Michael Ryan describes filming the funeral of Steve Biko in South Africa

Another one that worked brilliantly was the funeral of Steve Biko. I’d done with David Hart a sort of undercover film in South Africa at the time just after the student riots in Soweto. So I had all the contacts and when Biko was obviously murdered in prison, I knew exactly who I would go to, and persuaded Lapping, who as first was very disinclined to do it, but the actual images, the film that the cameraman Bernie Vince got, were just extraordinary. We stayed near Port Elizabeth; I can’t remember the name of his birthplace. You must remember that in South Africa it was almost impossible for more than a very small number of blacks to meet other than in a church. That was the one concession. As we were driving towards the funeral site you could literally hear thousands of voices singing the anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and other songs. We got there and it was just a complete mob scene around the coffin. It was just extraordinary. They were there as a group for the first time. Physically, it was a real turning-point moment. Donald Woods, he wrote a book about it afterwards. He was a journalist in Port Elizabeth. He appeared in it. That worked brilliantly.

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