Biko’s Son

CBC Radio 1’s program, The Current, this morning interviewed 40 year old Nkosinathi Biko about South Africa’s progress (and his dad’s legacy) 22 years after the unbanning of liberation movements (2 February 1990). The link is below. It’s part of a 27 minute package. The segment begins with some Malema audio of whites becoming domestic workers and people on the street. Biko is then introduced. The interviewer jumps in with questions about Malema, the singing of struggle songs, violence committed against white farmers, etcetera. Biko, who was 6 years old when his father was murdered by the state, navigated the rather obvious interviewing approach in a nuanced and thoughtful way. He manages to highlight the interesting non-exceptional characteristics of political life in South Africa and eroded the tired binary that is most often elevated in media and public conversations about South Africa and Africa more broadly, here. I, for one, have a tendency to default to defensiveness in the face of arguments or questions about how troubled politics in Africa are. On the contrary, in this interview, Biko sheds light on nuance, the pragmatics of governance and activism. The interviewer wants to hear the son of Steve Biko dis the politics of post-apartheid South Africa. Biko does not oblige. The programme also tries to exploit the human interest angle. Biko refers to his father as ‘Steve Biko’ or ‘Biko’ even when the interviewer directly asks about ‘dad’. Maybe this is Nkosinathi Biko’s way of asserting that his interest in Biko is as an intellectual and activist. Perhaps he is making the point that while he is the son, we are all potentially the descendents. The very best part of the interview is its Njabulo Ndebele/Svetlana Boym moment. Biko reminisces about how his father’s house arrest was a gift to his young son. It afforded the boy an opportunity for a close and present relationship with his father that is unusual for children in general and for the children of activists in particular.

Listen here.



  1. Curious–what’s the Ndebele/Boym moment you’re referring to? A web search isn’t that helpful…

    1. @lilysaint Boym writes about ‘reflective nostalgia’ which refers to a longing, but not of the restorative type. In other words, in the Biko instance, it is about the affection and fondness of a memory that doesn’t blot out contradiction – it is a terrible time of banning and repression, but a wonderful time of bonding and care. Ndebele writes about the ‘rediscovery of the ordinary’ in a critique of anti-apartheid literature. He implores writers to move beyond the spectacle of apartheid and explore how people are amused by life, how they live and love despite the daily brutalization of apartheid. Its a call for the exploration of interiority and subjectivities…

      1. Thanks a lot for the clarification Melissa and Sean. I see the connection between Ndebele’s seminal essay and Boym’s ideas & really like the idea of a nostalgia that refuses to idealize history. Anti-apartheid figures understandably inspire hagiographies, but Biko’s son reminds us of the peril of such over-simplifications. Zoë Wicomb’s “David Story” does a great job of this too.

  2. @lilysaint: Oops. That’s an editing mistake before posting. The lines that follows the reference I think, and I am checking that with Melissa, refers to Boyd’s work on nostalgia. This book I’ll get a clarification from her and edit the post later.

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