Steve Biko killed 35 years ago – Singing the Spirit Home- no mercy in their eyes

On 18th December 1977 the racist South African state murdered 31 year old Steve Biko.

Steve Biko gave his life so his countrymen and women could achieve freedom in their homeland. The South African state was brutal and it took great courage to stand up and condemn it.

He was thrown out of university because of his anti-apartheid activities and he was ‘banned’ by the state. This meant he was prevented from moving around freely, could only speak with one person at any time and was not able to publish his thoughts or opinions.

In June 1976 a school protest in the black township of Soweto against the imposition of Afrikaans ended with the police killing around 200 (and arguably several hundreds more) people and injuring around 1000.

Shortly after this Soweto Uprising Steve Biko was arrested under South African terrorist legislation. He was beaten, tortured and interrogated for 24 hours by police and injured so severely he suffered major brain damage and fell into a coma. Then they chained him to a window and left him there for many hours. Their treatment of him did not improve.

Nearly a month after his arrest the authorities thought they had better get him medical treatment. They threw Biko , naked and manacled, into the back of a police Landrover and drove him 1100 km to a prison hospital where he died of his injuries on arrival.

There would be no justice in South Africa over the killing of Steve Biko but outrage worldwide which again highlighted the cause of the South African anti-apartheid movement.

There were many, many Steve Bikos who fought and died in their homeland for justice. They were all brave people.

Scottish singer Eric Bogle wrote a song called Singing the Spirit Home about a South African freedom fighter who was hanged by the state. It’s not about Steve Biko because he died before they could hang him but it represents the many victims of ruthless repression and it’s my tribute to Steve Biko and the hundreds like him who we should all know about and remember and thank for their sacrifices.

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