Steve Biko would be ashamed of South Africa’s rulers, says freedom icon’s son.20 January 2020
Nkosinathi Biko, 46, told correspondent.world that more than two decades after a black majority government first came to power, opportunities for reform had been squandered by the African National Congress, which has ruled since 1994.
Steve Biko was beaten to death by police in 1977. His death prompted outrage worldwide outrage.
His remarks come amid rising political tension in the country, following several corruption allegations.
Biko, who among other business interests runs his father’s foundation, called for a new approach to dealing with the nation’s problems.
Biko, who was six years old when his father was beaten to death by police in 1977, said: “My father would be deeply disappointed that apartheid and discrimination in South Africa is not finally defeated.
“We talk of South Africa as the Rainbow Nation. But we need to give brilliance to all its colours.”
He said that rising poverty was a critical problem. More than 30 million South Africans, about 55 per cent of the population, live in poverty, up from 27.3 million in 2011. The economy has just emerged from recession, with growth of 2.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2017. “We must launch a new assault: on the poverty gap,” Biko said.
His father had strong critics, even among those fighting to end apartheid. He was the main propagator of “Black Consciousness”, a philosophy that put him in conflict with the then-jailed Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress.
Julius Malema, the government’s most outspoken opposition figure who leads the Economic Freedom Fighters, claims to have taken over the mantle of Steve Biko via his own version of Black Consciousness.
Biko appeared to give Malema tacit backing by suggesting that legislation to provide black entrepreneurs with stakes in previously white-run businesses and mines was inadequate and left the black community underrepresented at the top levels of big business in South Africa.
He said: “We have to rattle the structures’ foundations. We still have a rich, primarily white elite. Until that changes, my father’s mission is still not accomplished.”
“Apartheid was striking at the core of who we black people were as persons. Dad gave our people back their humanity.”
Steve Biko’s death, more than his life, made him a global icon. He inspired countless numbers of downtrodden black people to continue the fight that led to the end of apartheid in the early 1990s.
“You can judge what a lasting effect he has had,” said his son, “just by seeing the number of young people who visit the Biko Foundation’s centre in [his home city] King William’s Town. Last year there were over 100 thousand visitors. He has touched children and generations.”
Biko said Nelson Mandela, who was the first post-apartheid president of South Africa, told him that his father had done more than anyone else to create the conditions for the destruction of white rule.
LONGER VERSION as written by Paul Martin and Andy Lines in The Mirror:
The son of legendary black leader Steve Biko has spoken exclusively to the Daily Mirror – 40 years after white South African policemen beat his dad to death.
Nkosinathi Biko is convinced regional police murdered Steve because they were afraid of him. And he describes his father as “the embodiment of being fearless in the face of evil.”
The system of institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination kept the black majority under the thumb of ruling whites. Up to 21,000 people are estimated to have died in political violence under the brutal 42-year regime which did not end until 1990.
Mandela, who became South Africa’s President in 1994, was in no doubt about the importance of Biko to the black struggle for a just system.
He called Biko “the spark that lit a veld fire across South Africa” and said the government “had to kill him to prolong the life of apartheid”.
Nkosinathi was just six when his dad died on September 12, 1977, but he can remember it as if it was yesterday.
He saw his mum Ntsiki broke down in tears and Nkosinathi said: “I knew, even then, that the cops must have killed him.”
The murder shocked the world and inspired Richard Attenborough’s acclaimed film Cry Freedom, in which Biko was played by Denzel Washington. It also led to the award-winning Peter Gabriel song Biko which he sang at Live Aid.
But, as Nkosinathi spoke of his memories of his dad, he said his legacy is still to be fulfilled.
He recalled: “A bishop told my mother the awful news. We were stunned.
“My dad was just 30 and gradually I became aware of the terrible way he’d died, he was healthy two weeks before, yet he suffered a massive
He added poignantly: “My dad taught me to fly a kite. I now see that as very symbolic.”
At the time Mandela and the leaders of the ANC were jailed on notorious Robben Island. So Biko had assumed a hugely significant role and became the face of the fight against apartheid. Shockingly when he died the authorities tried to claim he committed suicide. At the time the Daily Mirror carried a series of powerful leader articles on his death.
Nkosinathi said: “My dad had been arrested 29 times; the longest period of detention was 103 days. The last one was on 18th August 1977, seized at a roadblock as he defied his so-called ‘banning order’.
“He was not supposed to travel outside our house or his office. Even at home he could only meet with one person at a time, apart from with his wife and children.
“We were under constant police surveillance, and my mum feared they could attack the children.
“The police saw us as the family’s weakest link. The only thing I thank apartheid for is that before his banning he was always out with his movement, but now he was mostly at home. This meant we had a wonderful life and he managed to get hold of movies and screen them on the wall of our house.
“We’d invite the local children – and that made me a hero in their eyes.” After arrest Biko was taken to a police station in Port Elizabeth.
He was brutally beaten for days in Room 619 suffering severe brain damage.
A cover-up began after police took on the floor of a van on an 800-mile journey to Pretoria, wrapped in urine-soaked blankets. He died in a prison hospital.
At his inquest state-employed doctors had been intimidated to say Biko’s wounds were self-inflicted or he may have slipped, the claims caused worldwide outrage. The coroner agreed with the police version of events.
Nkosinathi said: “Over the years and the decades I feel I’ve got to know my father better in death than in life. I’ve dedicated myself to discovering his full story and what he really wanted to achieve for our country.
“Whenever I visit his grave I’m stuck by this thought: he was 30 and never lived to have one grey hair. I myself have plenty now! Yet look what he achieved. I’m so proud of him.”
Biko had critics among the movements fighting apartheid. He was the main face of “Black Consciousness”, an organisation that sometimes put him in conflict with Mandela’s African National Congress .
“He was not anti-white, he was just frustrated that working together with liberal whites was not transforming the country,” insisted Nkosinathi. “Dad gave our people back their humanity.
“You can see what a lasting effect he had, just by seeing the number of young people who visit the Biko Foundation’s exhibition and education centre. Last year there were 112,000 visitors.”
Nkosinathi said: “Many families prioritised the struggle against apartheid. My mum did not. She chose to focus on her family. The fact we have a triumphant family is due to her. Yet at 80 she’s still heavily involved in community projects.”
Nkosinathi is still angry that of the six policemen involved in his dad’s death never admitted their crime, despite immunity from prosecution under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
He said: “It’s far too late to seek revenge on the one or two of the cops still alive, that is not what I want now.
“We must launch a new assault: on the poverty gap. We talk of South Africa as the ‘rainbow nation’.
“Statistics show more than 50% of our people still living in poverty. We still have a rich, primarily white elite. My father’s mission is not accomplished.”