In a telephone conversation, Peter Jones readily admits that Black Consciousness in South Africa is probably at its lowest ebb. But the person, who is known as the last black man to see Steve Biko alive, also says that the memory of an alive Steve Biko, living for the dream of a free and united South Africa, has never faded from his mind, memory bank and thoughts.
‘Whilst the memory of Steve Biko has never left me and lives within me, its particularly at about this time of every year that memories and thoughts about Steve Biko are heightened and emotions are delved into about our personal relationship and courageous black consciousness movement’, says Peter Jones, a founding member of SASO and black consciousness
I never tire of hearing about Steve Biko; about his life, his writings and thoughts. During this week, when we commemorate Steve Biko’s life, we acknowledge with immense respect the powerful mind and thoughts that he shared with oppressed South Africans, for the oppressed to believe in themselves and be proud of their blackness.
This morning I phoned Peter Jones, a day after he celebrated another year of life and asked him to take me thru those days leading up to Steve Biko’s arrest. As I listened to Peter Jones, I heard a mind impeccable with memory and a recollection of events that should never be erased from our memory and heritage.
Steve and Peter, together with many other young black adults, were young leaders of the black consciousness movement in SA, which emerged when older liberation movements like the PAC and ANC were banned and forced into exile. They were based in King Williamstown, head quarters of the Black People’s Convention (BPC), where they organised and implemented community and grassroots programmes.
Steve and Peter undertook a trip to Cape Town. This was no road trip of leisure. It was to embark on a possible journey of unity amongst liberation and resistance organisations within SA. They borrowed a friend’s Peugeot and drove from King Williamstown to Cape Town. Peter did most of the driving because ‘Steve didn’t drive too well and didn’t like driving’.
Peter explains to me the reason for the trip to Cape Town. Steve Biko was expected to meet with resistance fighter, Neville Alexander. I’m not going to say in detail what happens between Alexander and Biko, as told to me by Peter Jones, as I think that a seminal essay is required about this pivotal ‘meeting’ in our resistance history.
For reasons better know to himself, Neville Alexander didn’t meet Steve Biko when Steve got to Cape Town, explaining, according to peter Jones, that he (Alexander) was acting under instructions from his (Alexander’s) comrades not to meet with Biko. Peter Jones is of the opinion that not meeting Steve Biko when Biko was in Cape Town to see him and at Alexander’s house, remains one of the most regretted decisions that Neville Alexander lived with until his passing away. It was Judge Fikile Bam who drove, with Steve Biko in the car, to Neville Alexander’s house, arrived at the back of the house, got out the car, with Biko still sitting in the car and engaged Neville Alexander about meeting with the young black consciousness leader, Biko. After about an hour, Judge Bam returned to the car, without Neville Alexander having acknowledged Steve, let alone agreeing to host him in his house for a discussion.
‘Steve was absolutely livid about Neville’s behaviour and attitude. And so was Judge Bam,’ says Peter Jones. ‘Steve said if he’d known of Alexander’s behaviour, he would never have gone to his house and be treated like that.’
Steve Biko and Peter Jones decided to get out of Cape Town quickly and head back to King Williamstown. They began the road journey early morning. At about 10pm that night they were stopped at a roadblock in Grahamstown.
‘This was no every day road block. This was set up precisely to stop black consciousness leaders and comrades. Our car was searched, we were questioned, then both Steve and myself were driven to Port Elizabeth, where we were questioned at Walmer police station by the tough security who decided to detain us for further questioning. That night they wanted to separate us and place us in different cells but we protested. Fortunately we spent time together in one cell that night.
‘The next morning we were taken out of the cell, handcuffed behind our backs. We saw tons of security outside searching the car, looking for what they wanted to find. Then we got told we were to be detained under section 6 of the Terrorism Act and would be in solitary confinement. Steve and myself would be separated. It would be the last time I would see Steve Biko as we were driven away handcuffed to solitary confinement.’
Peter Jones wouldn’t hear about Steve Biko’s death until the night of his funeral.
‘I was in solitary confinement, had no visitors, no link with the outside. Thousands of people attended Steve’s funeral in King Williamstown and that night, thousands of angry youth protested apartheid’s atrocities through the township streets of Port Elizabeth. Many were arrested and detained in the same prison I was being kept. That night I heard their anger through the walls and I also got to know that my friend, leader and comrade was now lying in a grave, murdered by apartheid’s security,’ says Peter Jones.
The years ahead were difficult, sore and challenging for the black consciousness movement. Apartheid’s vicious security and regime were engaged in all out attack on the liberation movement and comrades and leaders were targeted with detention, bannings, political imprisonment and death. With its leadership banned and imprisoned, the black consciousness movement was weakened and decimated.
Peter Jones says it’s experiencing a need for rejuvenation, awakening and strengthening. This weekend he attend the funeral o black consciousness adherent Vuyisa Qunta and says, ‘it was at the funeral, that I felt that black consciousness still lived’.
For those of us who believed in black consciousness and still do, we know that black consciousness must live on forever.