Steve Biko

Steve Biko

Infobox Person
name=Stephen Bantu Biko

birth_date=birth date|1946|12|18
birth_place=King William's Town, South Africa
death_date=death date and age|1977|9|12|1946|12|8
death_place=Pretoria, South Africa
occupation=anti-apartheid activist
spouse=Ntsiki Mashalaba
children=Nkosinathi Biko, Samora Biko, Lerato Biko and Hlumelo Biko [bee-co] (with Dr Mamphela Ramphele)Fact|date=December 2007

Stephen Bantu Biko [bee-co] [(18 December 1946 – 12 September 1977) was a noted anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1960s and early 1970s. A student leader, he later founded the Black Consciousness Movement which would empower and mobilize much of the urban black population. At the time of his death clandestine negotiations were in progress sounding Biko out as deputy leader of the Maoist-oriented Pan Africanist Congress. Since his death in police custody, he has been called a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement. [cite web
title=Background: Steve Biko: martyr of the anti-apartheid movement
publisher=BBC News
] While living, his writings and activism attempted to empower black people, and he was famous for his slogan "black is beautiful", which he described as meaning: "man, you are okay as you are, begin to look upon yourself as a human being". [cite book
title=I Write What I Like
publisher=Harper & Row
city=San Francisco
] The ANC was very hostile to Biko and to Black Consciousness through the 70s to the mid 90sRequest quotation|date=September 2007 but has now included Biko in the pantheon of struggle heroes, going so far to use his image for campaign posters in South Africa's first non-racial elections, in 1994. [See, for instance, Rian Malan's book My Traitor's Heart]


Biko was born in King Williams Town, in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. He was a student at the University of Natal.cite web
title=Stephen Bantu Biko
work=South African history online
] ApartheidHe was initially involved with the multiracial National Union of South African Students, but after he became convinced that Black, Indian and Coloured students needed an organization of their own, he helped found the South African Students' Organisation (SASO) in 1968, and was elected its first president. SASO evolved into the influential Black Consciousness Movement (BCM).

Ntsiki Mashalaba, Biko's wife,cite web
title=King William's Town's hero: Steve Biko 1946 - 1977
publisher=Buffalo City government
] was also a prominent thinker within the Black Consciousness Movement.

Ntsiki and Biko had two children together: Nkosinathi and Samora. He also had two children with Dr Mamphela Ramphele (a prominent activist within the BCM), a daughter, Lerato, born in 1974, who died at the age of two months, and a son, Hlumelo, who was born in 1978, after Biko's death.

In 1972 Biko became honorary president of the Black People's Convention. He was banned during the height of apartheid in March 1973, meaning that he was not allowed to speak to more than one person at a time, was restricted to certain areas, and could not make speeches in public. It was also forbidden to quote anything he said, including speeches or simple conversations. Biko was a Xhosa. In addition to Xhosa, he spoke fluent English and fairly fluent Afrikaans.

When Biko was banned, his movement within the country was restricted to the Eastern Cape, where he was born. After returning there, he formed a number of grassroots organizations based on the notion of self-reliance, including a community clinic, Zanempilo, the Zimele Trust Fund (which helped support ex-political prisoners and their families), Njwaxa Leather-Works Project and the Ginsberg Education Fund.

In spite of the repression of the apartheid government, Biko and the BCM played a significant role in organising the protests which culminated in the Soweto Uprising of 16 June, 1976. In the aftermath of the uprising, which was crushed by heavily-armed police shooting school children protesting, the authorities began to target Biko further.

Death and aftermath

On 18 August, 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody, and was chained to a window grille for a day. On 11 September, 1977 police loaded him in the back of a Land Rover, naked, and began the 1,500 km drive to Pretoria to take him to a prison with hospital facilities in order to treat the already near-dead Biko. [cite web
title=Keeping Steve Biko alive
] He died shortly after arrival at the Pretoria prison, on 12 September. The police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike. He was found to have massive injuries to the head, which many saw as strong evidence that he had been brutally clubbed by his captors. Then journalist and now political leader, Helen Zille, exposed the truth behind Biko's death. [cite web
title=Mrs Helen ZILLE
work=Who's who

Due to his fame, news of Biko's death spread quickly, opening many eyes around the world to the brutality of the apartheid regime. His funeral was attended by many hundreds of people, including numerous ambassadors and other diplomats from the United States and Western Europe. The liberal white South African journalist Donald Woods, a personal friend of Biko, photographed his injuries in the morgue. Woods was later forced to flee South Africa for England, where he campaigned against apartheid and further publicised Biko's life and death, writing many newspaper articles and authoring the book, "Biko". [ [ SA editor's escape from apartheid, 30 years on] M & G ] On hearing the news of Steve Biko's death in police custody, Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger, simply declared in a speech that the incident "left him cold".

