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Bantu Stephen Biko: friend, father, jester and hero

In the Eastern Cape those who knew Biko remember him not just as a revolutionary but as a charmer with an irrepressible sense of humour

10 September 2017 - 00:00 By CLAIRE KEETON

Biko the husband
Nontsikelelo "Ntsiki" Mashalaba was a radiant young student nurse and dating another man when Biko met and pursued her. Then a student at the University of Natal, Biko started dropping in at the hospital where she was training with packets of chips and chocolates for her.
"He invited me to the cinema and I would go but sometimes I would fall asleep," Ntsiki says. "Afterwards he would take me back to the nurses' home. He would invite me to stay in his residence, but at first I was reluctant to sleep there. I was not that type. But then I started visiting him because he was a very busy man. There would be more than 10 people in his small room, guys and ladies discussing politics."
Ntsiki rejected a marriage proposal from her other suitor when Biko declared his love for her.
"I was tiny with Afro hair and a dark complexion. He would say I was the embodiment of 'black is beautiful'," she says. She knew, however, that politics and not romance would rule their life together.Biko the father
In 1971, Steve and Ntsiki Biko's first son, Nkosinathi, was born in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth. Afterwards they moved to Umlazi, near Durban, where they shared a small house with the co-founder of the South African Students' Organisation, Barney Pityana, and his wife, Dimza, who had a baby daughter.
Ntsiki remembers the men acting together to get their wives' rings.
"They were approached to write something and when they got paid, they bought us gold wedding rings because our wedding rings were not very nice."
The families lived together until Biko and Pityana were banned in 1973 - Biko to Ginsberg township in King William's Town and Pityana to Port Elizabeth.At the time Ntsiki was working as a temporary staff nurse at King Edward Hospital in Durban. The matron summoned her and told her she had lost her post.
"The security wanted his family to suffer and we could not get jobs anywhere," says Ntsiki, who finally secured a job at St Matthew's Hospital in Keiskammahoek, 45km away from Biko, who was restricted to the home of his mother, Alice, the house where he grew up.
Biko was not, however, one to obey orders. "Steve would sneak away [from security police] and just appear at my door with no warning," says Ntsiki. "I would hear a knock and there he was."
Biko broke his banning order again when his second son, Samora, was born in 1975. He went to fetch the baby and Ntsiki from the maternity ward in the hospital where she had worked until the moment she went into labour.
Biko was devoted to his children. He did not change nappies, says Ntsiki, but was "very loving with the kids".
"I was a deep sleeper and he would take the bottles and feed Samora and let him lie on his chest. Samora loved his dad's car, the green Passat. Steve would take him and feed him in the car if he was fussy and reluctant to eat."
Even with the kids, he reinforced the ideal of equality.
"When Nkosinathi was in Sub A and it was raining, he would not take him in the car," says Ntsiki.
"He said: 'What about the other kids who are walking in the rain?' He was loving with Nkosinathi but also strict, like he was preparing him to be strong at an early age."
Ntsiki is proud of her sons and the way they have worked to keep Biko's legacy alive. "Nkosinathi reminds me of Steve in his gestures and the way he speaks. Samora is a replica of his dad, tall like him."
When Ntsiki fell ill in 2006, her sons pleaded with her not to leave them before they had set up the Steve Biko Centre in Ginsberg. She survived, and in 2012 they opened the centre."During our school holidays we would go and visit old ladies living alone. I would make tea and Steve would talk to them.
"If there was no tea or sugar we would come back soon with something from our house. I wonder if my mom was aware," Bandi says.
"Our mom was a very kind person. She was the person Steve took after. Our house was always full of kids because my mom looked after her siblings' families and it was a warm home."
After dinner Steve would sit on the veranda with Bandi and they would sing all the songs they could think of. As he grew older, he sharpened his leadership skills.
Bandi saw this side of her brother come to the fore when she went to Durban to do commercial courses and he looked after her.
Initially she stayed with Mamphela Ramphele. Bandi says things became awkward when she became aware of the romantic nature of their relationship.
She saw Biko teasing Ramphele about the diamond ring she had flashed in front of him after her marriage.
When Bandi learnt her brother had been killed she cried softly and walked straight to the bathroom. "I could not face people."
Bandi has never accepted his brutal death. "When we went to the mortuary and they pulled out the drawer, his forehead was caved in and every part of his body was swollen.
"I was sitting next to my mother when she drew her last breath. I was with my sister when she drew her last breath. Days before my brother Khaya died we had a birthday party for him in Frere Hospital.
"I am the only one of the Biko siblings left. I don't like September."Biko the cousin
Biko's cousins Thembile and Solly Duna were among the children who grew up in the Biko house. A decade younger, they looked up to Biko as a father figure. They would wash his green Passat for tips, Thembile says, recalling how Biko once appeared in a smart jacket and polished shoes as they were finishing the car.
"When I told him he looked smart, he said: 'Yes, you are looking at the future prime minister. I have to be presentable.'"
Biko, the larger-than-life figure
Mamphela Ramphele had a long love affair with Biko and gave birth to his son Hlumelo after his death.
"So large was this young man that the security police could never mess with him. He told the 'bully boys' among them that if they beat him up they must expect him to respond in like manner.
"In a way it was inevitable that he would die the way he did. He would not allow anyone to humiliate him. On the night of September 13, after his death on the 12th, and many subsequent nights, I had a recurring dream in which he was his mischievous self saying: 'Toto, you know I cannot die, don't believe any of the stories by silly people about me!' How comforting that one-liner was to a bereft person in a hospital bed with a threatened miscarriage of the product of our relationship!"
Steve Biko Centre librarian Mwelela Cele gave invaluable support in arranging interviews with Biko's neighbours and friends in Ginsberg...

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