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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Steven Biko: 30 years later the legend lives on

Thirty years ago today, on Sept 12, 1977, South African police beat activist Steven Bantu Biko to death while he was in detention for his political opposition to Apartheid. He was a supremely intelligent and fiercely proud man with a commanding physical presence — qualities that struck fear in the hearts of those maintaining a social structure predicated on the manufactured inferiority of blacks.

Biko made it his mission to raise black consciousness in order to promote social equality and speak truth to the racist power ruling his homeland. He refused to give in to the government's repeated attempts to silence his echoing independent voice, stubbornly returning to his writing and organizing activities whenever he could break free.

He titled a collection of his essays I Write What I Like, an apt description of his defiant style, and certainly an attitude we should all try to emulate 30 years later as we carry on a struggle for freedom of a different kind.

Steven Biko's murder was a final attempt to rein in his influence, but as with all of the previous efforts it was an utter failure. His martyrdom only amplified Biko's legend, ensuring that his words and example would live on in the hearts and minds of all those who champion freedom and equality.

Peter Gabriel wrote the following song to memorialize Biko's life and death (you can watch him performing it live on YouTube). Having only admitted their crime behind the shield of amnesty offered by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the police who murdered Steven Biko never spent any time in prison — a travesty as he spent so much time there without ever being charged. I hope this music and the memory of what they did will forever haunt those men.

Biko
by Peter Gabriel

September '77
Port Elizabeth weather fine
It was business as usual
In police room 619
Oh Biko, Biko, because, Biko
Oh Biko, Biko, because, Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
The man is dead, the man is dead

When I try and sleep at night
I can only dream in red
The outside world is black and white
With only one colour dead
Oh Biko, Biko, because, Biko
Oh Biko, Biko, because, Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
The man is dead, the man is dead

You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the flame begins to catch
The wind will blow it higher
Oh Biko, Biko, because, Biko
Oh Biko, Biko, because, Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
The man is dead, the man is dead

And the eyes of the world are watching now
Watching now
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