“Here is a tree rooted in African soil, nourished with waters from the rivers of Afrika. Come and sit under its shade and become, with us, the leaves of the same branch and the branches of the same tree” -Robert Sobokwe


Nelson Mandela, in the Western media is often portrayed as a man whose sole effort sees to the liquidation of apartheid in Azania (South Africa).  He’s portrayed as leader whose footsteps others should follow and compromise technique they should adopt when confronted with dire issue as that of the apartheid in Azania decades ago.

The consistent portrayal of Mandela, as the lone hero of apartheid in the Western media has been colonized into people’s head to the extent names of other anti-apartheid revolutionaries who gave as much as Mandela, and even much more sounds unfamiliar at best at best vaguely familiar. It is customary to come across eulogy of Mandela in the western media to the extent his legacy is distorted. Other heroes who gave their lives to the struggle are seldom mentioned; some knocked into oblivion, the vast abysses of time and space largely because of their uncompromising nature, approach towards apartheid and insistence on total liquidation of its structures.

Aside these little known heroes, what about plenty of others whose names we will never know? What about victims of the Sharpeville Massacre? The fact that the notorious Western media known for demonizing any leader or personality anywhere in the world who challenges the structure of white supremacy or defile the power of Western nations idolize Mandela baffles me, although, he was in the past labeled a “terrorist” and a “communist.”

But the sudden change is something we should all worry about. As we should worry about the acknowledgement of “heroic”, “brave” and “good” Mandela by minority settlers. What kind of people shower accolades on a man who strips them off power? Except they still hold on to the remote that control the economic power?

This issue we will deliberate upon some other time, for now let concentrate on our Heroes they refuse to celebrate.

The following personalities are anti-apartheid revolutionaries silenced by time, forgetfulness and selected amnesia of our people and the media.

(In order to make these biographies short some part has been cut off. Please click the link below each biography to get full details).

JAFTA KGALABI MASEMOLA – “The Tiger of Azania” also popularly known as “Bra Jeff” by many others, was born at Bon Accord near Pretoria on the 12th December 1931. He lost both his parents at an early age and was raised by his sister like one of her own children. The family moved to Marabastad and then to Atteridgeville in 1942 where he enrolled at De Jong Primary School and completed standard six in 1947. He proceeded to Hofmeyr Secondary School where he obtained a Junior Certificate in 1950. Then he went to Kilnerton Training Institution (KTI) where he did his Higher Primary or Teacher’s Training Certificate.

His first teaching post was in Atteridgeville where he worked on a temporary basis until he got a permanent post at Mmakau Primary School (Rama) in Western Transvaal . In 1956 he returned to Atteridgeville to teach at Banareng Primary School where Mr. Rammopo Makhudu was principal. In 1958 he joined the Youth League of the African National Congress. He was impressed by the vigorous politics of the principal. In 1959 he joined the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania at its inception and thus became one of its founding leaders. His Africanist politics influenced the school children and some his colleagues. As a result some of his pupils became members of the PAC when they got to high schools and were later incarcerated with him on Robben Island in 1963.

After the banning of the PAC on April 8, 1960 under the Unlawful Organizations Act, Jafta Masemola continued with underground activities. He and other operatives formed underground structures that were planning an armed revolt in 1963; to this effect they gathered whatever weapons they could put their hands on for the planned uprising. The state security police uncovered these activities and Jafta Masemola and other underground activists were arrested during a swoop on PAC-Poqo suspects on the night of March 21st, 1963.

Jafta Masemola was arraigned before the Pretoria Supreme Court along with 14 others charged with conspiracy to commit acts of sabotage and with the intention to overthrow the government by violent means. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island .

He spent over 26 years on Robben Island and other prisons. He was released on October 15, 1989. On the eve of his release, Nelson Mandela asked to have a meeting with him. Jafta Masemola was flown from Johannesburg (Leeukop Prison) to Victor Verster Prison in Cape Town to meet Nelson Mandela. Nothing has ever been disclosed about what transpired in that meeting.

On his return home, Jafta Masemola immediately plunged into active politics of mass mobilisation. He used the church just opposite where he lived on 26 Makgatho Street to address masses of people who came to his meetings every evening. The church belonged to Rev. Brander whose son Simon Brander died on Robben Island convicted as a PAC-Poqo activist. As a former teacher ‘Bra Jeff’, invited teachers to a meeting at the Atteridgeville Community Hall, where he was showered with presents.

