Family discusses

by Jake Kapsner

Nkosinathi Biko was 6 years old when his father, civil rights leader Stephen Biko, died in 1977 from head wounds he received while detained and tortured for a week in a South African prison.
Biko’s 27-year-old son and widow, Nontsikelelo, spoke Thursday in Coffman Union Theater about the injustice and lingering effects of apartheid.
“We continue to deal with the manifestations of apartheid in economic (arenas),” Nkosinathi Biko said.
After a visit to the family of Malcolm X in New York, the Bikos arrived in Minnesota to speak this week before traveling to Atlanta to visit the family of another slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Minneapolis-based International Leadership Institute sponsored their United States tour.
A quiet mood of attentive reverence filled the audience of more than 250 people who listened about the man who came to symbolize suffering and oppression.
President Mark Yudof presented honorary citizenship certificates from the city to the Bikos. Board of Regents’ Chair William Hogan III proclaimed May 2 to 9 as Stephen Biko Remembrance Week in Minneapolis.
Stephen Biko was arrested on Sept. 6, 1977. Friends and family claim he was kept naked, handcuffed and chained as well as tortured and beaten in the course of a 22-hour interrogation. He lapsed into a six-day coma and died in police custody on Sept. 12, 1977, at age 31.
The Bikos continue to challenge public accounts of Stephen Biko’s death at the hands of apartheid’s white, oppressive leaders. They want the truth to be acknowledged, even if there isn’t a punishment.
Officers responsible for Biko’s death continue to deny involvement and seek amnesty from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“The commission must not grant amnesty to people who don’t tell the truth,” Nkosinathi Biko said.
During truth commission hearings last year, the officers said Biko killed himself by banging his head into a brick wall. However, independent examinations by doctors in 1977 concluded that he had been struck by several blows.
Biko’s case is only one of 8,000 brought before the truth commission. Headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the commission’s mission is to reconcile injustice stemming from South Africa’s reign of apartheid, a code of racial discrimination that has crumbled in recent years.
While South Africa is progressing, the progress is slow, said Nkosinathi Biko. Economic discrimination still hampers much black opportunity in the country.
Blessing Rugara, a Graduate and Professional Student Assembly officer from Zimbabwe, posed written questions from the audience to the Bikos about education and other social issues in the country.
Audience members said they found the extensive question and answer session very constructive.
“This audience asked the most intelligent, thoughtful questions that I’ve ever heard a public audience ask,” said Grant K. Johnson, administrative coordinator for the student assembly.
Neo Rowan, a General College freshman from South Africa, said she was thankful for the chance to communicate with people from her home.
The Bikos will also speak at the Hamline United Methodist Church and the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul on Friday and Saturday, respectively.