Memories of those who knew him well

IN an edited extract from his book The Eyes That Lit Our Lives - A tribute to Steve Biko, Andile M-Afrika traces the last days of Steve Biko through the memories of those who knew him. Biko was killed in police detention on September 12 1977.

IN an edited extract from his book The Eyes That Lit Our Lives - A tribute to Steve Biko, Andile M-Afrika traces the last days of Steve Biko through the memories of those who knew him. Biko was killed in police detention on September 12 1977.

Clouds were gathering. The smell of death was in the air. Kaya Biko (Steve's brother) made his move.

"Rumours were doing the rounds in town that the boers were intent on assassinating Steve.

"I approached Steve together with my brother-in-law to ask him to leave the country. The man said to us, 'What kind of a captain will I be if I leave the ship I'm steering, while I see there are faults and it's going to sink? I'm not leaving the country'.

"There was nothing we could do. That was Steve."

Sonwabo Yengo, in a chance meeting outside a doctor's surgery where Steve had gone to see a doctor, said: "When we spoke, I noticed that there were scratch marks on his face. His mouth was swollen. Steve then said to me, 'Tshawe, I am fine. I want you to know that I am fighting with these boers. They are beating me, but I fight'.

"He went on to say that if they arrest him again, and then try to beat him, he will put up a big fight. And he does not think that he will leave prison alive."

Hlaku Rachidi, then president of the Black People's Convention, and Tom Manthata travelled from Johannesburg to King William's Town to see Steve.

"They had come to discuss the programme of the unity of the liberation groups of South Africa, a resolution of an earlier conference of the movement. As a result of that meeting, Steve and Peter Jones had to leave for Cape Town. They grabbed a BCP car that Rams Ramokgopa was using and left in the dark of the night.

Rachidi thinks back: "That was my last meeting with Steve. We were back in Johannesburg and we heard that Steve and Peter had been detained while coming from Cape Town. We heard they were held under Section 6 and were separated, but we did not know where they were kept."

On hearing the news of the arrest, Father Pat Ncaca, Biko's family priest, went to visit Biko's mother: "We had to say a special prayer. Mama Biko had hope.

"She said to me, 'Mfundisi, I'm not a weakling. I'm going to keep it up'. I said something like 'Mama keep it up. Steve is coming back. Even if he is in jail, he is there because he is fighting for a good cause'."

Kaya Biko was at his place of work. He remembers the day he got the (worst) news: "I saw through the window this black VW coming towards the block of our offices. I knew this car belonged to the movement.

"Strange enough, it had never come to my place of work before. Suddenly, there was lightning although there was no rain. I went down to meet these guys. They just looked at me, didn't say anything. I asked them; 'Is he dead?'

"They said 'Yes'."

In the newsroom of The Star newspaper, Harry Mashabela picked up the telephone: "Have you heard?"

"This is what Nthato Motlana, a Soweto medical doctor, asked as soon as he realised it was me on the line. 'They've killed Steve Biko. And they want us to believe that he starved himself to death. It's a lie'.

'I know Steve, he was a healthy, robust young man in the prime of his life. Speaking as a doctor I can tell you he would not have died even if he had refused to eat for a month, what's seven days!'."

Dullah Omar was visiting Robben Island and he gave the news to Mosiuoa Lekota, who then told others, including Saths Cooper.

"We were frozen in silence. It was a terrible period for us. All of us who knew Steve well thought about so many different things. They could not tolerate Steve and the things he was doing. It is very likely that they beat him up and he resisted the assaults. And they killed him."

Nkutsoe Skaap Motsau, also on Robben Island, said: "Africans do not normally want to see a man shedding tears. That day tears flowed freely and all were touched by the news. A heavy cloud hung over our heads. It was really hard."

  • Andile M-Afrika is a resident of Ginsberg. His book is yet to be published
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