Page 89. " Rumours of Götterdämmerung were sweeping the white suburbs "

Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) is the last in Richard Wagner’s cycle of four operas titled Der Ring des Nibelungen. The title is a translation into German of the Old Norse phrase Ragnarök, which in Norse mythology refers to a prophesied war of the gods that brings about the end of the world. 

The term Götterdämmerung is occasionally used in English to refer to a disastrous conclusion of events.

Page 97. " Four months after I ran away, Steve Biko died in the hands of the secret police "

Steve Biko was a high profile anti-apartheid activist in the 1960s and 70s.  He was an influential student leader, and later founded South Africa’s Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), which sought to empower and mobilize the black population.

Biko was born in King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape in December 1946.  After school, he began a medical degree at the University of Natal, where he was actively involved in student politics.  He was initially very active in the multiracial National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), but became increasingly frustrated with its overwhelmingly white power structure.  In 1968 Biko helped to establish a new organisation specifically for black, Indian and Coloured students, the South African Students Organisation (SASO).  SASO’s agenda included political self-reliance and the unification of university students in a "black consciousness."  He was elected as SASO’s first President. 

Black consciousness sought the “cultural and political revival of an oppressed people.”  Biko’s writings and activism attempted to empower black people, and he was famous for his slogan "black is beautiful."  By 1971, BC had grown into a formidable force throughout the country. In 1972, Biko was expelled from the University of Natal because of his political activities.  He became honorary president of the Black People’s Convention. 

In 1973 Biko was placed under a banning order by the apartheid government.  Under the order, he was confined to King William’s Town, was not allowed to speak to more than one person at a time nor to speak in public, and could not write publicly or speak with the media. It was also forbidden to quote anything he said.  Biko nevertheless continued to advance the work of Black Consciousness in the King William’s Town area.  He organised literacy and dressmaking classes and health education programmes, and set up a health clinic outside King William’s Town for impoverished rural black people.   


The BCM played a significant role in organising the protests which culminated in the Soweto uprising of 16 June 1976. Following the uprising, repression intensified.  On 18 August 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock, under the Terrorism Act 1967.  He was interrogated by officers of the Port Elizabeth security police, over a period of 22 hours. During this time, he was brutally tortured, and beaten into a coma. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody, and was chained to a window grille for a day.  On 11 September 1977, police loaded him in the back of a van, naked and manacled, and began the 1100 km drive to Pretoria to take him to a prison with hospital facilities. He died shortly after arrival at the Pretoria prison, on 12 September. The police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike, but an autopsy revealed multiple bruises and abrasions together with brain hemorrhaging as a result of massive head injuries. 

Biko's death met with international condemnation.  His funeral was attended by over 10,000 people, including numerous ambassadors and diplomats.  The following year, 1978, the Attorney General of the Eastern Cape stated that he would not prosecute any police officers involved in the arrest and detention of Biko.

 I Write What I Like contains a selection of Biko's writings from 1969, when he became the president of SASO, to 1972, when he was prohibited from publishing. Originally published in 1978, the book was republished in 1987 and April 2002. The 1987 movie Cry Freedom is a biographical drama about Biko, starring Denzel Washington.

Page 97. " the South African conflict headed inexorably toward a conclusion forseen thirty years earlier by Alan Paton "

Alan Paton (1903 - 1988) was a South African author and anti-apartheid activist.  He was born in Pietermaritzburg, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Natal, followed by a diploma in education. After graduation, he worked as a teacher, first at the Ixopo High School, and then at Pietermaritzburg College.

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Public DomainBook Cover

Paton served as the principal of Diepkloof Reformatory for young offenders from 1935 to 1949. During this time, he introduced controversial progressive reforms at the reformatory, which allowed inmates to gradually attain freedom, up to and including residing off site.  Of the more than 10,000 boys passing through the Reformatory during Paton's tenure, less than one percent attempted an escape.

This period at Diepkloof was critical in the deepening of Paton’s political consciousness. During this time he wrote a series of articles concerning crime and punishment and penal reform.  Reflections on Diepkloof Reformatory is a collection of Paton’s writings, poetry and philosophy in relation to education and his work with young offenders, and provides a powerful insight into the complexities of South African race relations in the 1940s.

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Paton’s seminal novel Cry, The Beloved Country, was published in 1948, just a few months before apartheid became official government policy.  The novel explores the complex relationships between black and white South Africans, through the eyes of Reverend Stephen Kumalo, an elderly Zulu wrenched from the familiarity of rural Ixopo, to travel to Johannesburg in search of his missing son and errant sister.  The novel was made into a movie in 1995, starring James Earl Jones as Reverend Kumalo.  Paton wrote several other novels, short stories, and biographies, as well as two autobiographies, Towards the Mountain (1981) and Journey Continued (1988). 

In 1953 Paton founded the South African Liberal Party, which fought against the National Party’s apartheid doctrine.  He remained the president of the SALP until it was banned by the apartheid regime in 1968.

Page 98. " PW had this to say: 'Adapt or die' "

PW Botha
Public DomainPW Botha - Credit: Library of Congress
Pieter Willem Botha (12 January 1916 - 31 October 2006) was prime minister of South Africa from 1978 to 1984, and the first executive state president from 1984 to 1989.  Known as Die Groot Krokodil (the Big Crocodile) for his abrasive personality, he was a staunch advocate of racial segregation and apartheid.

He was the only son of Pieter Willem and Hendrina Prinsloo-de Wet (he had nine half-sisters). His father fought as a commando against the British in the Second Boer War (1899–1902), while his mother was interned in a British concentration camp.

Botha became a member of the National Party while studying law at the University of the Orange Free State.  At the age of twenty-one he dropped out of university to take up the post of National Party organizer in the Cape. He was elected to national parliament in 1948.

On becoming Prime Minister in 1978, he faced rising resistance from the black population, economic instability, sanctions, and international condemnation of apartheid.  This was coupled with drought, a fall in the gold price, an escalating defense budget, and the National Party’s fear of rising communist influences in South Africa and neighbouring countries.  To counteract the 'total onslaught' against South Africa, Botha developed a 'total strategy' to address political, economic, military and security issues. At a conference in Upington in 1979 he warned white South Africans that they would have to 'adapt or die.'

Botha attempted to modify certain aspects of apartheid to introduce reforms, but planned only to share a measure of power while retaining National Party, and white minority, control of government. He set in motion the dismantling of some apartheid legislation in the early 1980s.  However, increasing violence and civil insurrection across the country from 1984 saw Botha declare a state of emergency, ban activists and liberation movements, and consolidate his power at Executive State President.  In February 1989, he suffered a mild stroke and, under pressure from cabinet, resigned.