Dramatic front page lament forever lays blame of Biko’s death on regime

Image: FILE

One of the bleakest days in the life of the Dispatch and the world was reflected in our front page of Wednesday September 14 1977.

The main headline simply proclaimed in bold capital letters: “Biko dies in detention”.

It was one of the most painful moments in an apartheid era replete with political tragedy and violent injustice.

The headline was followed by two sub-headlines balanced in acres of solemn clear space either side of a poignant and dramatic centrepiece portrait of Stephen (Steve) Bantu Biko making a dramatic centrepiece to the famous Page 1.

The sub-heads stated “Sikhahlela indoda yamadoda” and “We salute a hero of the nation”.

The lead story, or splash as it is known in journalism, briefly outlined Biko’s credentials as a Black Consciousness leader and his persecution by the apartheid state, despite the fact that he had never been convicted of transgressing the draconian security laws.

The Dispatch detailed the callous manner in which police Minister Jimmy Kruger had misrepresented the circumstances of Biko’s death, implying it was self-inflicted as a result of a hunger strike.

Dispatch editor Donald Woods rejected the minister’s account and outlined the hardships inflicted on the Biko family by being forced to live apart under banning orders. He said Kruger had lied about Biko's state of health.  Woods further accused Kruger of unfounded political attacks on Biko saying they were a “grossly unfair smear against someone not in a position to answer back”.

Woods made the prophetic observation that: “There are too many unanswered questions in this matter and they will be asked until they are answered”.

An inquest later revealed that Biko died from police-inflicted brain injuries, not a hunger strike as announced by the South African Minister of Police. Woods was then subjected to the same banning orders he had sought to protect Biko from and less than four months after Biko’s death, fled SA.

Source: Daily Dispatch 14 September 1977

Supplementary material: https://www.sahistory.org.za/people/donald-james-woods




Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.