation, which was established in 1998, is to promote, with independence and best practice, the values that Steve Biko lived and died for, in striving to restore people to their true humanity. In furtherance of this goal the Steve Biko Centre comprises a children’s library, a public library, an archive, a museum, a commemorative garden honouring human rights activists, training rooms, conference facilities, cultural performance and production spaces, a strong and famous performing arts section (Abelusi), a community sports development section, a community tourism section, a business incubator section, a computer lab/e-learning centre, and retail spaces.

When reading Malaika’s book which is being launched today, I was particularly aware that this launch is taking place around June 16, and I found myself remembering a poem by Mazisi Kunene entitled The Spectacle of Youth:

I loved the children of the lion
When their manes were beginning to grow,
Simulating the ancient heroes.
I knew the greatness of their future
When they jumped on the tender necks of antelopes
Which so long prided themselves on their fleetness.
I praised the skilfulness of their power,
Knowing how soon they will be killing buffaloes.

There has always been a concern that young people are not interested in history in general and political struggle history specifically. There is also a concern that the post 80s generation is not interested in current affairs and public issues, but Malaika represents a counter argument to that concern. Because in her book appears the family history and at the same time the political struggle history of South Africa. In her book you feel the struggle pain from the first sentence. Malaika in her book says, and I quote, “Young people had to hustle for money to be able to go to school. Young people were not free, they were chained to a hopeless reality of humiliating poverty and an unbearable heaviness of being.” 

As a perpetual student of history, librarian and lover of books I am happy that we have people like Malaika born in the 90s and having an appreciation of history (family history and political history) and also very much involved in current struggles and public affairs. When former President Thabo Mbeki was delivering the 8th Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at the famous University of Cape Town, he quoted a stanza from Mazisi Kunene’s epic poem, Emperor Shaka the Great, and that stanza goes like this:
Those who feast on the grounds of others
Often are forced into gestures of friendship they do not desire.
But we are the generation that cannot be bypassed.
We shall not be blinded by gifts from feasts.
With our own fire we shall stand above the mountains, as the sun.

Then former President Mbeki pointed out that these words could easily have been uttered by the militant generation of the 1970s to which Steve Biko belonged. Towards the end of the lecture former President Mbeki rightly maintained that Steve Biko belonged to a generation that could not be bypassed. I think Malaika, by writing her story is also saying that her generation must not be bypassed. We always say young people are not interested in things - that they seek nothing but the internet. I hope many people born in the 80s, 90s and those in future generations will follow in her footsteps and write their stories. Steve Biko fought for our freedom and his philosophy is in his famous work, I write what I like. May our children not only read I write what I like, but may they too write what they like, and write their own stories.

Now I am going to hand over to our programme director my colleague Mathabo Tlali a friend of the Steve Biko Foundation and Centre.