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Che Guevara and Steve Biko

5 October 2007

It is 40 years since the death of Che Guevara, 30 years since the death of Steve Biko, both killed by the agents of repressive governments while struggling against those governments.

And both, it seems, accomplished as much by their death as by their life.

Barney Pityana, a contemporary of Steve Biko, and fellow activist in the Black Consciousness movement, was detained but not killed. Barney Pityana is now the Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Africa, and was one of the candidates in the recent election for the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

As a university principal he has had to deal with student protests directed s his administration. Steve Biko’s face appears on T-shirts, Barney Pityana’s does not.

A year ago there was a ceremony at the university library in honour of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 75th birthday, and the university presented him with an original of a Zapiro cartoon of him. After making a joke about the way cartoonists went to town on his nose, Bishop Tutu addressed the stony-faced students, standing in tiers up the library stairs. He told them how Barney Pityana, as a member of SASO, the South African Students Organisation, had once been involved in a student protest. The university authorities wanted the students to choose leaders to negotiate, but the students refused, knowing that anyone so chosen would be arrested, and said that the university authorities must negotiate with all of them. Eventually, to break the impasse, Barney Pityana volunteered and was promptly arrested, and spent the next few months in and out of jail. The present generation of students remained stony-faced. To them Barney Pityana was an authority figure. His was not the sort of face that would appear on T-shirts.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the adage, attributed to a film star (I forget which one): Live fast, die young, and have a beautiful corpse.

At around the time that Steve Biko died I visited some friends in Benoni, a white family where the male members, father and sons, were fairly conservative. But the son, then a student at Wits university, turned out to protest against the death of Steve Biko. The father apparently got into heated arguments about it at the Rotary Club, where most of his conservative white businessmen friends thought that Steve Biko had it coming to him.

Steve Biko was known a promoter of Black Consciousness, but by his death he conscientised quite a lot of whites as well.

Che Guevara belonged to my youth and student days. One of the interesting things was that I learnt most about him from a TV documentary shown a few months after his death. A short version was shown in Britain (where I was a student at the time) but a far fuller version was shown on Dutch TV, on a Christian broadcasting station. At that time Christian broadcasting societies controlled about 50% of Dutch broadcasting time, in a non-capitalist and democratic system, one that I wished then, and still wish today, could be implemented in other countries.

So if anyone is reading this, I’d like to ask:

How did Che Guevara and/or Steve Biko influence you?

At the time of their deaths they had a great influence on the youth of their day — do they mean anything for the youth of today?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. masuzyo nyirongo permalink
    29 July 2008 12:41 pm

    I love biko and his bravery to conqure oppression i am a zambian a unionist at the copperbelt unversity and i hugely publcise the sacrificial lives of che and biko they were simply agents of delivery of human dignity, lets honour them posthumously please.

  2. Paul Adams permalink
    8 September 2008 10:28 am

    Hi there. Both Steve and Che are very motivational for me. They were timeless and should be remembered today for their idealism and passion.
    I discovered Steve in my 30’s and feel his discourse is very relevant (and sorely needed) today. I’m a ‘Celtic Capetonian’ – don’t like the label ‘white’ as it says nothing – how bland- but have always found Steve’s comments on identity and culture challenging. It’s not easy being a symapthetic leftie Christian as most church -going folk are politically very conservative.
    It’s great that Chavez is carrying on Che’s work in out modern era, which proves his life is still an inspiration to Latin American leaders.We must also remember that Jesus too was
    also in essence, very revolutionary though.
    He was anti oppression and was full of compassion for the poor and downtrodden. Yet, what is wonderful is that He is coming again to establish His Kingdom which will be based on justice and righteousness.
    The fact that we can know Him who was the ultimate revolutionary in fact is really challenging to all of us.
    Glad to find your site! Keep up the good work
    Paul Adams (CT)

  3. Cassie permalink
    21 March 2009 12:51 am

    Definitely. Both were amazing men and leaders. It’s a shame we don’t here much about them in the United States. Not many people know who they are or what they did, but I am so thankful for their legacies and hope that we have brave, determined leaders like them in the future. I agree that Jesus was a revolutionary too, but history is vague and muddies over that fact. It would have been amazing to have met any of these great men personally. I also think it is amazing that all of the liberation movements were interconnected. No one person was his sole influence. Ideas, symbols, and texts were transferred throughout Africa and the Americas. I love it. We can never forget that we are in a global fight for freedom and justice. Amandla!

  4. Erkan Karakus permalink
    9 October 2010 8:03 pm

    How did Che Guevara and/or Steve Biko influence you?

    I think main question is did “Che and Biko” influence you or not. So you can understand from answer that he/she has soul or not.. If one person who know Biko and Che still living for money this means that you can find his/her equal in the zoo in different shape…

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