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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

After the 1976 Soweto Uprising, Biko was targeted by police culminating in his arrest, together with his colleague and comrade Peter Cyril Jones, at a Police roadblock outside of King William’s Town on the 18th August 1977.

Biko was interrogated and severely tortured for hours whilst in custody and on 11 September was transported to the Pretoria Central Prison from the Eastern Cape, naked and chained on the back of a bakkie.

He died shortly after arriving at the Pretoria Prison on 12 September. He was 30 years old. An autopsy revealed extensive bruising and abrasions and severe brain injuries.

Biko became officially the 46th victim of torture and death under the State Security Laws. His death helped highlight the brutality of South African security laws to the international community and the general plight of South Africans. It led directly to the decision by Western countries to support the UN Security Council vote to ban arms sales to South Africa (Resolution 418 of 4 November 1977).

Biko was survived by his wife, Ntsiki, whom he married in December 1970 and four children - Nkosinathi (born in 1971); Samora (1975); Motlatsi (1977) and Hlumelo (1978).

He also had a daughter, Lerato, died in infancy in 1974.

Sources: Steve Biko Foundation / SAHRA

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