red location museum

a world class museum bridging the past towards the future

steve biko

During September 2006, Mr Pakade gave a memorial lecture on Steve Biko at Red Location Museum to pupils from various schools.

A live broadcast on the 30 year commemoration of Steve Biko was screened from Red Location Museum on 12 September 2007.

Steve Biko was born on 18 December 1946 in King Williams Town and died tragically in a Pretoria prison on 12 September 1977.

Steve Biko was a student leader and later founded the Black Consciousness Movement which would empower and mobilize much of the urban black population.

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".

In 1972 Biko became honorary president of the Black People's Convention. He was banned during the height of apartheid in March 1973, meaning that he was not allowed to speak to more than one person at a time, was restricted to certain areas, and could not make speeches in public. It was also forbidden to quote anything he said, including speeches or simple conversations. Biko was a Xhosa. In addition to Xhosa, he spoke fluent English and fairly fluent Afrikaans.

When Biko was banned, his movement within the country was restricted to the Eastern Cape, where he was born. After returning there, he formed a number of grassroots organizations based on the notion of self-reliance, including a community clinic, Zanempilo, the Zimele Trust Fund (which helped support ex-political prisoners and their families), Njwaxa Leather-Works Project and the Ginsberg Education Fund.

In spite of the repression of the apartheid government, Biko and the BCM played a significant role in organising the protests which culminated in the Soweto Uprising of 16 June 1976. In the aftermath of the uprising, which was crushed by heavily-armed police shooting school children protesting, the authorities began to target Biko further.

On 18 August 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody, and was chained to a window grille for a day.

On 11 September 1977 police loaded him in the back of a Land Rover, naked, and began the 1,500 km drive to Pretoria to take him to a prison with hospital facilities in order to treat the already near-dead Biko.

He died shortly after arrival at the Pretoria prison, on 12 September.

The police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike. He was found to have massive injuries to the head, which many saw as strong evidence that he had been brutally clubbed by his captors. Then journalist and now political leader, Helen Zille, exposed the truth behind Biko's death.

Due to his fame, news of Biko's death spread quickly, opening many eyes around the world to the brutality of the apartheid regime. His funeral was attended by many hundreds of people, including numerous ambassadors and other diplomats from the United States and Western Europe.

The liberal white South African journalist Donald Woods, a personal friend of Biko, photographed his injuries in the morgue. Woods was later forced to flee South Africa for England, where he campaigned against apartheid and further publicised Biko's life and death, writing many newspaper articles and authoring the book, Biko.

On hearing the news of Steve Biko's death in police custody, Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger, simply declared in a speech that the incident "left him cold".

The following year on 2 February 1978, the Attorney General of the Eastern Cape stated that he would not prosecute any police involved in the arrest and detention of Biko. During the trial it was claimed that Biko's head injuries were a self-inflicted suicide attempt, and not the result of any beatings.

The judge ultimately ruled that a murder charge could not be supported partly because there were no witnesses to the killing. Charges of culpable homicide and assault were also considered, but because the killing occurred in 1977, the time limit for prosecution had expired.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was created following the end of minority rule and the apartheid system, reported in 1997 that five former members of the South African security forces had admitted to killing Biko who died a year after the Soweto riots which rocked apartheid South Africa, and were applying for amnesty.

On 7 October 2003 the South African Justice Ministry officials announced that the five policemen who were accused of killing Biko would not be prosecuted because of insufficient evidence and the fact that the time limit for prosecution had elapsed.

One of Steve Biko's close friends - Moki Cekisani - was the president of the Black People's Convention (BPC) in Port Elizabeth.

Moki was tortured in custody at the Security Branch headquarters in Port Elizabeth's Sanlam Building, the day after Biko's funeral in September 1977.

Cekisani told the TRC Commission that a bag soaked with water was placed over his head and that he was rammed against a wall and given electric shocks.

Cekisani named some of those involved in the assaults as Sergeant Nieuwoudt and others linked to Biko's death. Moki was admitted to hospital the same day, after a severe attack of epilepsy.

Red Location Museum salutes our fallen heroe and comrade - Steve Biko: May his teachings be revived and instill inspiration and dignity in our people...


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