A significant piece of History – STEVE BIKO – 12 September 1977

Some South African History

There are some fairly significant historical moments around this time.  The most notable this year of course is the 10th anniversary of 9/11 – a tragedy beyond comprehension, and a fairly important piece of American history.  Our hearts go out to all those who are mourning and remembering their losses at this time.

I think times like this are good for reflection and remembrance.  In South Africa today – 12 September – we also have a noteworthy piece of our past to reflect on.  In 1977 a young man by the name of Steve Biko died while in police custody.  He was only 30 years old.  He was interrogated in Police Room 619 for 22 hours, tortured and beaten so severely that he went into a coma.  He suffered a major head injury while in police custody.  It was reported at the time that this head injury was a result of an attempted suicide by Biko, “hitting his head against the wall”.  At deaths door, he was thrown into the back of a land rover and driven 1,100km from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria where he was admitted to a prison with hospital facilities.  He died shortly after arrival at the hospital – it was the 12th of September 1977.

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia - Steve Biko

The police at the time also claimed that he died due to an extended hunger strike.  However, an autopsy done reveals that he died from a brain hemorrhage caused by massive injuries to the head.  I was 3 years old at the time – so this is not a death that I remember consciously.  But I have to question why older people at the time did not think it was strange that a political activist in Apartheid South Africa died while in police custody?

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

It is South Africa’s current Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille, working alongside a personal journalist friend of Steve Biko’s, Donald Wood who exposed the police coverup in 1977.  This was a high profile case at the time and it got a massive amount of international exposure.  Biko was the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa and would empower much of the urban black population.  He played a part in the organizing of protests which led to the Soweto Uprising on the 16th of June 1976 where a heavily armed police force fired on innocent school children, killing many.

There is no doubt, that were Steve Biko still alive today, he would have played a significant part in the rebuilding of South Africa, the Rainbow Nation.  And it is a reminder for those of us that live in these times, how terribly important freedom of expression is!

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