'I could have gone far if my friend lived'

Mpikeleni Duma

Mpikeleni Duma

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Steve Biko's murder by the former apartheid regime. Memories of the great man are flooding in.

One of them, Thembekile "Terrible" Aplom (58) from Ginsberg, says he used to serve as Biko's courier. He remembers the haunting, unforgettable feelings when Steve Biko was laid to rest.

"What a day!" Aplom recalled.

"There were police and military vehicles all over the place on September 28, 1977. I woke up and followed students who were throwing stones at the security forces.

"I proceeded to the hall next to the Ginsberg Clinic. Contract workers were digging a foundation to put up a fence." He added that he angrily confronted them.

"What shame are you causing. Are you not joining the children on the streets? Children are fighting against the brutal murder of Biko," said Aplom

He galvanised the workers to join the student protest. "Leave everything and follow them as soon as possible."

Aplom said Biko's wife, Ntsiki, and sister Nomazozo were standing nearby.

Hope Msumza, a prominent businesswoman in the Eastern Cape, witnessed the incident. She said she remembers the incident involving Aplom, a construction foreman and the aftermath.

Aplom says while he escorted the 20 workers off-site, a white foreman confronted him (Aplom) and asked him: Can I help you?

Aplom said to the white man: "I want to help you. Will you please do me a favour. Take the wheelbarrow full of mud and hurry up. First let us start with the pick," Aplom says he instructed the white man.

He said the white man continued digging until he complained that his hands were paining.

"'I still remember he asked me whether I had a bandage. I said there was no time for the bandage. I escorted him into Ginsberg and chanted 'Up high, Up' as he pushed the wheelbarrow. When he pulled or put it down I told him to continue to maintain the position," said Aplom.

They took "a detour" towards a nearby shebeen, known as Tsolo. The man ordered wine, and said he was drinking for the first time .

He said days after the incident - on his way to the train - he picked up that the Special Branch had been following him, and that the cops were being led by a black police officer - "a certain Thamsanqa".

Aplom is unemployed and survives by selling beer at his parents' home in Ginsberg. He believes he could have gone far if his friend Biko had lived.