The author of the book ist John Briley. He is an American journalist and writer. At present he lives in Spain.
The story plays in November 1975 in the south-east of South Africa in the city East London. In this city Donald Woods is an editor of the Daily Dispatch. One morning he gets news of a police raid in the black township Crossroads which lies in Cape Town in the south-west of South Africa. To this news he also gets photos of the raid and he desides to print them although the government doesn`t allow to print such photos.
Woods doesn`t believe the demand of the black people but he is trained as a lawyer and doesn`t like police brutality against black people.
So he also writes an editorial about a black, young man who is shown on a picture on a photo and underneath the picture stands the name Biko. Some days later Woods meets Stephan Biko in an old church were he wants to make a centre for black people. He listens to Biko`s opinion and Biko also shows Woods a clinic for black people. In the clinic is Doctor Mamphela Ramphele working. She is a black young woman who told Woods the address of Biko. Biko invites Woods to come and see how black people in South Africa live. They go there in an old black taxi which is only for black people. In the black township they eat with a black family and Biko tells Woods about the history how the white came to South Africa and how the black people got their bad situation which they have now.
Six weeks later Woods gives two friends of Biko a job in his newspaper. The one is Tenjy Mtintso and the other is Mapetla Mohapi. Mapetla takes Woods to a footballmatch of the black. Instead of the match Biko helds a speach. After the match Biko is caught by the police because an informer of the government had told the police about the speach. In the police office Biko gets hit by Captain De Wet. After the fight between Biko and De Wet two policemen throw Biko out of the office.
Two weeks later Biko is a main witness for the defence of two student organizations who arranged two years before a large meeting in support of the new government in Mozambique. Woods prints the words of Biko although it is against the law.
In this night Captain De Wet and two other policemen smash all things of value in the church where Biko wants to make a centre for black people. Donald Woods cannot print this in his newspaper because the witness is a black man called Dilima and if Woods prints his name, Dilima would not survive until the end of the week. So Woods flies to the Minister of Police and speaks with him about the incident. The minister declares him that he will pursues that matter because he doesn`t want that such sort of things happen.
Sunday afternoon two policemen come and want to know the name of the witness from Woods. Woods explains them that he was by the Minister and he cannot say the name but the two answer that they have order from the top. Woods is not impressed by these and sends them away without saying the name. It does not happen anything for weeks and Woods thinks that it is alright; but it is not. One night the two policemen check the passport of Woods black housekeeper Evalina. Woods throws them out of his property. On the next day three men jump out of a car and take Mapetla in it. Donald Woods thinks that Mapetla gets beaten by them and that they make an example so that no other black person will dare him. Two days later Tenjy gets arrested without any charges. The police don`t want to give information about the two and after a week Mapetla is dead. The official explanation of the death from Mapetla is, that he hanged himself. But Biko and Woods cannot believe that. Biko demands a inquest and Wilfred Cooper represents Mapetla`s family and Biko. Tenjy is the main witness at the inquest but the judge closes the inquest without fix the death of Mapetla on anybody.
Biko drives to Cape Town although he knows that it is very dangerous for him. On the way to Cape Town the car was stopped by the police and they want to see the papers from Biko. As they recognize the person in the car, they arrest him promptly.
Six days later the police call a doctor to look at Biko. The body is covered with bruises, the forehead and eyes seriously injured. On the chest and lips are cuts. The doctor orders to bring Biko in a hospital. Although the doctor tells them that Biko is unconscious they want to bring him to the police hospital in Pretoria which is thousand kilometres away and not to Port Elizabeth wich is only four kilometres away. The doctor cannot do anything against the police and so they put Biko naked on a blank which lies on the floor of the Land Rover. Then they drive with Biko on the back on thousand kilometres rough country roads and during the journey Biko`s head is bumping on the floor.
Biko dies and Woods prints a article about him with the headline "BIKO DIES IN CUSTODY". The Minister of Police denies police responsibility and he says that Biko has been arrested outside his banning area. The Minister also means, that Biko refused to eat and so they brought him to hospital and there he died. One day after Bikos death Ntsiki Woods, who is the wife of Biko, and Ken go to the mortuary. As the official leaves the room Ken puts out a small camera and makes photos of Biko`s body.
The funeral is in the stadium and when Woods and his wife arrive thousands of black people with pictures of Biko are there. There would come more black people but the police sent them back. After a speach the crowd begin to sing the African Song which Steven Biko loved. Some white students see how Woods sings and they come to him and ask him if he understands these African words and he starts to sing in English.
Woods wants that other newspapers write about Biko`s death but they are afraid because it is very dangerous. So Woods decides to emigrate to New York. On the airport two soldiers stopp Woods and bring him in an office. There Lieutnant Beukes reads from a warrent to Woods that he becomes a banning person.
Now he starts to write a book about Biko`s life and after speaking with some friends he comes to the decision, if he publishes the book he and his family has to escape if they don`t want to get killed. But also the escape is very dangerous. Woods flight is successful and so his family follows. The family gets passports from the United Nations and flies away. In the plain Woods looks out of the window and in his mind he hears the crowd of thousands singing at Biko`s funeral.
Donald Woods is one of the important persons in the story. He is married with Wendy and has five children. Woods is forty-two years old but because of his thick grey hair he looks older. He wears glasses.He is the editor of the Daily Dispatch. In the beginnig of the book he doesn`t believe that black people should be allowed to vote. He also accepts the laws that forced blacks and whites to live in separate areas. There is one thing he cannot like and that is police brutality against the black. Later in the book he becomes a good friend of Biko and he helps him to fight for more rights for the black. So he gets troubles with the government and in the end he has to escape of the country where he has born.
Stephan Biko is the second important person in the book. He is a serious and handsome young black man. Stephan is married with Ntsiki and has two children. He is also a banned person which means that he can only be in his banning area and he is able to speak only with one person except his family. Biko gets in this situation because he fights for more rights for the black. His fight is without weapons. Stephan always goes out of his banning area and so once he gets caught and brutaly murdered by the police.
WHAT DOES THE AUTHOR WANT TO SAY WITH THE BOOK?
I think he wants to show us the bad situation of the black in South Africa. In some parts of the book he did it really well. The sentence "In your world everything white is normal - the way the world should be - and everything black is wrong, or some kind of mistake" which I took from the book, is not out of place in our society. If you watch TV you can see that all bad persons wear dark clothes or drive black cars and the good persons wear bright clothes and drive white cars. Also the Austrian word "Schwarzfahrer" has a negative meaning and there are many other things. So I think the author would say in this book that not all black things are bad or mistakes and really not black people.