Steve Biko was a leader and activist anti-apartheid South African, who was born on December 18, 1946 in King William’s Town, South Africa.
In 1966, at the age of 20, he entered the University of Natal to study medicine, since since 1947 this institution allowed the incorporation of non-white students at its headquarters in Durban.
In college, he had the opportunity to rub shoulders with a host of brilliant black women and men, who converged on this house of studies to study law and medicine. The environment was conducive, due to its liberalism, for the coexistence of a growing cultural diversity and vibrant political speeches in support of the different positions of the students.
The Black Consciousness Movement began to develop in the late sixties, under the direction of Steve Biko and Barney Pityana.
In this environment, at age 22, as a student leader, he actively collaborated for the creation, in 1968, of the South African Students Association (SASO for its acronym in English). For his clear and motivating speeches, Steve Biko was named the first president of the South African Students Association (SASO). Through this association, he offered medical and legal assistance to black communities and supported the creation of small businesses for the development of those communities.
In order to incorporate university graduates and civil society into the activities that had been taking place through SASO, in 1972 they decided to create the Black People’s Convention.
He married Ntsiki Mashalaba, with whom he had three children: Nkosinathi, Samora and Motlatsi and later, he related to Mamphela Ramphele, with whom he had: Lerato and Hlumelo.
Steve Biko died on September 12, 1977, of a stroke, while in prison, at age 30. Steve Biko’s death made him an icon in the fight against racial segregation in South Africa and the world.
Black Consciousness Movement
The Black Consciousness Movement was a political and economic movement that was born in South Africa in the 1960s, led by activists anti-apartheid, including Steve Biko.
The main objective of the Black Consciousness Movement was to achieve the liberation of the black man through a change of consciousness. This new awareness would generate a new identity, which would allow black people to take charge of their own destiny and carry out the necessary changes to be free.
The Black Consciousness Movement it posited that black liberation would only come about through a psychological transformation in the mind of each individual in the black community. So this meant that the black citizen had to be the first to value what it meant to be black properly.
Then, the empowerment of the black community would only come, in a real way, if it was possible to increase their self-worth and therefore the self-esteem of the black citizen. Based on these principles, Steve Biko focused his African consciousness recovery work in two phases, which included:
- Psychological release.
- Physical release.
For this, within the programs implemented for the black community, they also included awareness classes, medical assistance and help for entrepreneurs.
Steve Biko believed that true liberation of the black man would only be possible when the black people themselves became agents of change.
Black People’s Convention
The Black People’s Convention It was born as a political home to shelter all the activists who were graduating from the universities.
As well as to house all civil society that supported the Black Consciousness Movement and wanted to work together for the civil rights of the black community.
Immediately after its creation, the Black People’s Convention set out to support black workers, whose unions were not recognized by law. These activities caused the convention to clash with the South African security forces, so they began to persecute their leaders.
In 1974, the leaders of the Black People’s Convention were accused of fomenting riots, in which it became known as the “Trial of Ideas.” The result was that they were found guilty and sentenced to prison, with different penalties, although they were acquitted of the main charge of revolutionary conspiracy.
Steve Biko’s most transformative phrases
Biko’s speeches produced a series of messages that still endure and are considered Steve Biko’s most transformative phrases:
- “The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
- “If we are free at heart, there will be no man-made chains strong enough to bind us. But if the mind of the oppressed is manipulated (…) so that it believes it is inferior, it will not be able to do anything to confront its oppressor ”.
- “Black Consciousness is an attitude of mind and a way of life, the most positive call that has emanated from the black world in a long time.”
- “To understand me correctly, you have to bear in mind that I have no fear.”
- “Friends, you are fine as you are, start looking at yourself as human beings.” His personal description of what it’s like to be black.
Steve Biko also endorsed the phrase “Black is Beautiful” to encourage what he called the psychological liberation of the black community.
Death of Steve Biko
As he was returning from a political rally, he was arrested by the security forces in Port Elizabeth on August 18, 1977. At the Port Elizabeth police checkpoint, interrogations lasted more than 20 hours and included torture and beatings until he was left in coma.
On September 11, 1977, 24 days after his arrest, the police transferred him 1,200 kilometers to Pretoria, a prison with hospital facilities. The policemen carried him naked and unconscious, handcuffing him to the back of a Land Rover truck, although he could be hospitalized in Port Elizabeth itself.
After a 12-hour journey, shortly after his arrival at the prison in Pretoria, naked and alone in a cell, Steve Biko He died on September 12, 1977. The autopsy showed a large number of bruises and abrasions, although the cause of death was a stroke due to massive injuries to the skull.
Steve Biko added to the list of people killed in South African prisons under unclear conditions, as police said he had fallen and hit his head.
South Africa mourned the death of one of the leading activists for equal civil rights in the black community.