Sunday, September 12, 2010




“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will” Romans 12:2 (NIV)


On September 12, 1977, at about 1:00pm, news of the death of Steve Biko came through radio waves everywhere in South Africa. We were out of our classes and having lunch at our different dining rooms. I was a student at the University of the North known as Turfloop.  I was also the secretary of the Student Representative Council (SRC) at the University. 


 Mrs. Kgware, the wife of the then Rector of University came crying looking for me to tell me about the death of Steve Biko. She found me in our dining room and all the girls came we all started to cry. Our dining rooms were separated by sex the same as our dormitories.  I went to Mzimkhulu, (he Boys section) to report to our SRC president Mamabolo the death of Steve Biko. He suggested that I go to the dean of students and request a meeting of the student body. The dean was hesitant but allowed us to meet.


We met as the student body. We did not attend the afternoon classes. The mood on campus changed. We had mixed emotions. We felt pain at the loss of our leader of the Black Consciousness movement who gave birth to Black Peoples Convention, South African Student Organization, (in universities) South African Student movement (in high schools) also women’s organization and unions. We were angry at how he died. He was arrested and made to travel a distant of more than 600 miles naked and in chains. It was like crucifixion to me. The difference with the crucifixion of Christ was that the brutality was not done in public where people can witness as with Christ.  


We had Campus Crusade for Christ organization on campus led by Rev. Diamond Atong. I asked him to lead the service of comfort to the students. We sang and we prayed however it was difficult to fathom why God allowed this 29 year old medical student, a husband and a father to be treated savagely and die ruthlessly?


 We also got the strength spiritually not to be demoralized by the vicious actions of the South African system on Biko but to take a stand on what Biko stood for and move the Black Consciousness movement forward.


The Student Representative Council through the mandate of the students resolved that the University take an action on Steve Biko’s death and for a sit-in if the University did not take an action.  The Rector closed the University indefinitely. The closing of the University was a strategy to disintegrate us. As we go separate ways we will loose the momentum of organizing ourselves. It was a way of diffusing our strength, unity and momentum to continue with protest.


 We left the campus and went our separate ways. We were from far and close places. I was a nurse hence when the university closes I go to Baragwanath Hospital to provide nursing care.


After a week, we received letters individually from the University to come back and register again. The SRC was banned. I went back to the University. We were left with six weeks to write final examinations. When I went to register, the registrar refused to admit me back the University. He gave me no reason why he did not admit me back.


I requested to see the rector of the University. I was told that I could not see him. I knew where Rector Kgware’s office was and went to his office. He was the first Black University rector at the University. I asked his secretary to tell him that I was around and requested to see him. He agreed to see me. I told him that the registrar was refusing to accept me at the university and ask if there was something he could do in his power to accept me back.

He told me that the Dean of Nursing said that she did not want me back in the program because of my political activism. Nurses are not supposed to involve themselves in politics. My political activism is against the South African Nursing Council policy. I told the rector that since he was black he understood the Apartheid system in the country and that the protest of Biko’s death was a moral and ethical stand which we have to take. Nursing also teaches us about nursing ethics- what is right to do and wrong not to do. He told me that the Dean of Nursing was adamant about my registration back into the University that she said if I am taken back she would resign. Rector Kgware told me “Mankekolo, you are smart and courageous. You will make it in life. It may not be in nursing but in other fields. I am sorry that I am not able to take you back at the University.” I was sad and thanked him for allowing me to meet with him.


I went to told some students and found that all Student Representative Council members were not allowed to register back. Some students wanted to start a protest for us to be reinstated back to the University I told them that it was going to be difficult as we are not on campus and that the final examinations were around the corner. I did not meet other student representatives as they received letters that they should not come on campus.

I went back home and to Baragwanath Hospital to work as a nurse. The first day I reported to the matron of the hospital that I was back, she told me that I was not allowed to start working before I meet with the Transvaal Provincial Administration (TPA) it was the provincial (state) organization that licenses and governs professional bodies. This was the department that gave me scholarship to attend the University. She made an appointment that I meet her at the hospital and drive to TPA offices in Pretoria. Baragwanath was in Johannesburg. There were no highways in those days. It was going to be an hour’s drive.


