“Black is Beautiful”; waatsho uStephen Bantu Biko (1946 – 1977)


“It becomes necessary to see the truth, if you realise that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality.”

By: Andisiwe Mali

– Black America Web

The black man must come to himself; “to pump back life into his empty shell, infuse him with pride and dignity, remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and letting evil reign in the country of his birth, this is what we mean by Black Consciousness,” Bantu Biko said in his; ‘Frank Talk’ works of the Seventies.

December 18, 2014, marks 68 years since Biko’s rising in the rural village of Tylden between Cathcart neKomani to Mzingayi and Alice ‘Mamcete’ Biko, the third of four children. This year also marks 38 years since his death at the age of 30, in a prison cell ePitoli.

Biko was arrested August 18, 1977, at a roadblock in Grahamstown and charged under the Terrorism Act of 1967, about which Wikipedia has it that Section 6 of the Act provided for the detention of terrorism suspects for 60 days, renewable without trial upon the authority of a senior police officer. People subject to the Act tended to disappear and “It is estimated that 80 people died while being detained under the Act”.

Peter Jones, a disciple of Black Consciousness, accompanying Biko on the day said; “They pretended they didn’t know us. The police asked Biko, ‘who are you big man?’ and Biko replied: ‘I am Stephen Bantu Biko,’” After which Jones says Biko was detained and interrogated in Walmer Police station eBhayi. It was at this Police station that Biko sustained head injuries and admission to the prison hospital.

On Sunday morning, September 11; “Mr. Biko was removed from the prison hospital to Walmer police station on the recommendation of the district surgeon,” who later decided “to transfer him to Pretoria that Sunday night,” ostensibly to be seen to by medical specialists according to the the Rand Daily Mail (September 14).

Biko was transferred to Pretoria, a distance of some of 1 139 Km, naked in the back of a police van and later pronounced dead at a Pretoria prison September 12, 1977.

“Steve had no care in the world for politics, that changed when he was expelled from Lovedale, this was when the great giant was awakened,” late elder brother Khaya ‘BraBisto’ Biko (2006) said of Steve Biko’s involvement in the fight for freedom in a 1977 BBC interview.

He continued to say; “I knew how brutal they were in PE, they had a reputation, the moment I heard he was taken to PE I definitely knew he was not coming back alive, it came as no surprise to me”.

While Pan Africanist intellectual W.E.B Du Bois (1868 – 1963) earlier wrote; “The shadow of a mighty negro pass fleets through the tale of Ethiopia, of Egypt sphinx throughout history in powers of a single blurb, like falling stars that die sometimes before the world has rightly gaged their brightness”.

About Biko’s brief political activity, record has it that; “In 1968, at the age of 22 he helped found the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO), whose agenda included political self-reliance and the unification of students in “black consciousness”.  At the organisation’s inaugural conference in Turfloop, Steve Biko was elected as its first president in July of 1969.

In the early 1970s, Biko was a central figure in The Durban Movement, which “refers to a period when Durban became the centre of a new vibrancy in the struggle against apartheid,” according to Professor Karl van Holdt’s 2011 Opening Address at the M&G Literary Festival. In 1972, Biko was expelled from the University of Natal, where he was studying to be a doctor, for his political activities whence he became honorary president of the Black People’s Convention.

In the present day Biko is commemorated by; The Steve Biko Institute in Salvador Brazil, which supports the education and pride of Black Brazilians, in the UK Student Unions venues also bear his name, amongst others.

An annual Steve Biko Memorial lecture, as of 2000, has been delivered by luminaries such as Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, Professor Zakes Mda and former Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. The 2014 Steve Biko Memorial Lecture held at the University of Cape Town September 11 was delivered by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Judge Navanethem ‘Navi’ Pillay.

On the 20th anniversary of Biko’s death September 12, 1997; The erstwhile John Vorster Bridge, which connects the West and East Banks of the Buffalo river en route to Fort Glamorgan Prison where many political prisoners including Biko were detained was renamed to Biko Bridge by the late former President tat’uNelson Mandela.

A statue which stands in front of the East London City Hall on Oxford Street was also erected in Biko’s honour.

In 2012, The Steve Biko centre in Ginsberg, King Williams Town was launched and dedicated to the anti-apartheid Black People’s Convention President.

Jongi Hoza, acting Arts and Culture programmes officer at the centre says; “We ask difficult questions that may be not comfortable at times” and that; “we create opportunities for young people in terms of the arts and culture…

“We try to do programs that reflect what Biko stood for, what he believed and died for. If we want to carry on that legacy we have to ask ourselves; how are we helping to liberate ourselves, sincedise abantu bavuke bazenzele? Through art you can see isizwe siye yela ngoku.”

An ongoing production at the centre; “A Giant in Him; The life and times of Steve Biko”, resumes in February 2015. Hoza proffers; “The play provides answers, It paints a clear picture of Biko’s role in the struggle for liberation”.

Lamla Ntsaluba, owaseGinsburg, plays the leading role as Steve Biko in A Giant in Him. He says; “It was difficult at first, I even had to cut my dreadlocks to honor the role,” and adds; “I am attached to [the role] now as there are many things that I can relate to and are familiar with as where he (Bantu Biko) grew up is where I was born”.

Aelred Stubbs C.R. editor of the 1987 collection of Biko’s works under the title I Write What I like infers; “In order to achieve real action you must yourself be a living part of AFRICA and of her thought; you must be an element of that popular energy which is entirely called forth for the freeing, the progress and the happiness of AFRICA.

“There is no place outside that fight for the artist or for the intellectual who is not himself concerned with, and completely at one with the people in the great battle of AFRICA and of suffering humanity”.

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