Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Biko" by Peter Gabriel

A hundred crusading journalists couldn't hope to have the impact of even one pop star, let alone a pop star as universally admired as Peter Gabriel; which could be sad (especially if you're a crusading journalist like Helen Zille) but which I consider to be proof of the democratization of information. I certainly never read about Steven Biko - neither his life nor his death - in the newspapers, but was well-acquainted with this video when it came out to coincide with the 1987 film Cry Freedom, directed by Sir Richard Attenborough. What I did learn from the papers, though, is that many viewings of this film in South Africa were disrupted prior to 1991, which is proof for the need to democratize information in the first place*.

Steve Biko died on this day in 1977, having sustained a massive head injury while in police custody and following an 1100 mile journey by Land Rover to hospital in Pretoria; police blamed his death on a hunger strike**. Yet for the way he died, as much as for his promulgation of the idea that 'black is beautiful', Biko became a powerful symbol within the Black Consciousness Movement as well as the patron saint of the anti-apartheid activism which dealt its own killing blow to racism in the early 1990s.

*Getting as much information into as many hands as possible is the best defense against censorship.
**Which is technically true, since comatose patients with major head trauma suffered at the hands of the police can be notoriously finicky eaters.

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