The evening before the meeting, Dr. Krisner and I went to Dr. Beyers Naude’s home. Dr. Krisner was the head of the Justice Division of the South African Council of Churches. Dr. Beyers was the founder of Christian Institute, a Christian organization that helped us Christians to stand for justice and fight Apartheid. He was an Afrikaner Dominee, (Pastor). He was banned. He could not be in the presence of more that three people at the time.  We met and I told Oom Bey my story and my role in the SRC that led to the protest of Steve Biko’s death. (Oom is an Afrikaans word meaning “uncle.” Beyers Naude was no longer seen to us as a white Afrikaner but our uncle, a family member). He asked me the name of the matron of Baragwanath Hospital and I told him. He looked for the name in the telephone book and found her home number. He called her and talked to her about me, my quest for justice as a Christian. He asked if she could understand what was going on in the country as the result of the death of Biko and shared with her his role as an Afrikaner dominee in South Africa. They were talking in Afrikaans. The matron told her that she understood what he was saying however the decision was on the Transvaal Provincial Administration. He urged her to also use her own influence in the process.  I was grateful for Oom Bey and Dr. Krisner for trying to help me. (They both passed away to their God)


On the following morning I met the matron at 8:30am and we traveled to Pretoria. She was driving in front and I was sitting at the back. There was silence from the time we left Baragwanath Hospital until we arrived at the TPA offices. The silence for me was prayer in my heart. I prayed that God in his Holy Spirit lead the discussions. I remembered Rector Kgware’s words “Mankekolo, you are smart and courageous, you will make it even if it is not in nursing” I really felt strong in my heart that I did not do anything wrong. The Apartheid system and those who support it were doing wrong. I was ready for their decision about my future in or out of nursing. I remembered the question they asked me when they interviewed me before they gave me the scholarship to study at the University. “Are you a communist? I asked them what the word ‘communist’ meant and they did not explain it. They went forward and gave me the scholarship. I knew that they were going to interpret my SRC activities as be a communist even though I was not. I was a Christian.


I met with the TPA committee and there were no discussions. They already had an answer for me. I was not allowed to work in the hospitals in the Province of Transvaal. The decision meant that I was not going to work in any province in South Africa. My nursing license to practice as a registered nurse and midwife was revoked. We went back to the hospital to return my uniform. The word went around of a nurse who was involved with student politics and her scholarship and nursing licenses were revoked. I was a hero to some nurses and I was a loser to some. I was the first nurse to be dismissed from nursing because of political activism. The punishment had to be severe and be a lesson so that any nurse who might think about participating in Ant-Apartheid activities would think twice and not do it.


Nursing and teaching were the main two professions for black women in South Africa in those days.


I left teaching because of Bantu Education and now I was out of nursing. I believed in God that he will not let me down if I am doing his will. Two weeks later I was invited to work at Kupugani as a director of Nutrition Education. Kupugani was an organization that was formed to prevent malnutrition in the black community. It was a good job, paying more that nursing and I had freedom to be innovative in our program.


I became more active in Anti- Apartheid activities. I was invited to join The Committee of Ten, a civic and political body in Soweto. Dr. Nthato Motlana was our leader. We were two women in the Committee of Ten, Helen Khuzwayo and I. I was the youngest 26 years old.   


There were protests from September 12 to October 19th when the South African Government banned all 18 Black Consciousness organizations. We regrouped in Soweto and nationally. We had Soweto Action Committee. Ishmael Mkhabelo was our president. I was the secretary.  Lybon Mabasa was a member of the Soweto action Committee. We organized a conference to start another Black Consciousness organization as Black People’s Convention was banned. We founded Azanian People’s Organization (Azapo) A week later Ishmael, Lybon and I were arrested. I spent 21 days in Solitary Confinement at Jabulani Police station in Soweto.


