From And The Dead Watch Over Us


In a cell in the security headquarters in Port Elizabeth, five agents were interrogating Bantu Steven Biko. Biko’s hands were bound behind the back of his chair. His knees were tied to its legs. His dignity unimpaired by these restrictions, Biko laughed at the policemen. A big hearty, laugh. Everything about them, everything they asked him, triumphantly endorsed his confidence. He was black power. Black among whites, he was the most intelligent, the fittest and the most honourable man in the room.
“It’s not a joke,” said Cuttman, the senior security man.

Biko laughed again, then:
“You are a joke,” he said, “a bad one.”
“You have been fomenting revolution. We can put you away.”
“You have already done that.”
“What’s the game with you and Donald Woods.”
Biko made no effort to conceal his contempt.
“You are doing the work of a corrupt and unlawful regime.”
“Watch your tongue, kaffir. Don’t fuck with the law.”
“If here is any human law in this room,” said Bantu Steven Biko, “I am it’s only representative.”
“Teach a kaffir to read and write,” said Cuttman, “and they will come up with the most amazing bullshit.”
“Fucking communists,” said Binhoudt.
He lifted a ham fist and swung it across Biko’s mouth.
“Tell us about your moffie friend Donald Woods.”

Biko tasted blood. He spat redly onto the concrete.
“You are ignorant,” he said. “I am not a communist. And you continue to believe that you represent law and order. While you assault me. Assault is illegal in itself. And I am bound. So you lack both law and honour. If you and I were alone in this room I could tear the limbs from your body. You are a weakling and coward.”

Binhoudt’s fist swung through the air.
“You talk nice,” he said. “But you still a kaffir.”
The fist again. 
“Tell us about Donald Woods.”

Biko swung his upper body forward. The moment carried him onto his feet. He began, slowly, inexorably, to straighten. The security policemen watched in amazement as the chair splintered. The man was rising up like a Goliath. Like King Kong. They leapt on him, a pack, pushing him towards the floor. Biko toppled backward, his head impacting with the concrete. He listened, bemused. Strange bells rang in the cathedral of his mind. Strange bells ringing in the Bantu Steven Biko Cathedral of Black Knowledge. Dark bells ringing. And two men, talking on a mountaintop. Mist. Drizzle.

And then the world came back. The cell. The taste of blood. Binhoudt, pig-faced, loomed, spat in his face.
“Kaffir.”
“Do you know what that word means? Kaffir, Kâfir, Caffre?”
Binhoudt laughed.
“Ja. I got a good vocabulary.”
“It means unbeliever, infidel.”
“Here it just means kaffir.”
“It is you who are the infidel. It has you who has no belief in any god except fear. Do you understand, kaffir, how I can turn your words against you. Do you understand that you have already lost?”
“You fucking bastard,” said Cuttman. “You fucking communist cunt.”

Binhoudt took Biko by the hair, pulled hard. Biko resisted the movement until a chair leg gave way beneath him. This caused him to collapse backwards. Binhoudt helped him along. The chair splintered, depositing Biko on the floor. The back of his skull took the impact. Binhoudt bent over him, lifted his head, and slammed it onto the concrete. Those bells. Those bells.
“Stop fucking around, kaffir. Just tell us the fucking truth.”

After that, Bantu Steven Biko spoke only in IsiXhosa.
“Father,” he said, “the white scum from the sea have taken me.”
Cuttman, who was fluent in Xhosa, was surprised.
“What shit is this now?”
“I call out to the dead,” said Biko. “I call out to the ancestors to aid us against these devils. Rise up Nxele. Rise up Hintsa and Rharhabe and Gcaleka and Phalo. Rise up and help us to overcome these pale beasts. Help us to drive them back into the sea from whence they came.”



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