Biko - Cry Freedom

Biko - Cry Freedom

by Donald Woods

Hardcover(Rev. and updated ed)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805006551
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 11/01/1987
Edition description: Rev. and updated ed
Pages: 448

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By Donald Woods

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 1991 Donald Woods
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3638-5



The White Settlers

Because Steve Biko was uniquely a product of South Africa and its history it is necessary to give a short synopsis of that history, with particular emphasis on those elements of it that influenced his stance and philosophy.

Recorded history in South Africa begins with the arrival of white settlers in 1652, when the Dutch established a sailing base where the city of Cape Town is now situated. But the country's history of human habitation extends far back in time, and archaeologists have found traces there of some of the earliest human habitation on this planet. When the Dutch settlers arrived they found the Cape area and hinterland inhabited by sallow-skinned hunters and herders, the Khoisan. Much of the interior of the country was inhabited by Negroid Bantu-speaking tribesmen. Schoolchildren in South Africa are taught that the arrival of the white settlers coincided with the arrival of these "Bantu" tribesmen, but radiocarbon dating provides evidence of Negroid communities in the Transvaal as early as the fifth century. The southward migration of the Bantu-speakers to the shores of the country was considerable in the fourteenth century, and they were certainly established as far as the Gamtoos River in the Cape Province by the fifteenth century.

White settlements at the Cape Peninsula were augmented by parties of German and French settlers, the latter being Huguenots fleeing from religious persecution in Europe. These groups fused, in time, into a single white cultural group which evolved its own language, Afrikaans, and whose descendants came to be known as Afrikaners. The Afrikaans language derived from Dutch, with some German influences, and was a simplification of these European languages. It grew more distinctively practical as these whites settled further inland away from the Table Bay harbor and the European influences brought there by the sailing ships that called en route to the East.

In 1814 the British annexed the entire colony as part of a post-Napoleonic deal involving Britain, Holland, and Sweden. The British brought in four thousand British settlers (including my great-great-grandfather) in 1820 to settle the Eastern Cape area as a buffer zone between the mutually hostile Afrikaner farmers and black tribesmen. The British also abolished slavery and gave in to the demands of two settler journalists, Thomas Pringle and John Fairbairn, for press freedom. For a number of reasons, including the abolition of slavery and what the Afrikaners regarded as too liberal a policy toward blacks by the British colonial government, many of the Afrikaners migrated from the colony into the hinterland in what became known as the Great Trek. They established two independent republics, one in the north (Transvaal) and one in the central area of the country (Orange Free State), the latter named for the Netherlands royal family, the House of Orange.

By the dawn of the twentieth century, the British had control of the two coastal provinces, Cape Province and Natal, and the Afrikaners had control of the two northern republics. The discovery in the Transvaal of the world's richest reef of gold brought prospectors and miners from all ends of the earth, mostly from English- speaking countries — Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. This posed a new problem for the Afrikaner leader Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal republic, because these newcomers now constituted a majority outnumbering the Afrikaners in this area. These people, referred to by Kruger as the Uitlanders (foreigners), clamored for civil rights and particularly the vote, claiming that they provided most of the Transvaal's revenue and were entitled to full citizenship. Their demands were backed up by the British colonial government, whose zeal for the civil rights of their kith and kin was influenced considerably by the prospect of gold revenues for Queen Victoria.

In a tragic foreshadowing of what a future Afrikaner leader, Vorster, would do, Kruger refused all significant negotiations with the clamoring majority, persistently offering too little too late in the way of concessions. Eventually the situation exploded into violence — the Anglo-Boer War — which exacted a ghastly toll of life. More than twenty thousand Afrikaner women and children died of disease and neglect in wretched concentration camps where they were quartered after the British burned down their farmsteads to prevent their feeding and harboring of the Afrikaner guerrillas who were harassing the imperial forces.

Shortly after the end of the war the British handed all of South Africa back to what it regarded as a united white nation under Afrikaner leaders Louis Botha and Jan Smuts. The two former Afrikaner republics and the two former British colonies were united in the Act of Union and given full independence in 1910 as one sovereign state, the Union of South Africa, in which Afrikaners now constituted a majority of whites. Given the historic background of the two white groups that were to share control of the country, the Afrikaners and the English-speakers (roughly 60 and 40 percent respectively), this was a simplistic and superficial formula for the future. And given the historical and political background of the vast black majority, whose own aspirations were virtually ignored in this dispensation, the formula was one for future racial disaster.

Black politics up until 1910 was hardly an issue in white political thinking in South Africa. At the time of union only the Cape Province insisted on retaining voting rights for blacks on a basis of qualified franchise as introduced by the British colonial regime. The two Afrikaner republics had granted no political rights to blacks, and Natal was scarcely less conservative. Yet what minimal rights for blacks were provided for in the 1910 formula were not only destined not to be developed, but were actually whittled away.

