The box let Biko down
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.