In order to remember the 16 June 1976 Soweto uprising, I decided to share with you these images and song from the movie Sarafina! which focused on the 1976 Soweto riots. It is simply beautiful! The character says: “They fear you because you are young, they fear you because you are the future; How fearful they must be that they shoot you children? How powerful you must be that they fear you so much. You are powerful because you are the generation that will be free. The violence, the beatings, the torture, the killings, all this is the bad pain of our free nation. … Freedom is coming tomorrow!” In essence, this is a message for all the youth around the world: You are the future, you are strong, take hold of it, and do the best!
I would like to share with you some quotes by Steve Biko himself. When I read Biko’s words, I realize that he was a true African leader who wanted good for all; he was really ahead of his time. I have also added, at the end, a documentary ‘The Return of Biko‘ by Jeff Ogola. Enjoy!
“The greatest weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”Speech in Cape Town, 1971
“It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die.”
“At the time of his death, Biko had a wife and three children for which he left a letter that stated in one part: “I’ve devoted my life to see equality for blacks, and at the same time, I’ve denied the needs of my family. Please understand that I take these actions, not out of selfishness or arrogance, but to preserve a South Africa worth living in for blacks and whites.”
“The basic tenet of black consciousness is thatthe black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity.”From Steve Biko’s evidence given at the SASO/BPC trial, 3 May 1976
“In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africathe greatest possible gift – a more human face.“
“Merely by describing yourself as black you have started on a road towards emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being.”The Definition of Black Consciousness, I Write What I Like, 1978.
“Black man, you are on your own.”Slogan coined by Steve Biko for the South African Student’s Organization, SASO.
“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.”The Quest for a True Humanity, I Write What I Like, 1978.
“It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realize thatthe only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality. The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth.“We Blacks, I Write What I Like, 1978.
“You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can’t care anyway.”On Death, I Write What I Like, 1978
“Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time. Its essence is the realization by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression – the blackness of their skin – and to operate as a group to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.“The Quest for a True Humanity, I Write What I Like, 1978.
Stephen (Steve) Bantu Biko was born on 18 December 1946 in Ginsberg township, in present-day Eastern Cape, in South Africa. Biko was the third of 4 children, and belonged to the Xhosa ethnic group. He was orphaned at the tender age of 4, after his father passing. As a child, he attended Brownlee Primary School and Charles Morgan Higher Primary School. He was sent to Lovedale High School in 1964, a prestigious boarding school in Alice, Eastern Cape, where his older brother Khaya had previously been studying. During the apartheid era, with no freedom of association protection for non-white South Africans, Biko would often get expelled from school for his political views. He was influenced by Frantz Fanon‘s and Aime Cesaire‘s works, and like Fanon, he first started as a medical doctor, before turning to politics.
Steve Biko was not alone in forging the Black Consciousness Movement. He was nevertheless its most prominent leader, who with others, guided the movement of student discontent into a political force unprecedented in the history of South Africa. Can you imagine that: all alone they created a force that scared the apartheid regime, and started it on its end. Biko and his peers were responding to developments that emerged at the height of the hideous apartheid regime. This culminated with the Soweto uprising of 1976.
The Black Consciousness movement argued that blacks had to overcome the feelings of inferiority instilled into them by 300 years of domination, the “oppression within“, before they could deal with whites as equals. “It [BC] seeks to infuse the black community with a new-found pride in themselves, their efforts, their value systems, their culture, their religion and their outlook to life,” Biko explained in 1971.
Steve Biko was a very charismatic, tall, handsome, and articulate man. Once asked by a judge “Why do you call yourself black, when your skin is brown?” Biko replied “Why do you call yourself white, when you are actually pink?” – he bore himself with rare confidence that showed no hint of any “oppression within.” Remember his famous phrase “Black is Beautiful“, which was an inspiration to the civil rights movement in the USA, and to many other movements across the globe.
In order for Black People to achieve their freedom being political and economical, Steve Biko believed that they should rally together; hence he said: “The realization by the Black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression – the blackness of their skin – and to operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.”
Biko understood that the system we are facing is not just a matter of laws and policies that suppresses us, he knew that the system seeks to undermine our thinking, ideas, values and beliefs, thus he said: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
On 18 August 1977, Steve 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 of the Sanlam Building in Port Elizabeth. 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 at the Walmer Police Station, in a suburb of Port Elizabeth, 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 1100 km drive to Pretoria to take him to a prison with hospital facilities. He died shortly after arrival at the Pretoria prison, on 12 September. The police claimed (and the apartheid government) 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 hemorrhage from the massive injuries to the head, which many saw as strong evidence that he had been brutally clubbed by his captors.
Biko believed in the unity of the oppressed, he also knew we should constantly educate each other on what is happening in our society. Today, Biko’s views could be applied to almost every society where there are oppressed people, oppressed by unfair laws, unfair economics that favors extreme greed, forced into poverty, and dehumanization.
I watched the movie Cry Freedom which talked about Biko’s life, and also about his journalist friend Donald Woods who published the pictures of Biko’s beaten body after his death, thus showing to the entire world that he had been brutally murdered by the South African police. I do recommend it, the main actor is none other than Denzel Washington. To learn more about Biko, you could read his own book I Write What I Like, or the autobiographic book Biko by Donald Woods. In 1980 the singer Peter Gabriel had a world hit titled Biko, in which he sang: “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.” Let us all, keep the fire of Steve Biko. Enjoy this rare video of Steve Biko talking!
