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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Hlumelo Biko’s The Great African Society Launched at The Book Lounge

Hlumelo Biko

Being the son of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko and activist Mamphela Ramphele has strongly influenced Hlumelo Biko’s thoughts on the current state of South Africa and the way forward for the country, which he outlines in his book The Great African Society: A Plan for a Nation Gone Astray.

Hlumelo Biko The Great African SocietyAt the packed launch of the book, held at The Book Lounge in Cape Town on Friday, Biko recalled his childhood growing up in a township outside Tzaneen where his mother had a clinic. His father had been killed in the custody of the apartheid police before he was born.

Still a young boy, Biko moved with his mother to Cape Town, where he was given the opportunity to be educated at a private school. In discussion with The Book Lounge proprietor Mervyn Sloman, Biko remarked on the “randomness” of this, saying that there were probably better learners who deserved it more, which made him realise that something was seriously wrong in a system where talented children were denied a proper education.

However, Biko is grateful for the education he received and aware of the difference it made in his life. He said that often in South Africa there is a negative connotation to being “privileged”, but Biko believes that if you come from a privileged background, you should not be ashamed of it – you should accept it and the responsibility it brings.

Education is one of the topics Biko tackles in his book. He points out that the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, has failed time and again to define a benchmark for basic education infrastructure. “The Minister needs to admit that it is not up to standard,” Biko said.

He believes the government should ask the World Bank for a loan so that the necessary infrastructure can be put in place. “If this doesn’t happen, young people won’t pass matric and they will resort to crime, which makes society unsafe for the rest of the people.”

Biko said that corporates should also come to the party and invest in education. A venture capitalist, Biko is also involved in African Schools for Excellence, an organisation which sets up schools and asks corporates to support them, so that the learners do not have to pay tuition fees.

Growing up without a father, Biko’s mother had always tried to provide him with positive male role models, which taught him the importance of having someone to look up to when you are young. Unfortunately many people in government and business are not setting a good example as reports of corruption proliferate.

Biko suggests a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” for corruption: Amnesty would be granted to corrupt officials if they disclose all within a given period. “This will flush some of the corruption out,” he said. Corruption uncovered after the amnesty period would be dealt with harshly.

Sloman could not resist ending the launch by asking Biko about his mother’s recently established party political platform, Agang South Africa, and whether Biko was also headed for a life in politics. Biko said that his mother had been called to create this platform, because she was from the generation who had lost loved ones pursuing an ideal which now seems to have been discarded. He mentioned that one of Agang South Africa’s goals was to change the electoral system so that citizens will vote for specific leaders, increasing accountability. Biko said that he would support his mother but that he would not become a politician himself as he has a low tolerance for politics.

But Sloman pointed out that Ramphele had also sworn she would not enter politics when her latest book was launched at The Book Lounge last year, so you never know what might happen…

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Carolyn Meads livetweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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