Look to Biko on Mandela Day
On this Nelson Mandela International Day, we should be turning to Steve Biko - another liberation struggle icon - for some of the answers to the crises confronting our country.
Don't get me wrong, we have every reason to celebrate Madiba's life and the 67 years he devoted to the struggle for social justice here and elsewhere in the world.
The 67 minutes that many will spend today doing voluntary work in honour of Madiba's 94th birthday will indeed not be in vain.
Despite the many advances that have been made since South Africa became a non-racial democracy in 1994, poverty remains endemic and the public health system and education - especially in predominantly black and poor areas - are in dire straits.
So any form of help, any hand of assistance offered on this or any other day of the year should go some distance in alleviating the hardship that the vast numbers of our compatriots go through on a daily basis.
That many middle-class South Africans will be venturing into townships and poverty-stricken informal settlements to fix broken classroom window panes, feed orphans and donate clothes and books is in itself a wonderful thing.
Hopefully, such acts of charity and the exposure to the living conditions of most South Africans will lead to higher levels of consciousness among our middle classes about the real social problems the country continues to be confronted with.
But to really achieve the ideal of the society Mandela "hoped to live for and achieve" and one that "if needs be" he was "prepared to die" for, we need much more than charity.
Madiba's ideal of a "democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities" will remain a pipe dream for as long as the vast majority continues to live under the oppressive social conditions imposed by colonialism and apartheid.
And one of the first steps towards improving the Black Condition is for the majority to remember one of Biko's greatest teachings - that it is its own liberator.
Well-meaning programmes by the state, non-governmental organisations, corporations and private individuals to improve the lives of the poor have, unfortunately, had unintended consequences in too many of our communities.
They have led to a culture of so much dependency that some communities now expect outside help for even the smallest of problems.
At 30, Biko died too young. Yet his contribution to South Africa's liberation struggle was immense.
His Black Consciousness philosophy not only helped to revive the resistance movement inside the country but helped to introduce an ethos of self-reliance and pride in a people who had been made by the state to believe that they were sub-human.
He put as much emphasis on teaching communities to do things for themselves, rather than wait for outside help, as he did on political mobilisation.
Through the Black Community Programme, Biko and his comrades - most of whom were fellow university students - built medical clinics, conducted adult education and literacy classes and assisted emerging entrepreneurs with their businesses.
Biko and his comrades were able to do all of this under hostile conditions imposed by the apartheid state.
In a democratic South Africa, where state repression is a thing of the past and significant sections of the previously oppressed now form part of the upwardly mobile classes, there should be a proliferation of similar programmes across the country.
Imagine what a positive impact such programmes would have on education, health and the general welfare of the poor.
With self-reliance comes a sense of ownership. It has been one of the sad realities of post-apartheid South Africa that large sections of those who were previously excluded from the running of the state still see public facilities as alien to them - even if they have been built for their use.
That is why when there is a violent "service-delivery" protest, it is inevitably the public library, the school or the community centre that is vandalised.
Instead of seeing such facilities as their collective possessions to be used for the common good, communities view them as as "belonging to the government". Destruction of these facilities is seen as a loss to the state, not the people they are intended to help.
It would not have taken South Africa six months to know that textbooks were not delivered to some public schools in Limpopo had parents taken ownership of their children's education and demanded, from the start, what was constitutionally theirs.
But Biko's teachings are useful not only for the poor. They can be employed within the ranks of the black middle class to promote entrepreneurship and real economic empowerment.
With real entrepreneurship, rather than reliance on state tenders and part-ownership of established white companies, will come jobs for the unemployed.
In this way we could truly honour Mandela's efforts.