Saturday, 14 December 2013

Nelson, Steve and me: by Anne Cassidy

Like many other people I’ve been thinking about Nelson Mandela a lot this week. The explosion of emotion surrounding his death made me remember my first encounter with ‘apartheid’. As a young woman in the 1970s, I was interested in politics, but South Africa was on the other side of the world and in my consciousness it was at the level of news headlines, facts and figures, political speeches. I understood about apartheid but I didn’t really know about it.

I was a white woman living in one of the richest cities in the world. I was political. I was a thinking person but how could I really connect with what was going on?

It took a book to make me really feel something. It was during the year of my teacher training course that I picked up Donald Woods’ book on STEVE BIKO. He was an activist in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1977 he was arrested by the South African police. He was beaten and tortured by them.
During this abuse he was transported from one police station to another in the back of a van. His injured body was thrown in and he was left to lie there uncared for many hours while the van travelled from place to place lurching over the uneven roads. I remember, all those years ago, reading these passages and feeling slightly sick. This is what this system came down to. The headlines were about the injustice of apartheid as a system. The reality was a tortured man rolling about in the back of van while the police decided what to do with him.

There was a hint of fiction about this description. I don’t mean that it was made up. I mean that the writer had used the tools of fiction to heighten this experience. He had included the small details of being in the back of the van, going over the bumpy roads to put the picture in the reader’s mind. Biko had endured the cruellest abuse from these police officers and then on top of that there was this huge journey to suffer.

He died six days later.

Steve Biko is buried in King William Town in the Eastern Cape Province and is remembered by South Africans. Because of that book, written by Donald Woods, he is also remembered by me.

1 comment:

catdownunder said...

I was at university in London when Steve Biko died and I can remember a white South African student of my acquaintance asking, "How can I go home now? I have no home if that is what happens."
I think Australians knew even less than Londoners and I was completely unprepared for that sort of news story. I read the book long after it came out - I just could not bring myself to read it at the time.