Ginsberg — The opening of the Steve Biko Centre in the Eastern Cape on Friday will serve as an intellectual resource, while providing an economic opportunity for the region, President Jacob Zuma said.
"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.
The centre had been built through a partnership between the departments of Arts and Culture as well as tourism with Cabinet recently declaring it a national legacy project.
Friday's event was graced by, among others, Tourism Deputy Minister Tokozile Xasa, Eastern Cape Premier Noxolo Kiviet, long-time friend and fellow activist former UNISA vice Chancellor Barney Pityana and academic Mamphela Ramphela. They all remembered Biko as a selfless leader who believed in the well-being of his people.
This year marks 35 years since the black consciousness leader died in police custody in August of 1977 and in three weeks times he would have celebrated his 66th birthday.
Earlier in the day, Zuma visited Biko's grave where he laid wreath and led a prayer.
In opening the facility, the President, who began his speech by singing 'senzeni na' (what have we done), told a gathering of about 500 people that government had decided to dedicate the year 2012 to heritage. Part of that heritage would include unveiling monuments and memorials that pay homage to those who made the supreme sacrifice during the wars of resistance and in the struggle for liberation.
"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.
Biko did not only preach self-reliance, he also practiced 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.
"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," said Zuma.
He said the centre would educate the public about the leadership of Biko and his contribution to freedom and democracy. It would also contribute to poverty eradication through the development of cultural industries and to utilize heritage as a tool for fostering social cohesion.
The state-of-the-art building will feature as the cornerstone of the Biko Heritage trail; a series of Biko related sites spanning from Port Elizabeth to King William's Town. A number of these sites, among them Biko's home in Ginsberg Township, the Biko Bridge in East London as well as Zanempilo Clinic, which Biko co-founded in the mid-1970's, have been declared national heritage sites.
It boasts, among others, a museum an archive centre, a library resource centre, a commemorative garden honoring human rights activists and a community media centre.
A white marque set up on Zotshi street on Friday was packed to capacity by locals who braved the cold rainy weather to witness the opening of the centre. Those who spoke to SAnews said they hoped the facility would boost local tourism and attract visitors to this sleepy town situated about 60 kilometres from East London.
"We feel honoured today, we hope the centre will be able to attract people to our town because at the end of the day it is Ginsberg that produced Steve Biko, it makes sense therefore that people here should take ownership of his legacy," said Siyabulela Sidima, a 22-year-old university student.
Like many others, he will be using the library offered by the centre to help him through his studies.
Zuma also 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.
The South African people needed to celebrate the life of this hero, beyond political divides.
"Steve Biko stood in a class of his own, and today, we reiterate our immense pride and joy in being able to call this fearless fighter for justice and freedom, our compatriot."
Kiviet committed the provincial government to maintaining the centre and ensure it did not turn into "a white elephant". She invited the community to make the centre their home.
"Biko was fearless, visionary and a humble servant of the people. He lived his life for others and was one of the greatest t leaders of our country. Apartheid robbed South Africa of its gallant son. There is no better way to honour Biko than to invest in the upliftment of his people and the area he grew up in," Kiviet said.
The Premier said the centre will serve as a fountain of knowledge and reminder of Biko's contribution to the struggle for freedom in South Africa.
Earlier, Pityana, who is credited for walking along Biko in crafting the concept of the Black Consciousness Movement, said Biko was committed to development.
"He 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".
He was hopeful the centre would be a place that builds and develop young people and stands a monument to 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.