My heroes: Stephen Bantu Biko
A student leader, he later founded the Black Consciousness Movement which would empower and mobilize much of the urban black population. Since his death in police custody, he has been called a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement. While living, his writings and activism attempted to empower black people, and he was famous for his slogan “black is beautiful”, which he described as meaning: “man, you are okay as you are, begin to look upon yourself as a human being”.
Even though Biko was never a member of the African National Congress (ANC), the ANC has included him in the pantheon of struggle heroes, going as far as using his image for campaign posters in South Africa’s first non-racial elections in 1994. Nelson Mandela said of Biko: “They had to kill him to prolong the life of apartheid.( Wikipedia)
When I saw the movie Cry freedom where Denzel Washington played the role of Biko, I was struck by the immense stature of this humble man who wanted to protest against the Apartheid rule peacefully for which he was banned and confined to his house for a long time. He could only receive a visitor one at a time and a policeman was stationed all the time watching him. Why were the white supremacist rulers of South Africa so afraid of this peaceful man that they incarcerated him day and night? Gandhi was never feared by the British for his non violent movement and often derided him and his methods as foolish but in South Africa, they were very afraid of Biko and what he represented. They felt the power in this humble man’s protest.
The gut wrenching scene where the policemen beat him to near death in the prison is very un nerving and I really could not watch. After battering and torturing him for 22 hours, they took him on a long journey to get him to a police hospital but he died of his injuries on the way. The brutality of the police knew no limits.
Donald Wood, a journalist who had photographed Biko in the morgue to prove that he had died of his brutal injuries was forced to flee South Africa because the police threatened his life as well for exposing the truth. Biko was an educated man and very calm even when he knew that perhaps they were going to kill him as if he was Jesus who forgave his tormentors by saying “they do not know what they are doing so I forgive them”.
Biko stands tall in the annals of revolutionary history of the world and has gained the respect after his death that eluded him while alive but often that is the case. His contribution to the independence movement in South Africa through non violent means was a sterling example of the selfless service. The ultimate sacrifice he made because he loved his country and would have liked to see it governed one day by a non racial, just and elected government where the skin color did not matter made him a hero that the world pays homage to. He is also my hero. The photo to the left is his grave.
I am proud to post his painting above that I made and can say that the resemblance is good.