By Aphiwe Ngowapi
A group of dedicated learners from Victoria Girls’ High School (VGHS) and Graeme College in Makhanda have embarked on a mission to honour the legacy of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko by submitting their application to Makana Municipality to have Beaufort Street renamed to Steve Biko Street. The students believe that renaming the street would serve as a powerful reminder of Biko’s contributions to the struggle for equality and justice in South Africa.
“The reason that we come to you today is that we believe there is a specific street here in [Makhanda] that holds huge significance, not only when we talk about the history of [Makhanda] or Black people but also when you talk about the history of South Africa. That was the street where Steve Biko was subsequently arrested. That street is still known as Beaufort Street, which we, as scholars, feel is not fitting for that street,” says Graeme College learner Alizwa Gushu.
The scholars leading the initiative have taken inspiration from Biko’s fearless dedication to equality. In their application to the municipality, they highlighted Biko’s role in raising awareness about the inhumane treatment of Black individuals under apartheid policies and his emphasis on unity among all South Africans. As a result of his dedication to the struggle, he was arrested on Beaufort Street in Makhanda in August 1977. Biko’s arrest marked a pivotal moment in his activism, as he continued to advocate for the rights and dignity of Black South Africans even in the face of oppression.
The name change initiative has garnered significant support from the Corporate and Shared Services Chairperson, Mphumzi Rumsell “Ramie” Xonxa, Manager at the office of the Municipal Manager at Makana Municipality, Likhaya Ngandi, and the Director of Corporate and Shared Services, Xolela Kalashe, who recognize the importance of preserving and promoting the history of South Africa’s struggle for freedom. Many hope that renaming the street will pay tribute to Steve Biko and educate future generations about the nation’s history and the individuals who paved the way for a more inclusive society.
“I’m over the moon; I’m excited. Officially, the Director will accept the paper; the process is that this proposition will be handed over to the office of the municipal manager to be stamped. We haven’t seen many students coming up with such a proposal and want to tell you we are proud,” said Xonxa.
“I am moved, and I encourage you to do proper research on the day that he died, what happened, where he was going, who he was with, and the actual spot where he was arrested maybe a little further, like where he was taken to and how he was brutalized. Then, you will know the enormity of what you are initiating today. At the end of your research, you must know that he died because he wanted to be treated like a human being; he never hated White people and wanted us to be treated equally,” said Ngandi.
Kalashe concluded the meeting, saying, “Today, you have made us very proud. I don’t want to lie. Next month, we will be celebrating his birthday on 12 September. As you are seated here, I am being reminded of my young boy whom I assisted on an assignment about Steve Biko, and I was very excited knowing that today you are reading about him. We never had those chances to read about our own history.”
City officials have acknowledged the petition and have stated that the proposal will go through a formal review process, which will include public consultations to gather input from the community. The renaming process will involve various logistical and administrative steps to update official records and signage if approved.
As the proposition progresses through the municipal channels, the students remain hopeful that their efforts will result in the renaming of Beaufort Street to Steve Biko Street. Their unwavering dedication serves as a reminder that the legacy of Steve Biko and the broader struggle for equality remains alive and relevant in today’s world.
*CORRECTION: Alizwa Gushu is a learner at Greame College and not at Victoria Girls’ High School as stated in the original article.