Biographies of Famous South Africans
Hall of Fame

 

Those who have expanded our horizons.
The stuff of legends.

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Stephen Bantu Biko
18 December 1946 - 12 September 1977

Stephen Bantu Biko

Steve Biko was born in King William’s Town, South Africa. He was the third child in an average family where his father was a clerk and his mother was a maid. Biko was not offered the opportunity to know his father because he died when Biko was only four years old. Steve Biko excelled in school as a youth but his political activities caused him to be expelled from Lovedale High School. Biko was still able to continue on to college where he received a scholarship to attend St. Francis College in Natal, a liberal Catholic boarding school. While in Medical School, Biko became involved in the NUSAS (National Union Of South African Students), a multiracial politically moderate organization.

It was while he was in Natal that Biko began truly questioning the apartheid system and the conditions that his people were forced to endure. Biko became more involved in the daily struggle that faced Blacks, and he decided to quit medical school.

Biko PosterIn 1968, Steve Biko became the cofounder and first president of the all-Black South African Students’ Organization (SASO) The primary aim of the organization was to raise black consciousness in South Africa through lectures and community activities. Biko concluded that the apartheid system had a psychological effect on the Black population, which had caused Blacks to internalize and believe Whites’ racist stereotypes. According to Biko, Blacks had been convinced that they were inferior to Whites, which resulted in the hopelessness that was prevalent in the Black community. Biko preached Black solidarity to “break the chains of oppression”.

Biko’s political activities eventually drew the attention of the South African government resulting in him being banned in 1973. The banning restricted Biko from talking to more than one person a time in an attempt to suppress the rising political movement. The banning did not stop Biko’s commitment to activism. For the next four years, he continued to spread his message at gatherings and with his underground publication called "Frank Talk". During this period Biko was often harassed, arrested, and detained by the South African Police.

On August 18, 1977, Biko was seized by the police and detained under section 6 of the Terrorism Act. This draconian law had resulted in the loss of freedom of over 40,000 Blacks in South Africa since 1950. The law permitted the police to hold Biko in jail indefinitely, however the end of his term was due to his violent death, not freedom. Biko was held in prison for twenty-four days were he was interrogated, starved, and brutally beaten. It wasn’t until Biko was laying unconscious, that the doctors suggested that he be transported to Pretoria for medical treatment, 740 miles away. On September 12, 1977, Biko became the forty-first person in South Africa to die while being held in the custody of the South African Police.

The South African government claimed that Steve Biko’s death was caused by a hunger strike and claimed their innocence. The then Minister of Police, Jimmy Kruger, was quoted as saying crassly:

"Biko's death leaves me cold."

However, the official autopsy concluded that Biko’s death was due to brain lesion caused by the “application of force to the head”. The officers who were responsible for Biko while he was detained were absolved of any wrong doing by a South African court.

Biko’s tragic death had a great impact on the people of South Africa and stunned the world. His funeral was attended by more than 15,000 mourners, not including the thousands that were turned away by the police. Steve Biko’s legacy lives on through the struggle he helped to ignite and through the freedoms that South Africans now possess.

Gallery:

Contact the Biko Foundation:

Nkosinathi Biko
E-mail: bikon@sbf.org.za



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