Stephen Bantu Biko



Names: Biko, Stephen

Born: 18 December 1946, Tylden in the Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape)

Died: 12 September 1977, Pretoria, Transvaal (now Gauteng)

Stephen Bantu Biko (18 December 1946 – 12 September 1977) was an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s.

A student leader, he later founded the Black Consciousness Movement which would empower and mobilize much of the urban black population. Since his death in police custody, he has been called a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement. 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”.

Even though Biko was never a member of the African National Congress (ANC), the ANC has included him in the pantheon of struggle heroes, going as far as using his image for campaign posters in South Africa’s first non-racial elections in 1994. Nelson Mandela said of Biko: “They had to kill him to prolong the life of apartheid.”

In summary: Member of the SRC at University of Natal (Non-European section), first president of SASO, Chair of SASO Publications, Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) leader, banned person, political prisoner, killed in police detention

Stephen (Steve) Bantu Biko was not alone in forging the Black Consciousness Movement  (BCM); he was nevertheless its most prominent leader, who with others guided the movement of student discontent into a political force unprecedented in the history of South Africa. Biko and his peers were responding to developments that emerged in the high phase of apartheid, when the Nationalist Party (NP), in power for almost two decades, was restructuring the country to conform to its policies of separate development. The NP went about untangling what little pockets of integration and proximity there were between White, Black, Coloured and Indian people, by creating new residential areas, new parallel institutions such as schools, universities and administrative bodies, and indeed, new ‘countries’, the tribal homelands.

The students that launched the South Africa Students Organisation (SASO) belonged to a generation that resisted the process of strengthening apartheid, in any manner they could.

Biko’s rise to prominence is inextricably tied to the development of the BCM.