American Rhetoric: Movie Speech

"Cry Freedom" (1987)


Steve Biko Defends His Message to the South African Government


State Prosecutor: I quote: "I believe that South Africa is a country in which black and white shall live together." Those are your words. What does it mean?

Steve Biko: It means that I, and those gentlemen in the dock, believe that South Africa is a plural society, with contributions to be made by all segments of the community.

State Prosecutor: Mm-hmm. Are you familiar with the language in some of these documents the accused have discussed with black groups?

Steve Biko: Yes, and some of those documents were drawn up by me.

State Prosecutor: The one noting with concern and disgust the "naked terrorism of the government?"

Steve Biko: That is correct.

State Prosecutor: You say "naked terrorism." Do you honestly think that is a valid statement?

Steve Biko: Well, I think it is a far more valid statement than the charges against these men here.

State Prosecutor: Really?

Steve Biko: Yes. Really. I am not talking about words. I'm talking about the violence in which people are baton-charged by police, beaten up. I'm talking about police firing on unarmed people. I'm talking about the indirect violence you get through starvation in the townships. I am talking about the hopelessness, the desolation of the transit camps. Now, I think that -- all put together -- that constitutes more terrorism than the words these men have spoken here. But they stand charged. And white society is not charged.

State Prosecutor: When you and others in black consciousness speak, you say, "Our true leaders have been banned and imprisoned on Robben Island." Who are you referring to specifically?

Steve Biko: Specifically, we refer to people like Mandela, Sobukwe; to people like Govan Mbeki.

State Prosecutor: And is it not true that the common factor with these people is that they have advocated violence against the South African government?

Steve Biko: The common factor with these people is that they have selflessly pushed forward the struggle of the black man.

State Prosecutor: So, your answer to this so-called "naked terrorism" is to provoke violence in the black community.

Steve Biko: No, our movement seeks to avoid violence.

State Prosecutor: But your own words call for direct confrontation!

Steve Biko: That's right. We demand confrontation.

State Prosecutor: Isn't that a demand for violence?

Steve Biko: Well, you and I are now in confrontation but I see no violence.


Judge Boshoff: But nowhere in these documents do you say that the white government is doing anything good.

Steve Biko: Well, it does so little good, my lord, that it is not worth commenting on.

Judge Boshoff: But surely that approach inflames racial hatred and anti- whiteism.

Steve Biko: My lord, blacks are not unaware of the hardships they endure, or what the government is doing to them. We want them to stop accepting these hardships, to confront them. People must not just give in to the hardships of life. They must find a way, even in this environment, to -- to develop hope -- hope for themselves, hope for this country. Now, I think that is what black consciousness is all about -- not without1 any reference to the white man -- to try and build up a sense of our own humanity, our legitimate place in the world.


State Prosecutor: But why do you use a phrase like "black is beautiful?"

Steve Biko: Because black is commonly associated with negatives: the "black market," the "black sheep of the family" -- anything which is supposed to be bad.

Judge Boshoff: Then why do you use the word? Why call yourselves "black?" I mean, you people are more brown than black?

Steve Biko: Why do you call yourselves white? You people are more pink than white.

Judge Boshoff: Precisely.2

1 Or, perhaps, "not with any reference....".The use of one or the other term allows for different shades of meaning, with the term "with" maintaining a logical consistency not evident in "without."

2  In other words, "white" is preferable to "pink," given the latter's apparently undesirable connotations, and so, by analogy, "brown" is preferable to "black."

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HTML transcription by Michael E. Eidenmuller.