REMEMBERING BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS LEADER - STEVEN BANTU BIKO
On September 12 2018, the South African Government, the Steve Biko Foundation, the Azanian Peoples Organisation(AZAPO) and the people at large paid tribute to the leader of the black consciousness movement, Steven Bantu Biko, who died 41 years ago after being tortured and brutally beaten by the former apartheid security police.
Five years after Biko's death, the Press Trust of SA Third World News Agency, which was established in 1980 by struggle journalist Subry Govender, wrote and distributed the following article around the world on the 5th anniversary of the death of Steve Biko.
The article was published on August 16 1982 at a time when Subry Govender was banned and house-arrested.
5TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEATH OF STEVE BIKO
On September 12 1977 the majority of South Africans and the world at large were shocked into silence and disbelief when one of the brightest young black leaders met an untimely and gruesome death at the hands of the notorious apartheid security police.
The young man in question was Steven Bantu Biko, the 30-year-old leader of the black consciousness movement. He died of head wounds and brain damage 25 days after being detained along with a fellow black consciounsess leader and close friend, Peter Jones, at a road block in the Eastern Cape on August 18 1977.
Biko became the 43rd South African political detainee to die under mysterious circumstances while under police custody.
Today, five years later, Biko still haunts the conscience of white South Africans and the government that was responsible for his brutal death.
Black South Africans, on the other hand, remmber him as a martyr of the ongoing liberation struggle in South Africa.
BPC AND SASO
The Azanian Peoples Organisation(AZAPO), which replaced the Black Peoples Convention(BPC) and the South African Students Organisation (SASO) that were banned after Biko's death, has organised a series of events to mark the fifth anniversary of his death.
The activities include "Biko week", which will be held from September 5 to September 12, and a play on the life and death of the late black consciousnes leader.
LIBERATION UNITY MOVE
At the time of his unfortunate death, Biko, who was the banned president of the BPC, was reportedly involved in moves inside the country to unify the forces of the African National Congress(ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress(PAC) in an attempt to co-ordinate the struggles against white minority rule.
It is understood that Biko and Jones were on this particular mission when they were stopped at a road block between King William's Town and East London and detained under the country's notorious security laws.
But what was reported to be merely an arrest for breaking his banning orders turned out to be one of the saddest events in the history of the country.
He was held in solitary confinement with no proper washing facilities at a cell at the headquarters of the security police in Port Elizabeth. And later kept naked, hand-cuffed and leg-shackled to the iron bars of his cell.
On September 11 when he was found to be in a state of collapse in the cell he was transported, lying naked in the back of a landrover, to a Pretoria prison more than 1 200km away. This, the authorities said, was done out of compassion for Biko because the medical facilities in Pretoria were far better than those in Port Elizabeth.
But the next day Steve Biko died a miserable and lonely death on a mat on the stone floor of the prison.
Immediately after his death reverberated throughout South Africa and the world, the then South African Minister of Justice, Jummy Kruger, made small talk of the tragedy when he told a cheering meeting of the ruling National Party in the Transvaal that Biko had starved himself to death.
JIMMY KRUGER – “IT LEAVES ME COLD”
He echoed the callousness and satisfaction of the Pretoria apartheid regime when he said:
"I am not sad, I am not glad, it leaves me cold."
His callousness knew no bounds even when it transpired that Steve Biko died of brain injuries. Kruger's response was typical:
"A man can damage his brain in many ways."
He went onto imply suicide by saying:
"I don't know if they were self-inflicted. But I often think of banging my own head against a wall."
Even the security police in charge of Steve Biko at the time of his death, a Colonel Goosen, tried to absolve himself and his men from any blame by saying that he had taken all measures to ensure the safe-keeping of detainees, and to make sure that they did not escape or injure themselves. But in trying to find excuses, he made a gigantic slip that really landed him in the soup.
SECURITY POLICE – “ASSAULTING TEAM”
He said: "I am proud that during Biko's interogation , no assault charges had ever been laid against my ASSAULTING TEAM." He later changed the phrase to "interrogating team".
But the truth of the matter was that Steve Biko died of at least five brain lessions caused by the application of external force to his head.
The official inquest into Biko's death, however, found that no one was responsible and cleared the security policemen of any blame.
Five years later, while black South Africans again remember Biko, it was worth recounting the short life of the man who was chiefly responsible for conscientising and politicising the young people during the 1970s.
Biko was born to humble parents in the small town of Ginsberg in the Eastern Cape where he completed his early schooling and his matriculation. He proceeded to Durban to do a doctor's degree at the University of Natal Black Medical School where he soon became involved in the activities of the multi-racial National Union of South African Students (NUSAS).
“COLONIALISM AND IMPERIALISM”
But his association with NUSAS led to disillusionment when he and his friends found that the "black man" could never gain liberation by joining the debating chambers of white-controlled organisations.
It was against this background that Biko and his colleagues established the South African Students Organisation(SAS0) and later the Black Peoples' Convention(BPC) to cater for non-students working outside the apartheid system.
Biko set the two organisations on their course when he outlined the philosophy of black consciousness by saying that blacks had to shake off all forms of colonialism and imperialism - cultural, economical and psychological - in order to win physical freedom.
But his leadership was shortlived. The Pretoria authorities, sensing that he was a force to be reckoned with, slapped him with a five-year banning order in 1974 and restricted him to his home district of King William's Town.
BIKO – CHARISMATIC AND VOCIFEROUS
Despite the restrictions and security police harrassment, Biko continued to harness the thinking of the young people and to be in the forefront of international spotlight. He was such a charismatic and vociferous opponent of apartheid that scores of diplomats and international personalities used to literally search him out in the backdrop of Ginsberg for his views.
Therefore, when his death came suddenly and cruelly on September 12 1977, black South Africa and the world cried "murder" at the Pretoria authorities. To their shock and amazement the official inquest into his death found that no one was responsible and the security policemen who were responsible for his detention were cleared of all blame.
BIKO – THE MARTYR WAS BORN
A leader who succeeded in bringing about a "fresh revolution" and who had out-manouvred an almost Nazi-system, is no more but his actions and ideals still live on in new organisations and projects.
And they will certainly not disappear.
For when Biko the man died on September 12 1977, Biko the martyr was born. - ends (Press Trust of South Africa Third World News Agency – August 16 1982)