OUR PEOPLE: Steve Biko

Updated: Sep 6, 2019

Bantu Stephen Biko was the first president of South African Students Organisation (SASO) and the founder and leader of the Black Consciousness Movement. A hero and martyr of the liberation struggle. his death in police detention on 12 September 1977 was one of the strongest challenges to the apartheid government.

Steve was born in Tylden on the 18th December 1946, the third child of the late Matthew Mzingaye and Alice Nokuzola “Mamcethe” Biko. He attended primary school in King William’s Town and secondary school at Marianhill, a missionary school situated in a town of the same name in KwaZulu-Natal.

He registered for a degree in medicine at the Black Section of the Medical School of the University of Natal in 1966. Very early in his academic programme, Biko showed an expansive search for knowledge that far exceeded the realm of the medical profession, ending up as one of the most prominent student leaders.

In 1968, Biko and his colleagues founded the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO). He was elected the first President of the organisation at its inaugural congress held at Turfloop in 1969.

This organisation was borne out of the frustrations Black students encountered within the liberal and multi-racial National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), where he and his colleagues argued for a broader based black political organisation in the country.

Biko was later expelled from the University for his political activism and became the co-founder and leader of the Black People’s Convention. The Black People’s Convention became the central organisation for the Black Consciousness Movement, which continued to grow throughout the 1970s.

In March 1973, Biko was banned and restricted to his home town of King Williams’ Town. There he set up a BCP office and served as Branch Executive. It was not long before his banning order was amended to restrict him from any association with the BCP.

Despite his banning, the office that he established did well, managing, amongst other achievements, to build the Zanempilo Clinic and a creche, both of which were very popular with the people. As an example of his resolve and indestructible black pride, Biko was also instrumental in the founding of the Zimele Trust Fund in 1975, which was set to assist political prisoners and their families. He also established the Ginsberg Trust to assist black students.

The charisma of Steve Biko was entirely his own. He had from an early age the unmistakable bearing and quality of a unique leader. I say unique because his style of leadership was his own – it was un-pushy, un-promotional, yet immediately acknowledged by his peers — Donald Woods