The meeting with teachers was followed by a homecoming reception by the Atteridgeville Community at the Super Stadium that was filled to capacity. This disturbed the Apartheid authorities who instructed the police to intervene and ordered the people to disperse before the occasion could come to an end. The meetings by Jafta Masemola were growing by the day and as a result the PAC was becoming more visible. Jafta Masemola travelled the length and breadth of the country reviving PAC structures. He was asked to intervene in conflicts between the PAC and UDF members and this enhanced his stature and influence.

In all these activities Jafta Masemola did not seem to take care of his personal security. He never thought anything bad could happen to him because he had so much trust in the African people. This lax attitude to security meant that Jafta Masemola travelled without a bodyguard on the fateful day of April 17, 1990 when he was killed in a car crash just six months after his release from prison. This accident brought the life of this young, dynamic and promising leader to an end. The truck that was involved in the crash with Jafta Masemola’s car disappeared from the scene of the accident and has to this day never been traced.


Names: Hani, Thembisile ‘Chris’

Born: 28 June 1942, Cofimvaba, Transkei, (now Eastern Cape), South Africa

Died: 10 April 1993, Dawn Park, Boksburg, South Africa

In summary: Chief of Staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe and General-Secretary of the SACP.

Thembisile Chris Hani was born in the rural village of Sabalele, in the Cofimvaba region of the former Transkei. He was the fifth of the six children of Gilbert and Mary Hani, and one of the three that did not die during infancy. The name Chris was adopted by him as a nom de guerre, and was in fact the real name of his brother. Chris grew up a devout Christian.

Hani was enrolled at a Catholic school and soon developed a love for Latin. At this stage of his life, Hani’s desire was to enter the priesthood, but his father disapproved and moved him to a non-denominational school, Matanzima Secondary School at Cala, in the Transkei. In 1954, a number of Hani’s school teachers who were active in the Unity Movement lost their jobs after they protested against the introduction of Bantu education. This played a further role in developing Hani’s political ideas. Hani later moved again to the Lovadale Institute in the Eastern Cape, where he matriculated in 1958.

Hani was exposed to Marxist ideology while a student at University of Fort Hare, where he also explored his childhood passion for the classics and for literature. Hani attended Fort Hare from 1959-1961 and graduated in 1962 from Rhodes University in Grahamstown, with a BA degree in Latin and English. He then moved to Cape Town and worked as an article clerk with the Schaeffer and Schaeffer legal firm from 1962-1963, but did not complete his articles.

Hani was exposed to political thought from a very young age through his father, Gilbert Hani, who was active in the ANC and eventually left South Africa and sought asylum in Lesotho. However, Hani’s political involvement really began in 1957 when he became a member of the African National Congress’ Youth League (ANCYL). He cites the conviction of the ANC’s leaders in the Treason Trial (1956) as his main motivation to begin participating in the struggle for freedom.

While at Fort Hare, Hani’s political ideas developed even further. Hani provided greater detail of his time at the university:

In 1959 I went over to university at Fort Hare where I became openly involved in the struggle, as Fort Hare was a liberal campus. It was here that I got exposed to Marxist ideas and the scope and nature of the racist capitalist system. My conversion to Marxism also deepened my non-racial perspective.

My early Catholicism led to my fascination with Latin studies and English literature. These studies in these two courses were gobbled up by me and I became an ardent lover of English, Latin and Greek literature, both modern and classical. My studies of literature further strengthened my hatred of all forms of oppression, persecution and obscurantism. The action of tyrants as portrayed in various literary works also made me hate tyranny and institutionalised oppression.

The Extension of University Education Act (1959) had put an end to black students attending White universities (mainly the universities of Cape Town and Witwatersrand) and created separate tertiary institutions for Whites, Coloured, Blacks, and Asians. Hani was active in campus protests over the takeover of Fort Hare by the Department of Bantu Education. During his years in the Western Cape Hani participated in protests against the takeover of the university by the Department of Bantu Education and came into contact with the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). This increased his awareness of the workers’ struggle.

Hani left South Africa for the Soviet Union, and returned in 1967 to take an active role in the Rhodesian bush war, acting as a Political Commissar in the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA). ZIPRA, under the command of Joshua Nkomo, operated out of Zambia. Hani was present for three battles during the “Wankie Campaign” (fought in the Wankie Game Reserve against Rhodesian forces) as part of the Luthuli Detachment of combined ANC and Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) forces. Although the campaign provided much-needed propaganda for the struggle in Rhodesia and South Africa, in military terms it was a failure. Far too often the local population informed on guerrilla groups to the police.

