Letter from Hobeni, 12th September 2014

My desk in the library

On 12th September 1977, Steve Biko was brutally murdered by the apartheid Security Police.   Jimmy Kruger, the then South African Minister of Justice, lied publicly about what had happened, claiming that Biko had died because he had gone on hunger strike.   Donald Woods made sure, through his journalistic expose of the murder, that the whole world knew that Kruger was an accomplice in this crime.   That is why Donald Woods and his family had to flee South Africa at the end of that year.

When the family arrived in London, Donald Woods set about getting his books, “Biko” and “Asking for Trouble: the Autobiography of a banned Journalist” published across the world.   This story, of course, became the basis for Richard Attenborough’s film, “Cry Freedom”.   And there can be no doubt that the world was incensed by the story that Donald Woods revealed through his journalism, his books, his talks and the film.   They all played a significant role in the campaign for sanctions against apartheid, especially in the United States.

It is because Jimmy Kruger anticipated this kind of reaction that he lied in his back teeth about what happened.   He even denied that his response to Biko’s death “Dit laat my koud” (“It leaves me cold”) was not true although he said it at a public event.   When challenged on this he claimed that he had been mistranslated.

Donald’s uncovering of the lies being told by the apartheid regime about how Steve Biko died caused a wave of outrage to spread throughout the world.   And it had an immediate effect.   Hilda Bernstein, a South African exile, wrote a short pamphlet, “No 46: Steve Biko” which was published by the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa almost immediately.   Jon Blair, another South African, and Norman Fenton wrote a play “The Biko Inquest” which was performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company across the UK.

12th September is a significant anniversary.   Steve Biko’s significance can be found in what he wrote, in the people that he helped to galvanise into action, and in the continuing outrage that the manner of his death unleashed.   South Africa, indeed no country, can afford to lose leaders of that calibre, and that loss is to be mourned.   12th September is a stepping stone on the road to the destruction of apartheid, and the sacrifice should always be remembered.

David Kenvyn


Eastern Cape Province, South Africa.


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