Professor Angela Davis has applauded 13-year-old Pretoria High School for Girls student Zulaikha Patel for shining the light equally on her peers as the media has shone it on her.
At the 17th annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture hosted at Unisa, Pretoria, on Friday, September 9, Patel was summoned to the stage to honour Davis with a portrait, in a symbolic gesture of passing the torch from one generation to the next. Patel, however, refused to come alone and called upon her sisters to share the glory. This left Davis “impressed”.
Davis, an African American political activist and struggle veteran, gave the keynote address at this year’s lecture. She was introduced as “a person who graduated from the university of life, in the faculty of hard knocks”, by the master of ceremonies, Professor Somadoda Fikeni.
The crowd stood and applauded while Patel took the first steps towards the stage, then turned back to invite her fellow Pretoria Girls students to join her on the stage.
“I would be nothing without the organisations I stood with during those times,” said Davis in a media briefing after her address.
Davis emphasised the importance of organisations in political activism and the danger of lording individuals in collective struggles. She said movements required the strength of many contributors and Patel’s recognition of that truth was an “important” one.
The auditorium was coloured by chants, claps and songs of affirmation as Davis delivered her address where she spoke about the legacy of Steve Biko, her own experiences of political activism and on contemporary struggles for justice under the topic “legacies and unfinished activism”.
“The revolution we wanted was not the revolution we helped produce,” said Davis, speaking about the institutional and structural inequalities that continue to exist for black people across the world.
Throughout her address, Davis highlighted that the revolution was changing and the role of veterans and historical heroes and heroines increasingly becoming advisory rather than active.
“Veterans often take themselves and their knowledge too seriously,” said Davis; urging past leaders to allow young activists to create their own paths and to “learn from their mistakes”.
During her short visit to South Africa, Davis has met with various activists including Wits SRC President Nompendulo Mkhatshwa and former president Shaeera Kalla.
“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 protests,” said Davis to applause.
Video: Prof Angela Davis responds to a question from the media on how today’s political activists can respectfully challenge veterans given that they are now in the leadership of the new dispensation.
Also in attendance were former first ladies Graca Machel and Zanele Mbeki whom Davis recognised, regarding their presence an “honour” to her.
Crowds mingled after the lecture and reflective conversations could be heard throughout the halls. A media frenzy ensued as attendees swarmed to take pictures with Patel and to congratulate her for her courage. One was heard saying “Ngifuna is’thombe nalo mntwana”, meaning, “I want to take a picture with this child”, as he stood among the crowd waiting to greet Patel just outside the entrance to the lecture theatre.
Wits Vuvuzela, An open letter in support #PretoriaGirlsHigh from its Old Girls, August 30, 2016
Wits Vuvuzela, Pretoria High School for Girls alumni pledge their support, August 30, 2016