Steve Biko torture building ‘cleansed’ before revamp

Anglican Bishop Bethlehem Nopece conducts a cleansing and blessing ceremony at the Old Sanlam Building

The Old Sanlam Building, where Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko was tortured in 1977, was spiritually cleansed by Anglican Bishop Bethlehem Nopece yesterday ahead of its revamp due to start today.

The R92-million revamp by the Qhama Social Housing Institution (QSHI) will see the Old Sanlam Building, Munford House and the Old Mill Building transformed into the Steve Biko Precinct for Central, including social housing, retail and heritage components.

The Old Sanlam Building, used by the apartheid-era state security branch to torture activists, will get a facelift, with the paintings of young artists displayed in the 220 social housing units.

The start of construction today follows months of workshops between various stakeholders, including the Department of Justice’s truth and reconciliation unit.

The project is the brainchild of the Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements.

The revamp includes 220 bachelor and two-bedroom units with a museum, library, coffee shop and prayer room – in the room where Biko was held and tortured.

Human Settlements MEC Helen Sauls-August said the project would be completed in phases.

“The idea initially was to make the building a heritage site, but nothing has happened for many years and the inner city has fallen into decay,” she said.

“We have found a perfect niche to make something beautiful out of something terrible by making this building a legacy for people to look up to.”

She said this way the building’s history would not be lost.

“Elements of history will be woven into the building. This will be a first in South Africa.”

Sauls-August said talks with the municipality and museums were still under way.

“We hope the families of detainees will apply [for units].”

Former detainees and family members of those who were held in the Old Sanlam Building attended the ceremony in numbers.

The project received mixed reactions, with some welcoming the new development while others said they could not bear the thought of living in the building.

Mlandeli Khetye, 70, who was detained with his father Solomon, said just the sight of the building brought back unbearable memories.

QSHI chief executive Thabisa Nodada said work was set to be completed within 12 months.

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