U.S. Black activist Angela Davis called on young social justice leaders to not only follow the footsteps of past leaders but to also challenge their legacies as times have changed and issues have evolved, during a speech at the University of South Africa as part of the 17th annual Steve Biko memorial lecture.
“As dissatisfied as we are with the present, this is the present that was ushered into being by past revolutionary struggles,” Davis, the former member of the Black Panther Party and current university professor, told the crowd. “The revolution we wanted was not the revolution we helped to produce.”
Davis was invited to South Africa as a guest speaker at the foundation created to honor Steve Biko, the anti-apartheid activist and Black Consciousness Movement leader in South Africa who fought against racist apartheid.
Biko was executed by four police officers on Sept. 12, 1977 after he was brutally beaten and left to die naked on the floor of a police hospital.
“So when I reflect on the current moment, when I reflect on the United States, I ask myself what might we have done differently had we known that the election of the first Black president would be followed by the farcical election campaign we are currently experiencing,” she added.
Her speech and visit came amid fresh frustration by South African student movements against paying for education, as well as discrimination against those who wear Afros and use their African languages.
Days before Davis’ visit, students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal set a library ablaze over stalled negotiations on free education.
The month of August also saw a group of schoolgirls protesting for their rights to speak African languages and wear Afros.
“I would not have been able to imagine then, that two decades after the defeat of apartheid we would be confronted with militaristic responses to people’s activism,” Davis told the audience which included a group of schoolgirls from Pretoria High School for Girls where the protest took place.
She further stressed the similarities and support shown by the student movements in South Africa and the anti-police movement Black Lives Matter in the U.S. and how both groups on each side of the Atlantic are being led by Black women.
But imitating Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela as well as Biko should not be enough to bring change, Davis warned as she called on the new young Black leaders to go beyond their legacies and capitalize on their work and achievements.
“Even though there are never guarantees that we will reach the futures we dream, we cannot stop dreaming and we cannot stop struggling,” Davis concluded to a roar of applause and the last of several standing ovations. “There will always be vibrant legacies, there will always be unfulfilled promises, there will always be unfinished activisms.”