Speaking of death, Steve Biko wrote in his book, I write what I like: “You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can’t care anyway. And your method of death can itself be a politicising thing.” His words would prove prophetic, as his death at the hands of the apartheid security police was historically pivotal in rousing support for the liberation struggle.
The story of Bantu Stephen Biko’s life, and death, is retold in the stirring exhibition Biko – The Quest for a True Humanity at the Albany History Museum. The display, which was extracted from a larger exhibition produced by the Steve Biko Foundation on the 30th anniversary of Biko’s death in 2007, features photographs of Biko from his childhood in King William’s Town, through his young adult and political life, to his death in a Pretoria prison at the age of 30.
The exhibition inventively re-introduces Biko’s legacy and features video footage of him as a student leader, as well as Peter Gabriel’s protest song, Biko, and a live statement from then Minister of Police Jimmy Kruger.
Reviving Biko’s legacy
The video footage, along with photographs and quotes from family, friends and colleagues, is used to resuscitate Biko’s legacy and recount how his ideas, actions and murder affected the psyche of both black and white South Africans under the apartheid government.
Infused with a hauntingly sombre tone, the exhibition drives home the astounding fact that the people responsible for Biko’s death were never brought to justice. A list of the many others who died in detention during apartheid is visually foregrounded.
Where angels meet
The Meeting of Angels, a theatre production opening on the Fringe today, also questions the mysterious deaths of Biko and other activists while they were being held by the security police. The play is written and directed by Khanyiso Billy Dakada who says the script brings together the spirits of Biko, Robert Sobukwe and other politicians and artists as “angels in heaven” discussing their respective deaths, and how best they can bring their ideals back to life.
Dakada explains that the piece looks critically at the “disappearance” of activists and how there hasn’t been closure in the incidents involving Biko, Sobukwe and even the Xhosa monarch, Hintsa ka Khawuta. “The truth has never been revealed about people who died while in detention, so the play goes in search of truth and reconciliation,” says Dakada.
Both Biko – The Quest for a True Humanity and The Meeting of Angels offer audiences a chance to learn about and remember what the death of Biko meant in the struggle for equality in South Africa.