It was simply impossible to keep on the usual trajectory of readings with the horrors on the news. Forget the virus. Forget the Brexit car crash. Forget government incompetence. None of which appear to abate. This is yet ANOTHER atrocity that looms large. So entirely incongruous though it is to read this passage in a leafy and quiet, suburban cemetery, it is the least.
The words of this speech by Steve Biko are 50 years old. But, strip away the particularities of apartheid-gripped South Africa in the 70s (when its crumbling was a vain hope), and it’s hardly dated. Tragically.
- Steve Biko (1946-1977): died in police custody, Pretoria, South Africa
- George Floyd (1973-2020): died in police custody, Minneapolis, USA
So this is a longer Echoes than normal. It is roughly 18 minutes (yes I realise the recent ones have been creeping up – will cut back). But please bear with this one. After a few minutes trying to put it into context, the speech is roughly 13 minutes. Not long at all in the grand scheme of things.
In conversation I might have pushed back a little on the odd detail, naturally. But Biko’s central premise is irrefutable and everything he writes has a lucid and compelling logic to it. His mind was simply brilliant and his heart, courageous. Flawed like us all, of course, but inspiring and correct on the big things.
Thus, he was prophetic.
Woefully brief list for following up:
- Steve Biko on Wiki
- Get hold of Biko’s I Write What I Like
- Xolela Mangcu’s bio Biko: A Life (2013)
- Donald Woods’ bio Biko & The struggle of the Black Consciousness Movement (1979)
- George Floyd on Wiki
- The And Campaign (USA)
- Be The Bridge (USA focus)
- My friend Mary McCampbell has compiled links to important African American voices to listen to
- Alexis Freeman: Is God racist or is it my church?
- George Floyd’s gospel legacy
- Racism in the UK
Here is a powerful live version of Peter Gabriel’s Biko (sadly with rubbish sound). In South Africa. In front of President Mandela. As part of his programme to combat AIDS: