The pity is that Steve Biko gained the world's attention as a corpse, and a victim. This buoyant, self-possessed,...



The pity is that Steve Biko gained the world's attention as a corpse, and a victim. This buoyant, self-possessed, articulate, humorous, steadfast man--founder and exemplar of South Africa's Black Consciousness movement--went into detention on August 18, 1977 confident that his prominence and his non-violent position would protect him from harm; and after 26 days of being held incommunicado, naked and shackled, he was dead. His friend Donald Woods, the newspaper editor who fled after being banned for his protests, presents the record of the ensuing 13-day inquest: Biko died of brain damage and neglect, it was established, but the perpetrators closed ranks, the judge followed suit, and no one was found culpable. But these pages of evasive testimony, whatever they add to Woods' condemnation of the regime and the system, are secondary to his celebration of the living Biko as the last best bulwark against bloodshed. A brief review of South African history leads to the 1961 banning of the two effective black-action organizations and Biko's step into the breach by his break, as a student leader, with the liberal, multi-racial National Union of South African Students: he had concluded that token integration was not a step toward total liberation--blacks must learn to stand alone and demand their rights. Woods also traces his own history as a belated, then firm, then affronted liberal to set the stage for his first emotional meeting with Biko, meanwhile providing a forum for the airing of these issues and--through extensive excerpts--of Biko's views. Ridicule of white society, he testified once, is liberating, ""a psychological ascendancy,"" and ""extreme language"" the natural response to ""the extreme things. . . done to us."" But with the murder of Biko and its whitewash, with the clampdown on South Africa's press, Woods sees ""white racism"" and ""black anger"" on a collision course and outside intervention imperative: ""are national boundaries more sacred than serious issues of humanity?"" The book's success is that it forces the reader, fully informed, to confront the question.

Pub Date: April 28, 1978


Page Count: -

Publisher: Paddington--dist. by Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1978