Bantu Stephen Biko (18 Dec 1946 – 12 Sep 1977)
Today marks 33 years since anti-apartheid struggle hero and Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko died in police custody in Pretoria. His death in detention was reported by the authorities to have been caused by Biko being on hunger strike. This was a lie. The reality was that Biko had been literally tortured and beaten to death.
In 1968 Biko established a new all-black and pro-black organisation named the South African Students Organisation (SASO). He was elected as its first President in July 1969. SASO adopted a new pro-black and radical doctrine that became known as Black Consciousness which by Biko’s own definition was the “cultural and political revival of an oppressed people.”
By 1971, the Black Consciousness Movement had grown into a formidable force throughout the country. In an attempt to reform SASO (which originally comprised students) and incorporate the adult element Biko established the Black People’s Convention (BPC) as well as Black Community Programmes (BCP).
It was only a matter of time before Steve Biko was banned by the government. In 1973 he was formally banned and confined to the magisterial district of King William’s Town, his birth place. Among other things, the banning entailed prohibiting him from teaching or making public addresses (or speaking to more than one person at a time), preventing him from entering educational institutions and reporting to the local police station once every week.
On the 18th of August, 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967 and interrogated by officers of the Port Elizabeth security police including Harold Snyman and Gideon Nieuwoudt.
This interrogation took place in the Police Room 619 (sometimes numbered as 6-1-9). The interrogation lasted twenty-two hours and included torture and beatings resulting in a coma. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody, and was chained to a window grille for a day.
On 11 September 1977, police loaded him in the back of a Land Rover, naked and restrained in manacles, and began the 1,500 km drive to Pretoria to take him to a prison with hospital facilities. However, he was nearly dead owing to the previous injuries.
He died shortly after arrival at the Pretoria prison, on 12 September.
The police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike, but an autopsy revealed multiple bruises and abrasions and that he ultimately succumbed to a brain haemorrhage from the massive injuries to the head, which many saw as strong evidence that he had been brutally clubbed by his captors.
Peter Gabriel performing “Biko” live with visuals and audio from the movie “Cry Freedom” starring Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline.
Peter Gabriel – Biko
Port Elizabeth weather fine
It was business as usual
In police room 619
When I try to sleep at night
I can only dream in red
The outside world is black & white
With only one colour dead
You can blow out a candle
But you can’t blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
-The man is dead
And the eyes of the world are