After the unbanning of ANC and SACP on 2 February 1990 Hani returned to South Africa and became a charismatic and popular speaker in townships. By 1990 he was known to be a close associate of Joe Slovo, the General-Secretary of the SACP. Both Slovo and Hani were considered fearful figures in the eyes of South Africa’s extreme right: the Afrikaner Weerstandsbewging (AWB, Afrikaner Resistance Movement) and the Conservative Party (CP). When Slovo announced that he had cancer in 1991, Hani took over as General-Secretary.

In 1992 Hani stepped down as Chief of Staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe to devote more time to the organisation of the SACP. Communists were prominent in the ANC and the Council of South African Trade Unions, but were under threat – the collapse of Marxism in Europe had discredited the movement around the world, and the policy of infiltrating other anti-Apartheid groups rather than making an independent stand was being questioned.

Hani campaigned for the SACP in townships around South Africa, seeking to redefine its place as a national political party. It was soon doing well – better than the ANC in fact – especially amongst the young who had no real experiences of the pre-Apartheid era and no commitment to the democratic ideals of the more moderate Mandela.

Hani was described as charming, passionate and charismatic, and soon attracted a cult-like following. He was the only political leader who seemed to have influence over the radical township self-defence groups that had parted from the authority of the ANC. Hani’s SACP would have proved a serious match for the ANC in the 1994 elections.

On 10 April 1993, as he returned home to the racially mixed suburb of Dawn Park, Boksberg (Johannesburg), Hani was assassinated by Januzs Walus, an anti-Communist Polish refugee who had close links to the White nationalist AWB. With him was his daughter, Nomakhwezi, then 15 years old. His wife, Limpho, and two other daughters, Neo (then 20 years old) and Lindiwe (then 12 years old) were away at the time. Also implicated in the assassination was Conservative Party MP Clive Derby-Lewis, and strangely a theory based largely on documents given to the Mail & Guardian point to a conspiracy beyond the right wing, linking the assassination to the ANC.

Hani’s death came at a critical time for South Africa. The SACP was on the brink of gaining significant status as an independent political party. It now found itself bereft of funds (due to collapse in Europe) and without a strong leader. The assassination helped persuade the bickering negotiators of the Multi-Party Negotiating Forum to finally set a date for South Africa’s first democratic election.

Walus and Derby-Lewis were captured, sentenced and jailed within an incredibly short period (only six months) of the assassination. Both were sentenced to death. In a peculiar twist, the new government (and constitution) they had actively fought against, caused in their sentences being lessened to life imprisonment – the death penalty having been ruled “unconstitutional.”

In 1997 Walus and Derby-Lewis applied for amnesty through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings. Despite claims that they were working for the Conservative Party, and therefore the assassination had been a political act, the TRC effectively ruled that Hani had been assassinated by right-wing extremists who were apparently acting independently. Walus and Derby-Lewis are currently serving their sentence in a maximum security prison near Pretoria.


Names: Sobukwe, Robert Mangaliso

Born: 5 December 1924, Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Died: 27 February 1978, Kimberley, Cape Province, South Africa

In summary: Teacher, lecturer, lawyer,  Fort Hare University SRC President, secretary of the ANC branch in Standerton, founding member and first president of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and Robben Island prisoner.

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe was born to Hubert and Angelina Sobukwe on 5 December 1924 at Graaff-Reinet, Cape Province. He was the youngest of five boys and one girl. His father worked as a municipal labourer and a part-time woodcutter, his mother as a domestic worker and cook at a local hospital.

Sobukwe was exposed to literature at an early age by his oldest brother. His earliest education was at a mission school in Graaf Reinet. After completing Standard 6 he enrolled for a Primary Teachers’ Training Course for two years, but he was not given a teaching post. He then went back to high school, enrolling at the Healdtown Institute, where he spent six years studying with financial assistance provided by George Caley, the school’s headmaster, and completed his Junior Certificate (JC) and matric. Sobukwe’s schooling was briefly interrupted in 1943 when he was admitted to a hospital suffering from tuberculosis.

After completing his schooling he received a bursary from the Department of Education and an additional loan from the Bantu Welfare Trust, which enabled him to enrol at Fort Hare University for tertiary education in 1947. Sobukwe registered for a BA majoring in English, Xhosa and Native Administration. His keen interest in literature continued and became more focused on poetry and drama.

