Steve Biko: Final Days - Google Cultural Institute
“Its better to die for an idea that will live, than live for an idea that will die”
January 1977, the Black People’s Convention unanimously elected Biko Honorary
President in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the liberation
struggle. Not only had he been instrumental in the development of a new
political force in South Africa,
he had built what Aelred Stubbs described as “a showcase for community
" I would describe and I have described myself to people who ask as a freedom fighter"
August 1977, Steve Biko undertook his last trip in the quest for freedom. For three years, he had been driving unity
discussions between the major political forces namely the African National
Congress the Pan African Congress and the New Unity Movement. By 1977, he had
already held direct talks with the President of the PAC, Robert Mangaliso
Sobukwe, a person for whom he had very high regard.
On August 17 1977, Biko and his colleague Peter Jones set out on a trip
to Cape Town for the purpose of holding unity discussions with the New Unity
Movement leader, Neville Alexander. They were arrested on his way back, in
Grahamstown, at a roadblock headed by Lieutenant Oosthuizen. They were later
delivered to Port Elizabeth’s
notorious security branch.
The Port Elizabeth special branch had close ties with senior Apartheid agents such as Johan Coetzee and the Vlakplaas unit. One such agent was apartheid’s “super-spy” Craig Williamson, who had infiltrated the Swedish-based International University Exchange Fund (IUEF), under the leadership of Lars Gunar Eriksson, to become the Deputy Director. Williamson had been recruited into Intelligence while on “national service” in the army. His previous involvement in liberal politics as NUSAS Vice President as well as his subsequent facilitation of escape routes for exiles, gave him just enough political traction to be cleared into the IUEF, despite the discomfort of some in the liberation movement.
"The reality is that Biko’s detention and death was at a time when he was secretly going to leave the country to meet Tambo. That was bad news.”
-Craig Williamson , in and interview with Tor Sellstrom, Swedish diplomat and author of 'Sweden and the Liberation in Southern Africa'
The IUEF was instrumental in providing assistance to various
organisations in Southern Africa including the BCM, the PAC and the ANC. By his
own admission, Williamson’s primary strategy was to terminate support for the
Black Consciousness Movement because the organisation was “a problem
internally”. He was also tasked with infiltrating the ANC and monitoring
international support for the liberation movement. In his
capacity as IUEF Deputy Director, Williamson was privy to intelligence
regarding unity talks between Biko and the Acting President of the African
National Congress, Oliver Tambo. Facilitated by Ranwedzi Nengwekhulu and Thabo
Mbeki (former President of the Republic of South Africa), the first meeting was
planned for September 1976 to coincide with the tenth anniversary celebrations
of Botswana’s independence. When the meeting failed, an attempt was made to
hold it in Maseru
in May 1977. When that, too, did not materialise, a final attempt was made to
have the meeting in Botswana
in the first week of September 1977.
The September 1977 meeting would have included Biko,
Tambo and Oluf Palme, who had lost as Swedish Prime Minister in the elections
of 1976, choosing instead to focus his energy on Southern
Africa. Biko was to be sprung into Botswana to meet with these leaders
and then immediately brought back home. The meeting was to be facilitated by
DEATH IN DETENTION
" In a bid for change we have to take off our coats, be prepared to lose our comfort and security, our jobs and positions of prestige, and our families... A struggle without casualties is no struggle."
- Biko, The Quest for a True Humanity
Biko was arrested on August
18 1977, two weeks before the scheduled date for the meeting. Oluf
Palme was later assassinated.
In Port Elizabeth, the torture of Biko took place in the security police
headquarters at the Sanlam Building in Room 619. From the outside, this building looks like
any other office block. However, whether by luck or labour, the noise of the
traffic from the elevated freeway that runs a few meters in front of the
building muffled out any telltale signs that this was a torture chamber. By September 11 1977, he had
been tortured so severely at the Sanlam
Building that he had to
be transferred to a prison hospital. That night Captains Siebert and Wilken and
Detective Sergeant Niewoudt drove Biko over 1000 km from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria Maximum Prison,
lying at the back of a police Land Rover naked, dying and without a medical
escort. He died on September 12.
"It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die."
"In the three years that I grew to know him, my conviction never wavered that this was the most important political leader in the entire country and quite simply the greatest man I ever had the privilege to know"
- Donald Woods, Editor of the Daily Dispatch in East London
"History, from time to time, brings to the fore the kind of leaders who seize the moment, who cohere the wishes and aspirations of the oppressed. Such was Steve Biko, a fitting product of his time; a proud representative of the reawakening of a people."
- Nelson Mandela
Contributor: —Steve Biko Foundation:
Contributor: —Nkosinathi Biko, CEO
Contributor: —Y. Obenewa Amponsah, Director International Partnerships
Contributor: —Donna Hirschson, Intern
Contributor: —S. Dibuseng Kolisang, Communications Officer
Contributor: —Ardon Bar-Hama
Contributor: —Marie Human