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Death Of Stephen Biko

  • (Tom Paxton)

    Stephen Biko lay in shackles on a urine-sodden mattress
    In the solitary section, he was made to lie there naked
    Ah, ah!
    Given nothing he could wash with, exercise was not permitted
    Stephen Biko lay in shackles, compliments of Colonel Goosen
    Ah, ah, Africa!

    Port Elizabeth the prison, South Africa the nation
    Stephen Biko lay in shackles, though his hands and feet were swollen
    Ah, ah!
    In the close interrogation he was beaten like the others
    He was put back in the shackles, compliments of Colonel Goosen
    Ah, ah, Africa!
    Ah, ah, Africa!

    He was sick and he was dying, prison doctors came to see him
    When the cops spoke to the doctors they said, Nothing much is wrong here
    Ah, ah!
    Just a short stay in the infirmary, then it's back down to the shackles
    On a urine-sodden mattress, compliments of Colonel Goosen
    Ah, ah, Africa!
    Ah, ah, Africa!

    When they found him in a coma, when the man was clearly dying
    He was naked, but they stowed him in the back of a Land Rover
    Ah, ah!
    Though a hospital was near by it was no part of a prison
    So they took him to Pretioria - seven hundred fifty miles
    Ah, ah, Africa!
    Ah, ah, Africa!

    There was no one on the journey who could help the man survive it
    And the medical equipment was just one bottle of water
    Ah, ah!
    When they reached Pretoria prison they brought no medical records with them
    And they said, He might be faking, it's a hunger strike he's staging
    Ah, ah, Africa!
    Ah, ah, Africa!

    Stephen Biko in pretoria was laid down upon a mattress
    On the stone floor of a prison, and he died his lonely death there
    Now, the country was South Africa; the victim, Stephen Biko
    The victim, All South Africa; the victim, all humanity
    At the death of Stephen Biko
    Ah, ah, Africa!
    Ah, ah, Africa!

Susannes Folksong-Notizen

  • [1988:] Back in 1977 in South Africa, a black liberation leader named Steve Biko was arrested for the final time. While he was in prison, the facts are that he was beaten to death by the cops. The facts are not even in dispute. Apparently the government of South Africa couldn't care less who knows what happened to Steve Biko. (Tom Paxton, intro 'Politics')

  • [1989:] Biko was a black South African, a student leader who in the late sixties and early seventies had led black students in breaking away from the multi-racial Union of South African Students to form the all-black South African Students Organization and the Black People's Convention. In 1977 he had been arrested, interrogated in Port Elizabeth, and then driven, naked and nearly unconscious, in the back of a Land Rover, for 700 miles to the prison in Pretoria where he died in September 1977.
    He wasn't the only black activist to have died in detention, but he became a lasting symbol for the horrors of apartheid. Peter Gabriel [...] wrote his 'first directly political song' as a tribute to Biko [...]. 'I'd been following the story of Biko's imprisonment', says Gabriel, 'and I felt that he'd be protected because there was so much publicity about him. So when it was announced that he'd been killed it came as a shock [...]'. (Denselow, Music 153)

  • [1997:] It is 20 years this week since Steve Biko died after being driven hundreds of miles, naked and in a coma, from a police cell in Port Elizabeth to another in Pretoria. [He was] held in security police custody, incommunicado for three weeks of interrogation, before being taken to the South African capital where he died on 12 September 1977. [...] As the printed programme for [the unveiling of a Biko statue in East London, Cape Province] says: 'His death had a massive impact on world opinion, more than that of any other detainee, mainly because he was better known to the international media than any other detainee. He had been visited by journalists all over the world, and they had written about him so that when he died there was shock and anger on a wide scale abroad, as well as among his admirers and friends in South Africa.' At the United Nations, his death was cited as one of the principal reasons for the intensification of sanctions, in particular the oil and arms embargo against the Pretoria government, and, because he had died so young, young people all over the world used his name as a rallying cry, as they demonstrated for disinvestment and the economic and diplomatic isolation of the apartheid regime. Biko's name and story as rallying points of the worldwide anti-apartheid movement intensified hugely after production of the 1988 internationally released film Cry Freedom, which was seen in more than 100 countries, dubbed or sub-titled in more than 30 languages. [...] The question often asked about Steve Biko is whether he would have had more impact against apartheid alive than dead. It is a question that can never be answered, because this brilliant young man was killed while his remarkable intellect was still developing and broadening, and his views deepening and mellowing beyond the early angry writing which had characterised his student period. But, dead or alive, he was to play a pivotal role in hastening the end of apartheid oppression, and he himself knew this would be so. As he wrote about the possibility of his own premature death: 'You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and your method of death can itself be a politicising thing. So if you can overcome the fear of death, which is irrational, you're on the way.' [...] Biko was therefore consciously prepared to give his life for freedom in South Africa, with a courage and spirit that matched his intellectual gifts. (Donald Woods, Observer, 7 September)

  • [1997:] Biko's family fiercely opposed the truth commission's decision to conduct the hearing, and has argued that its powers of amnesty could rob apartheid victims' relatives of justice. Last year his widow unsuccessfully challenged the legitimacy of the commission in South Africa's constitutional court. (Inigo Gilmore, Sunday Times, 7 Sep)

Quelle: USA / South Africa

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28.03.2003, aktualisiert am 16.06.2003