Sobukwe noted that before going to Fort Hare, he was not very interested in politics. It was his study of Native Administration that aroused his interest in politics. This new focus was fuelled by the influence of one of his lecturers, Cecil Ntloko, a follower of the All African Convention (AAC). Fort Hare was also the institution in which generations of young Black South Africans and Black students from other African countries were exposed to politics. These influences combined to make Sobukwe more politically active.

In 1948 Sobukwe and three of his friends launched a daily publication called Beware. Topics appearing in the paper included non-collaboration and critiques of Native Representative Councils and Native Advisory Boards. That same year Sobukwe joined the  African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL), which was established on the university campus by Godfrey Pitje, a lecturer in the Department of African Studies who later became the league’s president. Sobukwe and his classmates were at first sceptical of the ANCYL because they felt that the African National Congress (ANC) had been compromised by its continuing participation in the Native Representative Council and the township Advisory Boards.

A year later, in 1949, Sobukwe was elected president of the Fort Hare Students’ Representative Council (SRC), where he proved himself to be an effective orator. His speech as outgoing president of the SRC in October 1949 established him as an important figure among his peers. In December he was selected by Pitje to become the National Secretary of the ANCYL. During this period he became influenced by the writings of Anton Lembede and he began adopting an Africanist position within the ranks of the ANC.  During 1949 Sobukwe met Veronica Mathe at Alice Hospital, where she was a nurse in training. The couple got married in 1950.

In 1950, Sobukwe was appointed as a teacher at Jandrell Secondary School in Standerton, where he taught History, English and Geography. In 1952 he lost his teaching position after speaking out in favour of the Defiance Campaign. His dismissal, however, did not last long and he was soon reinstated. Although Sobukwe was secretary of the ANC’s Standerton branch from 1950 to 1954, he was not directly involved in mainstream ANC activities.

In 1954 Sobukwe moved to Johannesburg, where he became a lecturer in African Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand – a job which earned him the nickname ‘the Prof’. He settled in Mofolo, Soweto, where he joined a branch of the ANC. Sobukwe became editor of The Africanist in 1957 and soon began to criticise the ANC for allowing itself to be dominated by what he termed ‘liberal-left-multi-racialists’. In 1958 Sobukwe completed his Honours dissertation at Wits entitled “A collection of Xhosa Riddles”.

Politically, Sobukwe was strongly Africanist, believing that the future of South Africa should be in the hands of Black South Africans. As a result of his septicism towards the multi-racial path the ANC was following, Sobukwe was instrumental in initiating an Africant breakaway from the ANC in 1958, which led to the birth of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). He stated:

“In 1955 the Kilptown Charter was adopted, which according to us, is irreconcilable conflict with the 1949 Programme seeing that it claims land no longer Africa, but is auctioned for sale to all who live in this country. We have come to the parting of the ways and we are here and now giving notice that we are disassociating ourselves from the ANC as it is constituted at present in the Transvaal.”

At the PAC’s inaugural congress, held in Orlando from 4 to 6 April 1959, Sobukwe was unanimously elected the party’s first President. Sobukwe’s eloquence as a public speaker, his intelligence and commitment to his cause soon established him as natural leader, and helped him rally support for the PAC. Sobukwe’s opposition to ‘multi-racialism’ in favour of ‘non-racialism’ is apparent in an extract from his inaugural speech at the PAC launch in 1959.

While on Robben Island, Sobukwe was kept in solitary confinement – his living quarters were separate from the main prison and he had no contact with any other prisoners. He was, however, allowed access to books and civilian clothes. As a result, Sobukwe spent much of his time studying, and he obtained a degree in Economics from the University of London. In 1964 Sobukwe was offered a job by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and the Montgomery Fellowship for Foreign Aid in the US. He applied to leave the country with his family to take up the employment but was denied permission by the Minister of Justice, John Vorster.

Sobukwe was released from prison in May 1969 and was banished to Galeshewe in Kimberley, where he was joined by his family. However, he remained under twelve-hour house arrest and his banning order prohibited him from participating in any political activity. In 1970 Sobukwe successfully applied for a teaching post at the University of Wisconsin in the US, but the Apartheid government refused his request for a passport despite assurances that he would be given a visa by the US government. When he applied to leave South Africa permanently together with his family in 1971, the South African government again refused to give him permission.

