Steve Biko an embodiment of the triumph of good over evil
By Learnmore Zuze
My dear brothers and sisters allow me to digress a bit. I do not wish to dive into the murky waters of politics neither do I believe that I was called into that landmine field.
I only wish to pay homage to a man whose life cut across political, religious, tribal and racial boundaries in this month of his death (September). Just like the Biblical Steven; he died in the hands of an evil system.
The life of Steven Bantu Biko (1946-1977) is inspirational and it remains sad that regardless of the massive potential bestowed upon him, he could only live for 31 years on earth. Biko was a red-hot anti-apartheid activist in the 1960s and 1970s in South Africa.
He was a medical doctor-a graduate of the Natal Medical School. Reflecting on the life of this luminary, I am tempted to go along with the popular belief that the brilliantly gifted people do not live long. Biko died at a time when his inspiration was solely needed.
He was some kind of Moses who sadly could not reach the Promised Land and what a painful way he went. Biko died a painful death and his death broke the hearts of many. However, Biko’s life has continued to inspire many because he fought bravely against an evil system.
He was so passionate about setting the black man free and his very life was lost for that cause. So cruel and repressive was the apartheid system that, in Biko’s words, “It gave South Africa an inhuman face.” The black man could not stand on equal footing with the white man.
It was in the wake of such evil that Biko fought and would often say, “In time we shall be able to give South Africa the greatest possible gift-a more human face.” It was common knowledge that most dissenting voices disappeared without trace under the apartheid regime.
Many were hanged. It was unthinkable that anyone would remain defiant in the face of such danger but Biko took the apartheid system head on.
Today, Steve Biko is sorely missed. Interviews have been held and documentaries have been made but you would find that people still hunger for more on the life and times of Biko.
Renowned Jamaican musician Beenieman laments in his tribute song, “Brother tell me what you really know about this great man, Steve Biko…he gave me the confidence to sing this song” Biko’s life continues to inspire people fighting different forms of evil across the globe.
Biko believed that all people stand equal before their Creator and foremost deserve equal status before the law. This belief was at variance with the oppressors who believed in white supremacy. Biko was expelled from the University of Natal in 1972 due to his political activity.
He was a thorn in the flesh of the apartheid system and they found him too difficult to handle as he eloquently argued the black man’s cause. The tyrannical system felt threatened by Biko and consequently the regime banned him in 1973.
The ban was so stringent that it carried the following conditions: Biko was not allowed to speak to more than one person at a time. He was not allowed to speak in public. Further, Biko was not allowed to speak to the media and he was not allowed to write publicly.
The system was so afraid of Biko. They feared revolt. So feared by the evil regime was Biko that it was considered a crime to quote anything he said in his speeches. Quoting Biko even in simple conversations was unlawful. Biko was a hot potato in the hand of the regime; they just could not handle him.
His fight was an embodiment of the triumph of good over evil. Back then, it was easier for Biko to have lived comfortably as a medical doctor. He may have been considered the ‘better black man’ but he believed in total emancipation of blacks.
He did not rest in his quest to see a liberated South Africa in which people would have equal status before the law.
The evil of apartheid
The system was insensitive and seemed to have no conscience. Recreational and sports facilities were clearly marked with, “Whites only”, and ‘White area’ signs. Even the taxi ranks where demarcated not to mention the toilets as well.
There were posts clearly marked. “These public premises and the amenities thereof have been reserved for the exclusive use of white persons.” There were European hospitals and Non European hospitals.
Personally, I conceive that the most painful insult to the black man was one sign with a skull and bones inscribed with the words, “Natives, Indians and coloureds. If you enter these premises at night you will be listed as missing. Armed guards shoot on sight. Savage dogs devour the corpse.”
Biko’s dissent and continued torment of the regime resulted in the regime plotting not only to ban him but to silence him for good. On the 18th of August 1977, Biko was arrested on trumped up charges. He was taken to an unknown location by police officers who interrogated him.
The interrogation gave no regard to his need for rest. It lasted a cruel twenty-two hours. The interrogation involved torture and beatings. He was kept naked and chained throughout the interrogation. The interrogators themselves would change duty and rest but he was not rested.
He was severely tortured in the genital area as revealed in later medical reports. They badly scarred him and to date no information can establish the aim of the interrogation. What is known is that the more than twenty hours of interrogation resulted in Biko, who had been fit hours before, plunging into a comma. His wife Angela Biko strongly refuted the ridiculous claims that Biko had been ill before his arrest.
After the clandestine interrogation, the next thing was the shameless regime presenting a weak and bruised Biko who was at the point of death. Biko could not recognize anyone and his breathing had slowed down.
The most painful part of the regime’s conduct was the delay in taking him to hospital. It was later to be realized that he had eaten no food throughout the interrogation and further, that his entire body had severe wounds. Biko died upon arrival at Pretoria prison on the 12th of September 1977.
Why I say Biko was victorious
I maintain that Biko won the fight against the evil system because news of his death spread like a bush fire in the harmattan bringing attention of the world to the evils of the apartheid system.
Biko’s death in detention opened the eyes of many across the world who began to appreciate and speak against the brutality of apartheid. The shameless regime tried to defend its killing of Biko but the world could not buy any of their ridiculous stories but joined hands in the fight against the system.
It is a compliment and an honor that is given to you by an enemy when it kills you because they are afraid of your convictions and belief. The killing of Biko on its own was an acknowledgement of the truth and strength of his cause. It was an acknowledgement of defeat on the part of the system.
Just like the Biblical Steven who died at the hands of an evil system, Biko’s legacy lives on and indeed for years to come remains an embodiment of the victory of good over evil.