What did we learn from Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness?


After the banning of African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist’s Congress in 1960, South African Government began establishing Bantustans according to ethnic groups in South Africa. It was a divide and rule for Blacks.  Black Consciousness urged Blacks to love themselves and be proud of whom they were. We believed that it was good to be black. We needed not to conform to the white way of doing things and white values. We were taught in school to look at ourselves as inferior and not smart and able to succeed. Our African names were not Christian names. White names were our Christian names. There was a mentality that what was white was good and what was black was evil. The devil’s color was black. Apartheid went far to make us believe that the white way is the only best way. During that time some of the Blacks who were light in complexion changed their names to be “Coloreds” (they looked like they were of mixed race) Black consciousness transformed  and renewed us to love ourselves as Black as well as loving colored and Indians as part of us as all Blacks. Black Consciousness instilled in us the strong identity and self reliance. Black Consciousness never preached hatred to whites. There were whites who subscribed to Black Consciousness. They dropped their superior consciousness to be equal with us. I dropped my colonial name and remain with Mankekolo. I did not straighten my hair. I could not bleach my face to look lighter. I loved braids, short hair or wrap my head.


Black Consciousness was not only physical changes but the mentality to liberate the Black people from white domination. Black Consciousness was to love our Black culture which enhances the development of Black race for equality with the white race. Black Consciousness is part of the human consciousness. Black Consciousness say to the white consciousness, do not try to dominate me but let us co-exist and become the human consciousness knowing and respecting one another. We can learn from each other. I am not inferior to you but equal. I do not need to loose who I am to embrace you. You do not have to suppress and dominate my being because I am Black.


Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Roman is relevant because it is easy to conform to the world in which you live. When you are bombarded by television, systematic media which portray Blacks negatively, you tend to believe what you see. Some people begin to believe subtle messages and conform. The Apostle Paul commands us to be transformed. Transformation comes not only in our hearts but in the renewal of our minds. There should be a new consciousness of knowing who you are and not what people think you are. Transformation through renewal of the mind helps you to think differently about yourself and other people. You are not inferior to any one because of the color of your skin. You are not superior to any one because of the color of your skin.


If you are transformed and your mind is renewed you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is –his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)


Steve Biko was a transformer with a renewed mind willing to transform and renew the minds of the Blacks and whites in South Africa to do God’s will. He became a threat to those whose mission was to oppress, dominate and enslave the minds of the Blacks. Transforming and renewing the minds of Blacks in South Africa was tampering with the Apartheid system. It was perceived as a revolution, terrorism and revolution hence Biko was arrested, beaten, tortured, chained and made to travel naked for many miles.


Biko did not give up. When you are transformed and your mind is renewed you cannot conform to the world. You will give your life to do God’s will.

Unfortunately we have people whose minds are not transformed. There are Black people who still believe that they are inferior. There are still white people who feel that they are superior and some are inferior and the white way is the only way. Mr. Glenn Beck accused President Barak Obama as a racist and hating the white culture. What he does not understand is that the election of the Black President in United States of America has changed the equation. America is no longer about white culture but about American Culture which is inclusive not only in race but in gender and different religions.  The God’s consciousness of respecting other people who do not look like them or have same beliefs as theirs, has not transformed and renewed their minds. Burning the Qur’an was not a sign of a transformed and renewed mind by God. I am glad that it was not done.


At a young age with a prestigious career in medicine, Biko gave his life to transform and renew our minds not to submit to oppression because of the color of our skin. He instilled  positive human and spiritual pride and self reliance to Black people everywhere in the world and also to urge white brothers and sisters to convert from superiority consciousness so that we can respect each other with transformed minds and renewed minds doing God’s will.


Are you transformed? Is your mind renewed? Are you moving in God’s will to respect others and yourself?


Pray to God to transform you and renew your mind to live and move differently in the life he gave you.

Amen! Amen! Amen!

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