The following year on 2 February 1978, the Attorney General of the Eastern Cape stated that he would not prosecute any police involved in the arrest and detention of Biko. During the trial it was claimed that Biko's head injuries were a self-inflicted suicide attempt, and not the result of any beatings. The judge ultimately ruled that a murder charge could not be supported partly because there were no witnesses to the killing. Charges of culpable homicide and assault were also considered, but because the killing occurred in 1977, the time limit for prosecution had expired. [Account of homicide accusations against the police in "The Independent (of London)"]

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was created following the end of minority rule and the apartheid system, reported in 1997 that five former members of the South African security forces had admitted to killing Biko who died a year after the Soweto riots which rocked apartheid South Africa, and were applying for amnesty.

On 7 October, 2003 the South African Justice Ministry officials announced that the five policemen who were accused of killing Biko would not be prosecuted because of insufficient evidence and the fact that the time limit for prosecution had elapsed.

Biko's name has been honoured at several universities. Locally, the main Student Union buildings of the University of Cape Town are named in his honor and each year a commemorative Steve Biko lecture, open to all students, is delivered on the anniversary of his death. Internationally, the Oxford Road campus of the University of Manchester is named in his honour. Ruskin College, Oxford has a Biko House student accommodation. The bar at the University of Bradford was named after Biko until its closure in 2005. Numerous other venues in Students Unions around the UK also bear his name. The Santa Barbara Student Housing Cooperative has a house named after Steve Biko, themed to provide a safe, respectful space for people of African roots. A street in Hounslow, west London, UK is named "Steve Biko Way".

Stephen Biko authored a book titled: "I Write What I Like"

In 2004, he was voted 13th in the SABC3's Great South Africans.

Influences and formation of ideology

Like Frantz Fanon, Biko originally studied medicine, and, like Fanon, Biko developed an intense concern for the development of black consciousness as a solution to the existential struggles which shape existence, both as a human and as an African (see Négritude). Biko can thus be seen as a follower of Fanon and Aimé Césaire, in contrast to more pacifist ANC leaders such as Nelson Mandela after his imprisonment at Robben Island, and Albert Lutuli who were first disciples of Gandhi. [cite book.
title=Still beating the drum: critical perspectives on Lewis Nkosi
] [cite book
title=The rise and demise of black theology
publisher=Ashgate Publishing, Ltd
] [cite book
title=Mahatma Gandhi
publisher=Gareth Stevens
] [cite book
title=Africa — awakening giant

Biko saw the struggle to restore African consciousness as having two stages, "Psychological liberation" and "Physical liberation". The non-violent influence of Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. upon Biko is then suspect, as Biko knew that for his struggle to give rise to physical liberation, it was necessary that it exist within the political realities of the apartheid regime, and Biko's non-violence may be seen more as a tactic than a personal conviction. [cite book
title=Companion to African philosophy
coauthors=William E. Abraham, Abiola Irele, Ifeanyi A. Menkiti
publisher=Blackwell Publishing
] Thus Biko's BCM had much in common with other left-wing African nationalist movements of the time, such as Amilcar Cabral's PAIGC and Huey Newton's Black Panther Party.

References in the arts


*Benjamin Zephaniah wrote a poem entitled, "Biko The Greatness", included in Zephaniah's 2001 collection, "Too Black, Too Strong".

Theatre, film and television

*In 1978, Malcolm Clarke [] recounted Biko's story in a documentary called, "The Life and Death of Steve Biko".
*1979 play entitled The Biko Inquest, written by Norman Fenton and Jon Blair. In 1985, a television adaptation of the original stage play was created, directed by Albert Finney and originally aired in the US through HBO in 1985. [cite web|url=|title=The Biko Inquest|publisher=IMDb]
*In 1987, Richard Attenborough directed the movie "Cry Freedom", a biographical drama about Biko starring Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline.
*In the Disney channel movie The Color of Friendship, Biko's death is used as a plot turner in breaking the two teens apart.
*In Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights, while Brian Potter is on Crimetime and is grabbed by a following interviewee he makes reference to Biko..