In 1913 legislation pegged black land ownership rights to specific areas totaling barely 10 percent of the entire national territory, and successive onslaughts on black rights intensified with the birth of Afrikaner nationalism as articulated by the founder of the Afrikaner Nationalist party, former Boer General James Hertzog. Hertzog realized that Afrikaners formed a 60 percent majority within the white community and that by exploiting their racial conservatism he could oust Botha and Smuts and achieve control of the country. He therefore founded the Afrikaner Nationalist party in 1914 in opposition to the more moderate policies of Botha and Smuts. The twin formula of Afrikaner chauvinism and antiblack bigotry was so successful in electoral terms that his party came to power in the election of 1924 in coalition with a racist white Labor party largely representative of white miners.

Legislatively this signaled the start of a program of apartheid, or racial discrimination enshrined in statute, although the most extreme forms of this were to be enacted by Hertzog's political successors in 1948. Hertzog had certain inhibitions his successors did not have, including reservations about tearing up clauses of the 1910 constitution dealing with the voting rights of "Coloreds" (mulattoes) in the Cape Province. Besides, Hertzog's plans were set back when Smuts capitalized on anti-Hitler feeling in the South African Parliament in 1939 and forced a vote that toppled Hertzog from power. By the end of the Hitler war, Hertzog was dead and his political heir as leader of the Nationalist party, Daniel Malan, used the old Hertzog formula of Afrikaner chauvinism and antiblack bigotry to win power in the election of 1948.

The Afrikaner Nationalist party has been in power ever since, and for forty years has systematically and ruthlessly implemented the racial policy of apartheid that has earned the regime the revulsion of the world and the hatred of the black masses within the apartheid State.

The Black Response

Meanwhile, what of black politics in South Africa? What of the black response, first to white settlement and later to the legislative tightening of the apartheid screws? The first major black reaction to white expansionism from the Cape settlement was war. Over a period of a hundred years, from 1779, no fewer than nine wars were fought between Xhosa tribesmen and frontier farmers. Although the blacks were vastly superior in numbers, the spear was no match for the musket, and Xhosa military power was broken by the end of the nineteenth century. The other major black group, the Zulus, waged fierce war in Natal before going down to British weaponry in 1879.

For the next hundred years the black political response to white power was generally conciliatory, the overall aim of successive black political organizations being to bring the white rulers to the negotiating table for a fair dispensation in a shared society. From the beginning, the Eastern Cape was the fountainhead of black politics, partly because it was the home of black education in South Africa. Educational institutions such as Fort Hare University, Lovedale Institute, and Healdtown College produced black leaders not only for South Africa but for countries as far afield as Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia. This educational foundry cast all the leaders of the first black liberation movements, Dr. T. Jabavu, Dr. A. B. Xuma, P. Mzimba, E. Makiwane, W. Rubusana, A. K. Soga, J. Dube, M. Pelemi, J. Gumede, and P. Seme, and in the stormy era since the Afrikaner Nationalist party's accession to power in 1948, the three most important black leaders to emerge were Eastern Cape men — Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, and Steve Biko.

Ironically, the first manifestation of black political activity was when a substantial body of black voters qualified for the Cape franchise in 1869 to assist a white candidate, George Wood, to gain election to the legislative assembly. In at least one constituency in the Cape, black voters helped a white candidate to victory over a black candidate, and first indications were that the black vote would not be cast racially. However, this nonracial attitude did not persist in the face of white moves to raise the voting qualifications as black voters grew more numerous, and blacks turned increasingly to all-black associations and organizations functioning as pressure groups. For a long time these black pressure groups tried to lobby the white politicians in power to permit black participation in national affairs, but failure to make satisfactory headway spurred black leaders to seek aid abroad for their cause. After a conference in King William's Town in 1887, Dr. T. Jabavu founded the Cape Native Convention, as whose delegate he was to travel to London in 1909 to contest the racial formula through which Britain intended to grant full independence to the Union of South Africa.

His mission a failure, Jabavu returned to a climate of considerable black anger within the country over the terms of the proposed Act of Union. A black lawyer named Seme drew away a number of Jabavu's followers into a more militant black organization called the South African Native National Congress. Supporting Seme were influential black leaders such as Rubusana, Pelemi, Mapikela, Makgatho, Mangena, Msimang, and Dr. J. L. Dube, an American-trained disciple of Booker T. Washington. Jabavu stayed out of the new body, and set up his own South African Races Congress as a separate organization, pinning his hopes on the good faith of white liberals in the Cape power hierarchy. Both Botha and Smuts were already feeling the force of Hertzog's appeal on the race issue, and introduced the 1913 Land Bill designating racial land zones (the birth of territorial apartheid).

