September 12, 2007

September 12 | Steve Biko

December 18, 1946 - September 12, 1977: Age 30

Stephen Bantu Biko was a medical student in South Africa who co-founded the South African Students' Organization (SASO) in response to apartheid. One of the most prominent and inspiring voices in South African resistance to injustice, Biko was targeted by the South African security forces for harassment and detention. On August 18, 1977 he was arrested for violating an order banning him from travel outside his home town. During his detention he was tortured and beaten, resulting in a brain hemhorrage. On September 11 he was transported to Pretoria central prison, a 12-hour journey endured naked in the back of a police Land Rover. He died on the floor of an empty cell in the Pretoria Central Prison on September 12.

At first police claimed his death was the result of a hunger strike, but the obvious head injuries on the body made it clear Biko had been beaten and clubbed while imprisoned and that he had died of head injuries. During a 1978 investigation the police claimed that his head injuries were the result of a suicide attempt. The Minister of Police, Jimmy Kruger, was quoted as saying, "Biko's death leaves me cold."

Alive, Biko was just another player, albeit an outstanding one, in a movement weakened by quarreling and fragmentation. Dead, he was a martyr: the horror and outrage at his murder and the pathetic attempt to gloss it over united the many factions fighting South African oppression. To a great extent his death opened the eyes of the world to the brutality of the regime. His white friend Donald Woods, another journalist, got access to his body in the morgue and took photographs that were transmitted all over the world. Nobody who was an adult at the time will forget them. His funeral was attended by hundreds of people, including notable public figures and diplomats from all over the world.

It was not until 13 years later, in 1990, that the South African government began removing apartheid legislation from the statute books. In 1997 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported that five former members of the South African security forces admitted to killing him and had requested amnesty. In 2003 the South African Justice Ministry announced that they would not be prosecuted because of insufficient evidence and the long time span that had elapsed.

Sources: Steve Biko Foundation, Wikipedia, ZAR.CO.ZA


Ulla said...

Reading about these unusual events and deaths
with interest, as 'stories', and then realizing that they were real lives, real human beings who went through
extraordinary sufferings, one must be greatful for what one has been granted.
Boring, perhaps, but oh, so safe...
Thanks, Franca

Yahya Bene Dicere said...

Biko's spirit lives on in the stifled voices of the poor. Sadly, not much has changed today. Apartheid is still very much alive and resurrected in a new super form. Race and division according to other perceived differences, is still very much a part of African and world affairs. It will take hard work by those who understand deeply the message of Biko, and who possess both courage and discipline, to really make an impact on the world. By the grace of our most Loving God, we will reach a true humanity.