While the restrictions kept him under house arrest and denied him permission to leaving South Africa, he was permitted to attend family gatherings outside Kimberley. For instance, in July 1973 Sobukwe was granted permission to leave Kimberley to visit his son Dalindyebo, who had been hospitalised in Johannesburg. In June 1974 Sobukwe spent three days in Johannesburg visiting his wife, who underwent an operation at a hospital in Johannesburg. Finally, in 1975, Sobukwe’s mother died and he applied to the Chief Magistrate of Kimberley for a permit to leave the town in order to attend the funeral. He was granted permission on condition that he report to the police station upon arrival and departure, and that he return to Kimberley by midnight on Friday 9 May 1975, a day after the funeral.

Sobukwe began studying Law while he was under house arrest. He completed his articles in Kimberley, and established his own law firm in 1975. The government’s Department of Justice initially denied him permission to enter the courts, but reversed the decision and withdrew the prohibition after the government relaxed a clause that banned Sobukwe from entering a court of law except as an accused or as a witness. However, newspapers were not allowed to quote him when he argued in court.

Shortly after opening his law practice, Sobukwe fell ill. In July 1977 he applied for permission to go for medical treatment in Johannesburg. Benjamin Pogrund, a close family friend, intervened and on 9 September Sobukwe was allowed to leave Kimberley for Johannesburg under strict conditions. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and his condition was deemed serious. Consequently, Sobukwe was transferred to Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town. While he was in the hospital the security branch instructed the medical staff not to permit any visitors to visit him except his family. Sobukwe’s wife applied for permission from the Cape magistrate for him to stay with a family friend, Bishop Pat Matolengwe. After deliberate delays by the government, on 14 October he was temporality discharged and Bishop Matolengwe took him from the hospital. Sobukwe was sent back to Kimberley, from he was due to travel back to Cape Town for another round of treatment. Each time he left Kimberley, he had to report to the police station – which he also had to do when he arrived at or left Cape Town.

The government deliberately made it harder for Sobukwe to receive treatment by insisting that he should comply with the conditions of his restrictions, despite his evidently failing health. On 27 February 1978 Sobukwe died from lung complications at Kimberley General Hospital. His funeral was held on 11 March 1978 and he was buried in Graaff-Reinet. Today, he remains a celebrated political figure in the struggle for a democratic South Africa.


Names: Biko, Stephen Bantu

Born: 18 December 1946, Tylden, Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape), South Africa

Died: 12 September 1977, Pretoria, South Africa

In summary: A Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) leader, South Africa’s most influential and radical student leader in the 1970s and a law student at the time of his death. He became a martyr of the Freedom Struggle and posed one of the strongest challenges to the apartheid structure in the country.

Born in Tylden in the Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape) on December 18, 1946, Stephen Bantu Biko’s early life was modest. His main pre-occupation was the pursuit of academic excellence, which was in line with his father’s expectations. His father encouraged all his children to pursue an education as the only possible route to upward social movement and independence. Biko started his education around 1952 (the exact date varies from source to source) against the background of the Bantu Education Act – an Act introduced to stifle Black education. Essentially, the Act was designed to provide Blacks with sufficient education which would not allow “a future without back-breaking labour.” Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, who authored the Bill, said “There is no place for him [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour.”

After matriculating from St Francis he enrolled at the University of Natal. It was here that Biko’s political activism began to blossom and grow. He devoted much of his time to the cause of Black emancipation. At university his desire to study medicine was hampered by his constant involvement in political activities and organisations such as NUSAS. He became so immersed in politics that his performance declined to levels that compelled university authorities to deregister him. This happened at a time when he had also grown critical of the generally anti-black structure of NUSAS. Since NUSAS’s power base was centred at the major white universities, it was virtually impossible for Black students to achieve positions of leadership. In fact, a NUSAS leader, Clive Nettleton, accused the organisation of “preaching the ideal of non-racism” while some members were “unable to live out their ideals.” Thus, in 1968 Biko established a new all-black and pro-black organisation namely the South African Students Organisation (SASO). He was elected as its first President in July 1969. One year later he was appointed Publicity Secretary of the organisation.

SASO adopted a new pro-black and radical doctrine that became known as Black Consciousness which by Biko’s own definition was the “cultural and political revival of an oppressed people.”

By 1971, the Black Consciousness Movement had grown into a formidable force throughout the country. In an attempt to reform SASO (which originally comprised students) and incorporate the adult element Biko established the Black People’s Convention (BPC) as well as Black Community Programmes (BCP).