Jabavu, believing the land segregation plan would be of benefit to blacks, backed the bill. The Native National Congress split over the issue, its members dividing behind Dube, who had no objection to segregation in principle (provided there was equitable division of territory and national wealth between black and white), and Makgatho, who rejected it and gained the support of the majority, succeeding to the presidency in 1917. This development foreshadowed a future era in which some black leaders would accept the "homeland" policy of territorial segregation and be criticized as "sellouts" for settling for less than full black rights throughout South Africa.

The first tragic effect of the land segregation policy was the Bulhoek Massacre of 1921, when a group of blacks refused to budge from land they had squatted on at Bulhoek, near Queenstown, and charged a police patrol sent to evict them. The police patrol opened fire and cut them down — another foreshadowing, this time of the demonstration at the police station at Sharpeville, Transvaal, in 1960, which ended in the same sort of massacre.

From time to time in South Africa's Afrikaner Nationalist era, black anger and frustration was to break out in similar manifestations, the most explosive being the Soweto riots of 1976, followed a decade later by sporadic rioting and train bombings in 1987 — each of which proved that stones, like spears, are no match for guns and tear gas.

The Native National Congress became more aggressive between 1917 and 1924, turning to passive resistance and strikes — methods later to be tried by the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress — but strikes require financial resources to sustain the strikers for any significant length of time, and sheer grinding poverty caused the collapse of every black strike attempt. One of the more successful strike leaders was Clements Kadalie, an expatriate Malawian, and the main inspiration for passive resistance was a Natal lawyer, Mohandas Gandhi, later to achieve fame as the Mahatma who rid India of British rule through the passive resistance methods he had evolved in South Africa.

By this time, in addition to all the other complex problems occasioned by politically encouraged awareness of racial differences among black and white, Afrikaner and English-descended, and so-called "Coloreds," South Africa now had, in addition, what was called an "Indian problem," as well as a "Chinese problem." Indians had been brought to South Africa as cheap labor for the sugarcane fields of Natal, and Chinese to work the gold mines. After objections from white miners many of the latter were repatriated, but some numbers remained. Efforts to repatriate Indians were less successful, so that today there are almost a million South Africans of Indian descent, mostly in Natal. Gandhi first came to prominence in the fight against discriminatory measures by Jan Smuts against Indians, and it was due to his zealous groundwork that the vigorous South African Indian Congress came into being in 1923.

The following year, 1924, brought a new urgency to the black and "Indian" political movements, because 1924 saw the first coming to power of Afrikaner nationalism. Hertzog's government in its fifteen years (the last six in coalition with the former Botha-Smuts party, the South African party, after economic misgovernment in the depression years had cost Hertzog a governing margin of support) laid the legislative foundation for the massive structure of apartheid laws the 1948 Afrikaner Nationalists would erect. The Hertzog government not only put a stop to all prospects of black political advancement in a common society, but put such prospects into reverse. Indirect black representation in the central Parliament was limited to a small handful of seats — occupied by whites.

By this time the African National Congress had been constituted from the pioneering efforts of the Native National Congress, and it was to spearhead the black cause for the next forty years as the undisputed articulator of black political aspirations. Under Chief Albert Luthuli and later Nelson Mandela, two towering giants of the black liberation movement in the stormy years of the post-1948 Afrikaner Nationalist administration, the ANC gained massive support throughout the country.

Steve Biko's Predecessors

It was only when Mandela's patience in appealing to whites for compromise was exhausted that a split occurred in the popular movement. Mandela decided that future appeals to reason were a waste of time and that only violence could jolt Afrikaner nationalism out of its refusal to negotiate. The violence campaign was to start with selective sabotage of electricity pylons and power stations. If the white minority government remained obdurate, police stations and military installations would be the next targets. If this made no significant impression, the violence would escalate if necessary into full civil war. To launch this program, Mandela toured Africa in search of aid and declared he would accept it from any source.

The small but militant South African Communist party played a key role in gaining Eastern Bloc support for the ANC, and Mandela himself succeeded in gaining the support of all the major African states. His attempts, and later attempts by his friend and colleague Oliver Tambo, to gain Western support were firmly rebuffed, so that the only external support of a material nature for the ANC came initially from the Communist countries and the countries of Africa and the third world, which had slender resources.


Excerpted from Biko by Donald Woods. Copyright © 1991 Donald Woods. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Title Page,
Author's Preface,
Preface to the Third Revised Edition (1991),
The White Settlers,
The Black Response,
Steve Biko's Predecessors,
The Rise of Black Consciousness,
My Own White World,
2 - THE MAN,
My Introduction to Steve Biko,
Our First Encounter,
We Become Friends,
Some Personal Memories,
Living in a Police State,
His Points of View,
Arguments and Discussions,
Response to the Tragedy,
I Am Banned,
The Scene,
The Thirteen Days,
EPILOGUE - The Testimony of Peter Jones and Beyond,
Copyright Page,

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