|Steve Biko, Anti-aprtheid martyr|
Incidents preceding 60s-70s anti-apartheid activism of icon Steve Biko involve a cocktail of players like Hendrik Verwoerd, John Voster, Nelson Mandela and the fall of white colonial dominoes in southern Africa.
PM Verwoerd, the Dutch ideological fanatic and architect of grand apartheid and his Minister of Justice and WW2 Nazi sympathizer Voster embarked on scaling up the racial edifice started in 1958.
This made South Africa to have two nations.
Afrikaners and English-speakers whites under the leadership of National Party controlled resources and governments, economy boomed with influx of foreign trade. Inbred and insular from apartheid propaganda of control of media, to them the value of apartheid was unquestionable.
On the other hand, blacks were deported from white residence, denied amenities, could only own one business without expansion. Banking, supermarkets, petrol stations and even garages were not allowed in their segregated zones.
The ultimate segregation was the ‘whites only’ separation and denial of voting rights.
“The only way the Europeans can maintain supremacy is by domination…and the only way they can maintain domination is by withholding the vote from non-Europeans” PM Hans Strijdom is quoted by Leonard Thompson in the Political Mythology of South Africa as telling the parliament.
The African National congress, ANC to attempt reverse this discrimination failed with the 21st March 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, crash of Umkhonto we Sizwe and imprisonment of Nelson Mandela to Robben Island on 12th June 1964.
Additionally, ANC mandate that SA belonged ‘to all who live in it, black and white’ with white supremacists hell bend policies brought out a splinter group Pan-Africanist Congress, PAC.
This PAC ideology of ‘Africa for Africans by Africans’ brought for Steve Biko after a decade lull with imprisonment of Mandela.
This great man Steve Biko
Steve Biko, a Xhosa was born on 18th December 1946 in King Williams Town, Eastern Cape-SA. His anti-apartheid activism started while he was a medical student at University of Natal.
In 1968 he started South African Students Organisation, SASO and become its first president. SASO got its support from blacks, coloreds and Indians students with exception of whites as envisioned by PAC.
When he was expelled from the university in 1972, SASO gave birth to Black Consciousness Movement, BCM.
During this post Sharpeville boom, black man was locked out of the system completely. Like revolutionary Dr. Frantz Fanon, Biko felt contempt at the black’s negative image and submissiveness.
BCM message was: “Black is beautiful: Man you are okay as you are, begin to look upon yourself as a human being”
Biko believed the physical push against apartheid there was to be a psychological turnaround to foster black awareness, black capabilities and black achievement.
Biko penned his thought in his book I Write What I Like
|I Write What I Like|
After university Biko moved to his home town in Eastern Cape and started community work and consciousness to uplift the black community.
“The type of Blackman we have today has lost his manhood. A shell. A shadow of man drowning in his own misery” Biko wrote that awed at white man’s power black had accepted their ‘inevitable position’
He noted that privately in toilets the blacks condemned apartheid but in open they wore fake smiles to please the government.
Such comments made the government to ban Biko and seven other colleagues in 1973. He was restricted at King William’s Town, forbidden to speak in public, write in a publication or be quoted. He was also not allowed in presence of more than one person at a time while in public.
His community work was also stopped.
With all this challenges the spread of BCM continued buoyed by the morale of the collapse of Portuguese white rule in Angola and Mozambique. SA 1976 attempt to keep the white dominoes of southern Africa from black north by sending an expedition in Angola was defeated by the Marxist MPLA.
The culmination of BCM and Biko’s activism came with the Soweto uprising.
16th June 1976, Soweto Uprising
|1976, Soweto Uprisng|
“What is the use of teaching a Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice” Verwoerd said. This brought a ‘Bantu’ education to already strained black schools to lock them out of job market.
The folly of apartheid was when it replaced half of subjects taught from African vernacular to Afrikaans and English.
On 16th June 1976 students in Soweto staged an uprising against the education policy by boycotting classes taught in Afrikaans. Within a week about 150 people, especially school children died.
Their hatred of apartheid by marching against police brutality forced the government to retreat on the Afrikaans issue. In all at least 600 died and 4,000 wounded, with others getting lost in police dungeons and running into exile to form a bulk of ANC guerillas.
The uprising was the apex of Biko’s uprising which lead to his demise. Arrested over 23 times, he met his death when arrested in 18th August 1977 outside Port Elizabeth by Synman Harold and Gideon Nieuwoudt when he was from Grahamstown in Cape Town.
For 23 days he was held in solitary confinement, naked, without toiletries and exercise. Held in leg irons and hand cuffs he was moved to police headquarters in Sinlam Building room 4-1-9 in Port Elizabeth for integrations.
The police savagely beat the naked Biko before stret6ching him with metal grilles in a crucifix form. He was left in the position comatose without any medical attention.
For two days he was left on a mat with a doctor who examined him finding no apparent injury. On the third day, while forming on the mouth it was decided he be removed from prison hospital to Pretoria 1100 Km away for treatment.
Barely comatose, Biko was covered with only a prison blanket and given only a bottle of water before being thrown in the back of a police pickup for the 11 hour ride.
He died hours after reaching Pretorian lying naked on a mat, on a stone floor. He was only 30 years old and the day was 12th September 1977.
The then police boss Jimmy Kruger insisted he died from hunger strike. He said: "I am not glad and I am not sorry about Mr. Biko. It leaves me cold (Dit laat my koud). I can say nothing to you ... Any person who dies ... I shall also be sorry if I die."
AG and a judge of Eastern Cape rejected persecution.
Rand Daily Mail journalist Hellen Zille and Daniel Woods uncovered the cover up of the police murder with the title: ‘No sign of hunger strike- Biko doctors” Woods accompanied the story by shots of Biko’s wounded body.
Hellen Zille is currently a politician and leaders of Democratic alliance, DA while Daniel Woods, Biko’s personal friend went into exile in Britain and published the book Biko.
In 1997 the intricate of the murder was confirmed by Truth and Reconciliation Commission of SA when Biko’s 5 police killers’ application for amnesty was rejected. A 2003 court ruling absolved them citing insufficient evidence and expiry of time limit to avoid persecution.
His funeral which was attended by 10,00 strong including western Europe and US diplomats and coupled with Soweto uprising brought pressure on apartheid system forcing them to remove ‘whites Only’ segregation.
Equally the 1976 Soweto Uprising exiles gave ANC recruits for guerillas. Thus ANC buried its feud with Biko when they used his image in 1994 election and placed him on its heroes roll.
His popularity lives in children named after him, music, theater and movies on him. Streets and buildings are named after him.
Notably in 1987 Richard Attenborough movie Cry Freedom on Biko’s story starring Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline.