Rule of Three


Tribute to Steve Biko

by Willie Bester

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Tribute to Steve Biko is a mass of images with the dedicatee as the central focus, flanked by chained hands. The work is littered with pointers to the anti-apartheid activist’s death: among them is Room 619, where he was brutally beaten and tortured after his arrest in 1977. Another detail shows the truck in which he was driven to hospital, where he later died. We are presented with a jumbled narrative, the postcard-shaped pictures pasted together. This is an alternative to the story given by police at the time, produced to defy the machine that, as implied by the black piping trailed between the pictures, swallowed Biko up.

Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou

Praise to Our Mothers

by Gcina Mhlophe

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Each stanza of Gcina Mhlophe’s poem seems larger than the last, the text gathering momentum as lists of inspirational women are reeled off. A few individuals are named, but attention is also given to those who often go without thanks: those who ‘sell oranges and potatoes’, ‘scrub floors and polish executive desktops’. The narrator stands on a hill in a flowing dress, face lit by the moon, as she pays tribute to her forebears. She shouts the name ‘that spells out light’, Mama Nokukhanya Luthuli. As she bellows, we hear her voice and visualise the gestural emphasis of each exclamation mark and capital letter, the celebratory message ‘carried by the wind’.

Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou

The Magnificent Miriam Makeba

by Miriam Makeba

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On her eighth album, Miriam Makeba fuses motown with the funk of afrobeat, taking on a new persona more in keeping with her increased involvement in political activism. ‘Mr. Man’, the opening track, is a pointed tale aimed at those figures of authority whose vested interests are served by racism. ‘That’s How It Goes’, an anthem of female independence, is based on a South African folk song. Makeba leaps between genres, moods, and languages, the stylistic potpourri showcasing her versatility while recognising the tangled complexity of political reality.

Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe

Today's connection

Steve Biko, Willie Bester's father, Gcina Mhlophe’s mother, and Miriam Makeba's father were all Xhosa.

More to discover

Tribute to Steve Biko: An introduction to Willie Bester's life and works is available on the NLA Design and Visual Arts website here. Dr. Seema Bawa has interviewed the artist for Art Etc. Juliet Highet has written about the apartheid's artistic legacy in an article for New African Magazine.

Praise to Our Mothers: You can read the poem here, visit Gcina Mhlophe's website here, and read a feature article the poet on the 21 Icons: South Africa website here.

The Magnificent Miriam Makeba: You can listen to 'Mr. Man' here, and 'That's How It Goes' here.

Question of the day

Which artworks by Xhosa artists would you recommend?
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