Words cannot quite express my sadness at the loss of Africa’s greatest man, and probably one of the world’s greatest icon:Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Just to think that this man spent27 years in jailso that we, Black people, could have rights, could have freedom, could be free to love, live, and work, is beyond amazing! Yes… almost 3 decades, and more, since he did not really lead a ‘true’ family life because he spent most of his time pursuing his cause for the freedom of Blacks in South Africa. What tribute could I possibly give for a man who spent most of his life fighting so that I, a Black child, could walk free in South Africaafter our land was taken by the Boer invader, and we were beaten under oppressive laws?What could I possibly say for a man who epitomizes true leadership, statesmanship, democracy, humility, and love… love in the face of so much hate. Because, for Nelson Mandela to make it, there were those likeSteve BikoorChris Haniwho were killed by the apartheid system. I would just like to say farewell Madiba… for you, I am a proud African child… Farewell Father Mandela, for you, I can roam the streets of South Africa free… Farewell Nelson, for you, I am free… because of you, I am a proud Black child, for you I am a proud African!
I live you with one of his quotes: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”Madiba, you have truly changed my life, and that of millions around the globe! The world is a better place because you stepped on it! So long… Madiba!
Today, I will be talking about the late South African painter Gerard Sekoto. Gerard Sekoto is known today as the father of urban black art and social realism. Born in 1913, Gerard Sekoto grew up in South Africa at a time of apartheid. His entire art has been influenced by his life experience. He held exhibition in Johannesburg and Cape Town. His painting was actually the first painting by a Black artist to be exposed at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. He was a big fan of oil painting.
In 1947, he exiled himself to Paris. His first two years were quite depressing and hard; they actually had nothing to do with painting. He played in French nightclubs as a pianist, and composed over 25 songs whose main themes were the loneliness of exile, and the courage of an immigrant trying to survive in a foreign country. Quite a global theme these days, in this global world!
In 1966, he visited Senegal, and was actually a guest of President Léopold Sédar Senghor. He visited Dakar for a year, and this visit reignited his passion for painting. Armed with his brushes, he fully immersed himself into the ‘Dakarois’ environment, and once again started painting African scenes.
In the 1970s, he started expressing his opposition to the apartheid system back in his homeland, and started painting about it. One of his famous paintings is poignant depiction of Steve Biko‘s death, with Biko’s tearful mother at the center of the painting, Biko to the right of her, and a white policeman to the left. It is very sorrowful and vivid depiction… and to think of Biko’s mother! Most often, people paint the victim, and forget those they’ve left behind.
Sekoto never had a chance to return to South Africa, not even for his mother’s funeral. He ended his days in a retirement home for artists on the outskirts of Paris in 1993.
Since we are on the subject of Soweto 1976, and since last week Madiba (Nelson Mandela) gave us a scare, I decided to publish the song ‘Asimbonanga’ by Johnny Clegg. ‘Asimbonanga‘ or ‘We have not seen him’ was released by Johnny Clegg and Savuka, in the album Third World Childin 1987, and called for the release of Nelson Mandela, and also gave homage to three martyrs of the anti-apartheid struggle: Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge, and Neil Aggett. I have posted the song with lyrics below (translation of the Zulu words to English is in italics). Enjoy, and don’t forget to visit Johnny Clegg’s website: johnnyclegg.com.
Last week, on January 8th 2012, the African National Congress (ANC) celebrated 100 years of existence. I think a trip down history lane is in order.
After the defeat of Zulu, Xhosa, and other African kingdoms in the late 1800s-1900s in the hands of British colonizers, South Africans had to find a new way to fight off the oppressors. Thus, in 1911, Pixley ka Isaka Seme called on Africans to forget the differences of the past and unite together in one national organisation. He said: “We are one people. these divisions, these jealousies, are the cause of all our woes today.“ That national organization saw light on January 8th 1912, when chiefs, representatives of people’s and church organisations, and other prominent individuals gathered in Bloemfontein and formed the African National Congress. The ANC declared its aim to bring all Africans together as one people to defend their rights and freedoms. Its first elected president was John Dube.
The 1920s-1930s were marked by actions such as the 1919 campaign against passes by the Transvaal ANC; the militant strike by African mineworkers in 1920; and the social organization of Black workers… The ANC went through several stages, first, as a church-based lobbying force, a non-violent nationalist movement, and then, as part of an alliance with Indians, Coloureds, and progressive Whites, including Afrikaners and Communists.
The Sharpeville massacre on 21 March 1960 where a group of 5000-7000 marched to protest against passes and were shot on by police forces showed the international community how ruthless the apartheid system was. Karen Allen of BBC news recalled the massacre with this chilling description: “Thousands of protesters had gathered in Sharpeville, just south of Johannesburg, to protest at the use of the infamous passbooks, or “dompas”, that every black South African was expected to carry and produce on demand. It governed a person’s movement, was a tool of harassment and was one of the most hated symbols of the apartheid state. Sixty-nine men, women and children were gunned down on that day, killed when police officers opened fire on the crowd. The police station – where they had gathered – is now a memorial to the dead.”
In 1961, the ANC took up arms against the South African White government. It morphed into a violent struggle of resistance and armed combat with Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) or Spear of the Nation, when the doors to non-violent change were brutally shut by white nationalists who built on British colonial racism to impose apartheid, a practice of physically relocating communities, regulating labour with passes and violent repression. During those years, not only did MK tried to make the country ungovernable to no avail (as they were no match to the repressive white supremacist government of South Africa), but many of its leaders were arrested like Nelson Mandela,Govan Mbeki, and Walter Sisulu, while others like Oliver Tambo and Joe Slovo went into exile.