Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Apartheid, South Africa

They feared you

Dear Stephen
You said, “We do not want to be reminded that it is we, the indigenous people, who are poor and exploited in the land of our birth. These are concepts which the Black Consciousness approach wishes to eradicate from the black man’s mind before our society is driven to chaos by irresponsible people from Coca-cola and hamburger cultural backgrounds.”

They feared you, hence they killed you. The new ideas you were working out jangled their nerves, and you became a problem without a solution, just like we all were. But they couldn’t get the whole black nation to slip on a bar of soap. No. that was reserved for top problems like you.

Why didn’t they just send you to Robben Island, like the other top problems of the day? Perhaps you could have had your own political party, perhaps you could have become president of your land one day. Or vice-president. Or foreign minister. Youth minister would have suited you so!

We miss you, man.

I remember one day thinking how things would have been, had you been around to blog. Biko’s Blog. Biko’s big, bad, black blog. A big, black-green-red weblog emblazoned against our consciousness. Whose nerves would that have jangled then? I wonder what brand of soap they conjured up in their imagination as they declared your death. Sunlight? Lifebuoy? Palmolive? What does it matter? I wonder who made the decision to seal your lips with blows, what in your thinking pushed them over the edge, how many of the top brass watched the fatal beating, what they said to their spouses when they got home (”My God, I killed a man today,” or, “Hi honey – killed another kaffir today.”). They needed your consciousness movement, Steve, in order for them to have a consciousness of their own.

Bantu Steven Biko
Bantu Stephen Biko

BTW, they released ntate Mandela and other prisoners a while ago. He became president, then stepped down to let a younger Thabo take the reins. You remember Thabo, don’t you? Well, you probably know his dad, Govan Mbeki, also on the island prison. Man, so much things to say. South Africa is a real nation, now, with tons of problems like any other real nation. There’s unemployment and joblessness and urban violence. But nobody is being beaten to death and announced accidentally dead in detention, or having committed suicide.

After you died, some looked away, as they had for the very longest time. Most of them now have their guns trained on the ANC government. Paradoxal, huh? But others asked questions: “How did Biko receive the injury that caused his death? Who inflicted it, under what circumstances? Why was he kept naked and chained? Why did the doctors who attended him fail to interpret the undisputed signs of brain injury? Why did the doctors and all the police who were with him from the time he was injured until he died, all fail to notice the wound on his forehead which is so clearly visible in photos taken after his death?”

“And even more: why was the brain-damaged and dying man finally sent off on the long, terrible drive to Pretoria from Port Elizabeth, a big city with adequate hospitals? Why did the police give conflicting evidence, often caught out in contradictory statements or outright lies, none of which could explain the head injury? They had the time and the ability to concoct a story that would, at least superficially, account for the wound on Biko’s head. Why did they not do so? Why was an inquest held, why were details of the way he was treated permitted to be broadcast to the world. Why did the inquest find that no one was responsible for his death?”
No answers. There are never any answers to such things. Unfortunately for us, you were right when you told us that, “These guys – the day they get me – they’ll kill me, because I’ll beat up the guy or make him beat me so that I just die. If my hands are tied, I will spit in his face. I’m not going to answer questions that I don’t want to answer.”

Bantu Stephen Biko was born on 18 December 1946 in Ginsberg, a suburb of King William’s Town.

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  1. Sokari

    Beautiful piece Rethabile – Thank you Thank you for reminding us of what it means to stand up and be counted.

  2. @Sokari
    Sokari, we all need to be reminded so that we don’t let it happen anew. May he rest in peace.

  3. Maddy Wanny

    Happy B-day BMW, rest in peace.Great piece thanks and keep up the good work.