The development of the BCM clearly threatened the settler machinery. It was only a matter of time before Steve Biko was banned by the government. In 1973 he was formally banned and confined to the magisterial district of King William’s Town, his birth place. Among other things, the banning entailed prohibiting him from teaching or making public addresses (or speaking to more than one person at a time), preventing him from entering educational institutions and reporting to the local police station once every week. For breaking these provisions a “banee” would be stigmatised as a criminal. In spite of being banned, Biko continued to advance the work of Black Consciousness. For instance, he established an Eastern Cape branch of BCP and through BCP he organised literacy and dressmaking classes and health education programmes. Quite significantly, he set up a health clinic outside King William’s Town for poor rural Blacks who battled to access city hospitals.

The banning and detention of several SASO and BPC leaders under the Terrorism Act threatened to cripple the Black Consciousness Movement. However, the accused used the seventeen-month trial that followed as a platform to state the case of Black Consciousness. Although they were found guilty and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment for revolutionary conspiracy they were later acquitted. Their convictions further strengthened the Black Consciousness movement. The repression instituted under the Terrorism Act caused Blacks to lose sympathy with moderate revolutionary policies, leading to more militancy and hope for emancipation. During the Soweto riots of June 1976 there were violent clashes between high school students (protesting the use of Afrikaans as the medium of academic instruction) and police marking the beginning of widespread urban unrest, which threatened law and order.

The wave of strikes during and after Soweto demonstrated, to a large extent, the influence Biko exerted on South African socio-political life. Although he did not directly take part in the Soweto riots, the influence of Black Consciousness ideas spurred students to fight an unjust system particularly after they were compelled to accept Afrikaans as a language for use in schools. In the wake of the urban revolt of 1976 and with the prospects of national revolution becoming increasingly real, security police detained Biko, the outspoken student leader, on August 18th. At this time Biko had begun studying law by mail through the University of South Africa/UNISA. He was thirty years old and was reportedly extremely fit when arrested. He was taken to Port Elizabeth but was later transferred to Pretoria where he died in detention under mysterious circumstances in 1977.

Thirteen Western nations sent diplomats to his funeral on 25 September. Nevertheless, police actions prevented thousands of mourners from reaching the funeral venue from Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and other areas on the grounds that this would lead to lawlessness. Police armed with FN rifles and machine guns erected and manned a number of roadblocks to prevent thousands of mourners from all over the country to converge on the town for the funeral of Steve Biko. Mourners from the Transvaal were barred from attending the funeral when permits were refused for buses. One of the speakers, Dr. Nthato Motlana, who flew from Johannesburg after he was blocked off when attempting to travel by road, said at the funeral that he had watched with disgust as black police hauled mourners off the buses in Soweto and assaulted them with truncheons. The physician said he had treated 30 of the mourners, some for fractured skulls, and allegedly witnessed a number of young women being raped.

Later in the day, Steve Biko was buried in a muddy plot beside the railroad tracks after a marathon funeral that was as much a protest rally against the white minority government’s racial policies as it was a commemoration of the country’s foremost young black leader. Several thousand black mourners punched the air with clenched fists and shouted “Power!” as Biko’s coffin was lowered into the grave. The crowd of more than ten thousand listened to successive speakers warning the government that Biko’s death would push Blacks further towards violence in their quest for racial equality.

Due to local and international outcry his death prompted an inquest which at first did not adequately reveal the circumstances surrounding his death. Police alleged that he died from a hunger strike and independent sources said he was brutally murdered by police. Although his death was attributed to “a prison accident,” evidence presented during the 15-day inquest into Biko’s death revealed otherwise. During his detention in a Port Elizabeth police cell he had been chained to a grill at night and left to lie in urine-soaked blankets. He had been stripped naked and kept in leg-irons for 48 hours in his cell. A blow in a scuffle with security police led to him suffering brain damage by the time he was driven naked and manacled in the back of a police van to Pretoria, where, on 12 September 1977 he died.

It took eight years and intense pressure before the South African Medical Council took disciplinary action. On 30 January, 1985, the Pretoria Supreme Court ordered the SAMDC to hold an inquiry into the conduct of the two doctors who treated Steve Biko during the five days before he died. Judge President of the Transvaal, Justice W G Boshoff, said in a landmark judgment that there was prima facie evidence of improper or disgraceful conduct on the part of the “Biko” doctors in a professional respect. This serves to illustrate that so many years after Biko’s death his influence lived on.


“It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realize that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality.” -Steven Biko


Young African Pioneers



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