Saturday, January 3, 2009

Book Review: Biko, by Donald Woods

TitleBiko - Cry Freedom
AuthorDonald Woods
Tagsstephen biko, south africa, apartheid, civil rights

Donald Woods was a liberal white newspaper editor in South Africa who wrote that he thought Stephen Biko's Black Consciousness movement was as racist as apartheid. He was challenged to meet Biko and get to know him and what he stood for. He took the challenge, and for three years was a good friend of Biko's. The friendship ended when 30-year-old Biko died in police custody. Woods was banned by the South African government, not allowed to speak in public or write, and eventually he escaped in order to be able to tell the story of a remarkable leader, Steve Biko.

Biko was a remarkable man. He neither shared the inferiority complex that was an inevitable result of the oppression of blacks, nor was he arrogant. Knowing that the oppression caused this psychological damage, Biko's Black Consciousness movement concentrated on blacks, on giving them a sense of worth and pride. He was not an advocate of violence, but spoke clearly to the fact that apartheid was not sustainable, and the longer the government stood in the way of change the more likely it was to be violent.

Woods tells the story well, and paints an excellent picture of Biko and his philosophy, though it bogs down a bit in long testimony by Biko and by the day-by-day retelling of the inquest into Biko's death. Both are useful for the historical record, but a mite too detailed for the lay reader, perhaps. And it may be that by getting Biko's story told widely, Woods changed South African history by making it harder for the South African government to resist change.

There are a lot of heroes in the world. They don't usually come with superpowers or big guns. In my mind, the heroes are the ones who make the world a better place, no matter what the costs to themselves. Steve Biko was a hero. May he long be remembered and honored.
PublicationHolt Paperbacks (1991), Edition: Revised, Paperback, 432 pages
Publication date1991
ISBN0805018999 / 9780805018998

1 comment:

DrOpinionator said...

Excellent summary of the book. While I have not read the book, I did pick up the movie today and just finished it. What an amazing movie! Biko's story is the kind that should be shared as well as Donald Woods. Both men made great sacrifices for South Africa. One black and one white working as a team with the help of many others to seek justice for South Africans. Just an awesome story.