The commemoration of Steve Biko’s death has prompted statements from many politicians urging the public to remember and preserve the legacy of the revolutionary thought leader.

Biko died in a police cell at the then Pretoria Central Prison (now Kgosi Mampuru Correctional Centre) following his arrest in August 1977.

He had been savagely beaten by apartheid security police while in police detention in Port Elizabeth and sustained serious injuries including brain damage.

Biko founded the Black Consciousness movement, urging young people to commit themselves to the fight against apartheid.

In his article Black Consciousness and the Quest for True Humanity, Biko noted that, “the racism we meet is not only on an individual basis; is it also institutionalised to make it look like the South African way of life. Although of late there is a feeble attempt to gloss over the racist elements in the system, it is still true that the system derives its nourishment from anti-black attitudes in society.”

We asked former president of the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo), Dr Itumeleng Mosala about the position of black consciousness in South African society today.

Mosala explained that Black Consciousness has never been more important than it is today.

He described the emphasis placed on the dignity of the human person and in particular the dignity of the black person considering what the system of apartheid was intended to do: dehumanise black people.

He further explained that Black Consciousness always linked apartheid to colonialism, which had in many different ways facilitated the dehumanisation of black people.

“The view was always when our own people take over political machinery and when freedom comes there will be an undoubted affirmation of the dignity of black people,” Mosala said.

He said the last 22 years, with the exception of the Constitution, have seen nothing but the continuity of the oppression of black people, including violence against women and children, lack of access to basic services, and poor community safety.

“Because we call ourselves democratic, the challenges are bigger than before. When the president of the country behaves as President Zuma behaves, the principles of Black Consciousness have been negated. When we have a ruling party that is arrogant and (has) not cared about ordinary people… If you look at our failures in the education system there is absolutely no doubt that the principles of Black Consciousness have been negated,” Mosala explained.

He ascribed the decline of the popularity of the name of the Black Consciousness movement on a lack of resources and access to political power saying, “we were not popular enough in the beginning.”

After winning one seat in the 2004 and 2009 national elections, Azapo lost that too in the 2014 election. In 2006 it won 0.3% in local government elections, which declined to 0.2% in 2011.

He said that although it is not named, the principles of Black Consciousness live on.

At its inauguration in 2015, Socialist Party of Azania (Sopa) president Lybon Mabasa said the EFF represented the future of and a new possibility for South Africa and Sopa “was not afraid to associate with anybody who said the land must be returned to its owners and that the mines must be nationalised … The EFF can be assured of our support.”