CRY FREEDOM - John Briley


Author: John Briley


Donald Woods is one of the most important persons in the story. He is married to 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. At 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 accept and that is police brutality against the blacks. Later in the book he becomes a good friend of Biko and he helps him to fight for more rights for the blacks. So he gets into trouble with the government and in the end he has to flee from the country where he was born.

Stephan Biko is the second most important person in the book. He is a serious and handsome young black man. Stephan is married to 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 at a time except his family. Biko has got into this situation because he fights for more rights for the blacks. His fight is without weapons. Stephan always goes out of his banning area and so once he gets caught is arrested and later brutally murdered by the police.


I think he wants to show us the bad situation of the blacks in South Africa during the apartheid regime. 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 as well. If you watch TV you can see that all bad people 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 wants to say in this book that not all black things are bad or mistakes.


The story is set 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 hears about a police raid in the black township Crossroads, which is in Cape Town in the south-west of South Africa. Along with this news he also receives photos of the raid and he decides to print them, although the government doesn´t allow to print such photos. Woods doesn´t believe in the demands of the black people but he is a trained lawyer and he doesn´t accept police brutality against black people. So he also writes an editorial about a black, young man who is shown on a picture whose name is given: Biko. Some days later Woods meets Stephan Biko in an old church which he wants to turn into a centre for black people. He listens to Biko´s opinion and Biko also shows Woods a clinic for black people. In the clinic Doctor Mamphela Ramphele is 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 to the slums of the blacks 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 of the white people of South Africa and how the black people got into the  bad situation in which they are now. Six weeks later Woods gives two friends of Biko, Tenjy Mtintso and Mapetla Mohabi, a job in his newspaper. Mapetla takes Woods to a footballmatch of the blacks. Instead of the match Biko holds a speach. After that Biko is caught by the police because an informer of the government has told the police about the speech. In the police office Biko gets beaten by Captain De Wet then two policemen throw Biko out of the office. Two weeks later Biko arranged 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 demolish the church where Biko wants to set up 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 will not survive end of the week. So Woods goes and sees the Minister of Police and speaks with him about the incident. The minister declares him that he will pursues the matter because he doesn´t want such things to happen. Sunday afternoon two policemen come and want to know the name of the witness from Woods. Woods explains to them that he has seen the Minister and he cannot say the name but the two answer that they have orders from the top. Woods is not impressed by this and sends them away without saying the name. Nothing happens for weeks and Woods thinks that everything is alright. One day three men jump out of a car and take Mapetla in it. Donald Woods thinks that Mapetla gets beaten by them, because they want to set an example. 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 for the death of Mapetla is that he hanged himself. But Biko and Woods cannot believe that. Biko demands an 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 putting the blame for the death of Mapetla on anybody. Biko drives to Cape Town although he knows that it is very dangerous for him. On the way the car is stopped by the police and they want to see the papers of Biko. When 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 there are cuts. The doctor orders gives to take Biko to 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, which is only four kilometres away. The doctor cannot do anything against the police and so they put Biko naked on a blank of which is put on the floor of the Land Rover. Then they drive with Biko in the back over thousand kilometres rough country roads and during the journey Biko´s head is continuoucly bumping on the floor. Biko dies and Woods prints an article about him with the headline 'BIKO DIES IN CUSTODY'. The Minister of Police denies police responsibility and he says that Biko was arrested outside his banning area. The Minister also declares, that Biko refused to eat and so they took 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 takes out a small camera and takes 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 have been more black people but the police have sent them back. After a speech the crowd begin to sing the African Song which Steven Biko loved. Woods wants other newspapers to write about Biko´s death but they are afraid because it is very dangerous. So Woods decides to emigrate to New York. At the airport two soldiers stop Woods and take him in an office. There Lieutnant Beukes reads out a warrant to Woods which says that he has become a banned person. Now he starts to write a book about Biko´s life and after speaking with some friends he comes to the decision, that if he wants to publish the book he and his family have to escape if they don´t want to get killed. But also the escape is very dangerous, but eventually successful and so his family follows. The family gets passports from the United Nations and flies away. In the plane Woods looks out of the window and in his mind he hears the crowd of thousands singing at Biko´s funeral.

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