Steve Biko

Steve Bantu Biko, a political activist and writer, is regarded as the father of the Black Consciousness movement in the Union of South Africa. Biko’s short 30-year life was consumed with the development of an acute awareness of the evils of apartheid, the social system under which non-whites lived in South Africa.

Apartheid is based on the idea of institutionalized separate development for blacks and whites. One of his unique characteristics may be summed up in the title of an edited collection of his writings, “I Write What I Like”. He was born in King Williams town, Cape Province, South Africa on December 18, 1946. He was the second son of Mzimgay, Biko. Raised and educated in a Christian home, Biko eventually became a student at Wentworth, a White medical school in Durban.

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In 1968, he formed SASO, an activist group seeking equal rights for South African black people. Expelled from Wentworth in 1972, Biko devoted his time to activist activities. By 1973 his political activities had caused him to be banned from Durban and restricted to his hometown. In 1977 he became honorary President of the Black People’s Convention he had founded in 1972. His appointment was to be for a period of five years, but nine months later he died of brain damage after being beaten by police officers while in detention. Biko’s death echoed around the world, an irony, given the repeated attempts made to silence him while he lived.

As a leader of South African blacks, Biko is likened in importance to others such as Nelson Mandela. Biko’s “Black Consciousness” was a call to black young people to dissociate white control and black fear in South Africa and to adopt an attitude of psychological self-reliance in the struggle for liberation from white rule. Twenty years later in 1997, five former police officers acknowledged responsibility for his death. The officers made their confession to South Africa’s Truth commission, which has the power to giant amnesty to individuals willing to reveal their role in the violence against anti-apartheid activists. The effect of Biko’s death, seen by many as symbolic of black South Africa suffering under Apartheid.