Stephen Bantu Biko on Death and His Baptism of Fire

Published on 19th September 2017

While we are still in the month in which Steve Biko was murdered, I expected to hear or read about how Biko was mentally, physically and spiritually prepared to fight against oppression by the white minority. We have heard the things he said about mental liberation in order to free ourselves physically and spiritually. We know that the body can't be free when the mind is enslaved.

Biko believed that no amount of intimidation or beating by the police would make him reveal things he didn't want to reveal because he said there was nothing to reveal to the police. And he was so brave he told the police that he would fight back if they manhandled him. Indeed he says he went like a bull on one of the white police officers who tried to disrespect him.

Biko told the white police officers who had arrested him that if they wanted to do as they pleased with him, they should hand-cuff him and tie his legs. Biko further echoed the teachings of Marcus Garvey that "we must portray our God as a fighting God," what Malcolm X described as "not turning the other cheek."

If those who have often repeated the cruelty meted on Biko - and it's inhumane how the SA Security Branch Police drove Biko naked and unconscious at the back of a van for about 1000 km - they should by the same token mention Biko's determination to physically fight white police officers on their own turf in those citadels of white supremacy called Police Stations.

Biko spoke about overcoming fear of the oppressor and fear of death itself in the face of intimidation by the oppressor. And he lived it. That is why Biko gave his life to free his own people. He prized and cherished the liberation of the African people more than his own life. I don't hear this when people write or talk about Biko.

Those who today occupy center stage in commemorating Biko may be assuaging their consciences because they used to despise him because they didn’t understand his organisation’s philosophy of Black Consciousness. I am not convinced that they truly share his ideals for which he gave his life. There is palpable evidence that they worship the god of money. It is sacrilegious to call the name of Biko in vain.

They and many analysts, commentators, writers and those who deliver Steve Biko memorial lectures ignore the connection between him and PAC founding President, Robert Sobukwe but Biko himself never did, he made that connection very clear so does his elder son Nkosinathi. He always underscores his father's connection to Sobukwe.

In March, Nkosinathi spoke on SAfm about the correspondence between his father and Sobukwe that is kept at the Biko Library. He told an audience that Biko once remarked in Xhosa after noticing Sobukwe's presence that 'even God is amongst us.'

Biko's baptism of fire in politics was in 1963 when he was arrested because of his surname as a 16 year old who was not active in politics at the time. The police were looking for his elder brother Kaya who was a member of Sobukwe's PAC. They instead associated Biko with people and organisations with which he did not share the same philosophy.

Biko was labeled a CIA agent by the likes of Mac Maharaj. The Black Consciousness Movement of which he was a founder member was described as immature and racialist by Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. Tambo also wrote that he was worried that the Black Consciousness Movement was going to supplant the ANC. Sobukwe’s Pan Africanist Congress was also labeled a creation of the CIA and a racist, separatist ultra nationalist organisation. Is it therefore not logical to associate Biko with Sobukwe and the PAC?

We understand that Biko wanted the ANC and PAC to fight the racist government not as disparate entities but as a united force since they had a common enemy. He spoke to both organisations. It has been confirmed through historical records that Biko spoke to Sobukwe several times. He probably also spoke to representatives of the ANC in the 1970’s. Apparently, racist authorities got wind of these unity initiatives through obviously the apartheid spies who had infiltrated the ANC. Thabo Mbeki blamed Biko during a Botswana trip in the 2000 when the ANC was already in office for having befriended a police informer but was severely criticised by a Botswana journalist, the late Rampholo Molefhe in the Sunday Standard newspaper.

What is interesting is that ANC leaders like Mbeki himself cocked a snook at unity efforts and went to negotiate in secret with apartheid government representatives and their imperialist backers which resulted in the sham independence we now have in South Africa. Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, Mandela and Tambo's roles in secret negotiations are well documented. The recently published one is by a former apartheid era spy, Niel Barnard.

Biko fought to unite the oppressed people of South Africa; yet the ANC divided them. These are the dubious characters that are always associated with Biko by people who don’t take time to understand the history of South Africa’s struggle for liberation.

By Sam Ditshego

My twitter handle is @iamsamditshego

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