The box let Biko down

The Sunday Independent - - LIFE / TV - SAM MATHE

This week so­cial me­dia came to the party with a del­uge of mes­sages of ap­pre­ci­a­tion, love and grat­i­tude for the con­tri­bu­tion Steve Biko made in South Africa’s lib­er­a­tion strug­gle. That was par­tic­u­larly the case on Septem­ber 12 (Biko Day), but once again lo­cal tele­vi­sion proved it was not in­tel­lec­tu­ally and tech­ni­cally pre­pared to pro­vide view­ers with trib­ute shows be­fit­ting the 40th an­niver­sary of the black con­scious­ness leader’s mar­tyr­dom.

SABC2’s Morn­ing Live set the tone when it fea­tured a white young­ster read­ing ex­tracts from one of Biko’s writ­ings. The seg­ment was capped with Bri­tish singer Peter Gabriel’s song, Biko.

This didn’t go down well with me for two rea­sons. Why did the pro­duc­ers se­lect a child from one race, a dom­i­nant group that was re­spon­si­ble for an ide­ol­ogy that Biko spent his life fight­ing against?

Why didn’t the pro­duc­ers se­lect chil­dren from all race groups to re­flect a non-racial and egal­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety that Biko en­vis­aged?

Sec­ondly, although the Peter Gabriel song is pop­u­lar, there are equally beau­ti­ful mu­si­cal tributes by South African mu­si­cians such as Johnny Dyani, Vusi Mahlasela, Johnny Clegg and Simphiwe Dana. When are our lo­cal chan­nels go­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate and pro­mote South African tal­ent, es­pe­cially in Her­itage Month?

There was a se­ries of ra­dio and TV in­ter­views Biko con­ducted with in­ter­na­tional me­dia. One was by a Ger­man TV team shortly be­fore his de­ten­tion in Au­gust 1977. It is an in­sight­ful in­ter­view that com­pre­hen­sively re­flects Biko’s in­ci­sive mind on key is­sues per­tain­ing to the state of the na­tion at the time and his vi­sion for the coun­try. How­ever, what I find cu­ri­ous and con­cern­ing is that lo­cal chan­nels have never broad­cast that in­ter­view for more than 30 sec­onds.

The coun­try’s his­tory was sup­pressed dur­ing apartheid. But in the new dis­pen­sa­tion, I’m afraid we are con­fronted by another form of cen­sor­ship on our screens.

These in­ter­views de­serve to be broad­cast if we are to gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of Steve Biko and his legacy.

To their credit, the pro­duc­ers of news con­tent by both the public broad­caster and pay chan­nels went out of their way to in­vite a num­ber of peo­ple in their stu­dios who ap­par­ently knew Biko or the ideals he stood for.

Leader of the So­cial­ist Party of Aza­nia Tiyani Mabasa spoke pas­sion­ately about Biko’s legacy and re­vealed how for over 20 years his or­gan­i­sa­tion has been lob­by­ing an un­in­ter­ested gov­ern­ment to de­clare Biko’s cell a na­tional her­itage site.

Fi­nally, some­one re­spon­si­ble for pro­grammes should have found copies of Steve Biko: Jour­ney of the Spirit (1997), a fas­ci­nat­ing doc­u­men­tary film di­rected by the late Matsemela Manaka, and the late Richard At­ten­bor­ough’s movie, Cry Free­dom (1987), for a worth­while tele­vi­sion view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on Biko Day.

TV tributes were not be­fit­ting the Black Con­scious­ness mar­tyr.

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