Biko has been the subject of many tributes in many different genres of music, including rap, hip hop, jazz, reggae and rock

*South African improviser, composer, and bandleader Johnny Dyani (Johnny Mbizo Dyani) recorded an album entitled "Song for Biko", featuring a composition (written by Dyani) of the same name.
*Tom Paxton released the song, "The Death of Stephen Biko", on his 1978 album, "Heroes".
*Christy Moore sang a song about Biko called, "Biko Drum", which makes several reverences to the South African hero. The song was written by Wally Page.
*The A Tribe Called Quest 1993 album, "Midnight Marauders", includes the song, "Steve Biko (Stir It Up)." In which Biko is only mentioned in the 20 second chorus.
*Biko is referenced in the Public Enemy song "Show 'Em Whatcha Got" on the album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
*Steel Pulse released the song, "Biko's Kindred Lament", on their 1979 album, "Tribute to the Martyrs".
*Beenie Man's 1997 album, "Many Moods of Moses", contains a track entitled "Steve Biko."
*German singer Patrice sings about Biko in the song "Jah Jah Deh Deh" off his album "How Do You Call It?".
*Dead Prez's album Let's Get Free references Steve Biko in the track "I'm a African"
*Tapper Zukie released the song "Tribute To Steve Biko" on his 1978 album "Peace In The Ghetto", on the Frontline Records label. [ [ Tapper Zukie - Peace In The Ghetto ] ]
*Peter Gabriel tells the tale of Biko in "Biko", on his 1980 album "Peter Gabriel" (alternatively known as "Melt", for the cover art), released in 1980. Gabriel sings: "You can blow out a candle / But you can't blow out a fire / Once the flames begin to catch / The wind will blow it higher". During the reign of South Africa's apartheid government, Gabriel often closed his concerts with the song, encouraging the audience to sing with him. The song has been covered by many artists, including The Flirtations, Joan Baez, Robert Wyatt, Simple Minds, Manu Dibango, Black 47 and Ray Wilson
*Dave Matthews wrote the song "Cry Freedom" in honor of Biko.
*Dirty district have a song based on the murder of Steve Biko, titled "Steve Biko", on their debut album, "Pousse Au Crime et Longueurs de Temps ".
*Randy Stonehill sings about Biko in the song "Stand Like Steel" on his 2005 album "Touchstone".
*Sweet Honey in the Rock's 1981 album, "Good News", contains tracks entitled "Biko" and "Chile Your Waters Run Red Through Soweto", which compares Biko's death to that of Chilean musician Victor Jara and was covered by Billy Bragg in 1992.
* System Of A Down recorded a song entitled "Biko" onto one of their early demo tapes.
* Simphiwe Dana's second album is called 'the one love movement on bantu biko street'
* Stevie Wonder mentions the struggle in South Africa and Steven Biko in a tribute concert to Bob Dylan in his song "Blowing in the Wind"
* Willy Porter mentions Biko in his song entitled "The Trees Have Soul". "Even Stephen Biko knows, the trees have soul".
* Johnny Clegg mentions Steve Biko, also Victoria Mxenge and Neil Aggett in his song, Asimbonanga, about the Apartheid and Nelson Mandela.Joan Baez sang a song called "Steve Biko" on one of her albums

ee also

*Civil disobedience
*Nonviolent resistance
*Martin Luther King, Jr.
*Steve Biko building at the University of Manchester


Further reading

*"I Write What I Like", by Steve Biko, Harper & Row, 1986, San Francisco.
*"Steve Biko: Black Consciousness in South Africa"; ed. Millard Arnold; Random House, New York. 1978.
*"Biko", by Donald Woods; originally published by Paddington Press, London and New York, 1978; later edition published by Henry Holt, New York, 1987.
*New Introduction to "I Write What I Like" by Lewis Gordon [ [ Online copy of Gordon's introduction] on the Abahlali baseMjondolo website]
*"" edited by Andile Mngxitama, Amanda Alexander, and Nigel Gibson, Palgrave, 2008.
*Black Consciousness: The dialectics of liberation in South Africa by Nigel Gibson []
*citation|last=Goodwin|first=June|last2=Schiff|first2=Ben|title=Who Killed Steve Biko?: Exhuming Truth in South Africa|journal=The Nation|date=November 13, 1995|volume=261|issue=16|pages=565-568|issn=0027-8378|publisher=The Nation Company|location=New York
*No. 46: Steve Biko by Hilda Bernstein (Victor Kamkin, 1978, ISBN 0-317-36653-X)

External links

* [ Address by Nelson Mandela on the 20th anniversary of Biko's death]
* [ Young Black Leader Dies in Detention in South Africa, Raising Fears of New Unrest] By John F. Burns, special to the New York Times
* [ Testimony describes fatal beating of anti-apartheid activist] , "CNN"
* [ Black Consciousness 1977-1987] , by Nigel Gibson
* [ New Introduction to 'I Write What I like'] by Lewis Gordon

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