Do You Remember:Steve Biko, Civil Rights Martyr

South Africa appeared in the spotlight when Steve Biko was brutally murdered at the hands of the apartheid police. The crime that cost Biko his life were his activities against the country’s repression of the black majority population. This event was a tragedy for  the whole world; Africa lost her great son, as son who championed the fight for freedom.

In 1946, at Eastern Cape Town province of South Africa, Duna and Mzingaye Biko, gave birth to their third born child Steve Biko. He was born in a poor family during the height of apartheid South Africa. Biko was born a courageous child; he used to question his mom about Christianity. He wondered why many churches supported the apartheid government. Biko was a brilliant kid, always first in his class.

In 1963 Biko was given a scholarship to study at a prestigious medical school. Biko’s dream was to be a doctor, but his dream fell short when he got involved in the struggle for freedom for fellow South Africans: He was expelled from medical school and from there Biko’s activism grew.

Biko founded many organizations. In 1969 at the age of 22, he founded the South Africa Student’s Organization (SASO) and was elected its first president. In this same year he also formed Black People’s Convention (BPC) a political party that promoted the ideology of “Black Consciousness.” For Biko, Black included colored (mixed-race), Indians, and all those designated ‘non-white’ by the apartheid state. SASO was founded l to Black students to refrain from being spectators in a game in which they should be participants. Maintaining working relationships with other student organizations, SASO’s primary engagement was to address the inferiority complex that was the mainstay of passiveness within the ranks of Black students. It was not long before it became the most formidable political force spreading to campuses across the country and beyond.

Even though Biko didn’t complete his medical education, but he still believed in education and regarded it as a fundamental right of a human beings. He was concerned with the children of his friends and activists who were detained, forced to neglect their children. In this case he founded Zimele Trust Fund and Ginsberg Educational Trust. The aim of these foundations was to support the political prisoners and their families.

Thus, Biko stayed active despite the many bans to restrain him from his freedom of movement. Biko’s influence can be remembered  during the riots following the police massacre of Soweto students in June 1976 when Soweto leaders demanded that the government negotiate the country’s future with three black leaders.

Inspired by Biko’s growing legacy, the youth of the country mobilized themselves in a movement that became known as the South African Students Movement (SASM). This movement played a pivotal role in the 1976 Soweto Uprisings, which accelerated the course of the liberation struggle.  Biko faced the white regime squarely. Not by violence, but by simple truth of his writings, which he named “I write what I like.” The white regime thought his letters posed a threat to national security.

As a writer, Biko used his gift to condemn apartheid, saying that “there is no doubt that the color question in South Africa politics was in the first place introduced for economic reasons.” Steve Biko’s influence was spreading like a forest-fire and they had to stop him from influencing the several black groups in South Africa, which gave him much support and recognition. He was arrested and detained many times under the Terrorism Act in South Africa.

Although Biko was arrested several times, he was released because of the public demand and pressure that erupted every time he was arrested. However, things fell apart on August 18, 1977, when Steve Biko was arrested and detained under the same offence of terrorism; little did the people know that he would not be seen again. He was taken to Port Elizabeth, stripped naked and tortured to death. His autopsy stated that he died of brain damage. The New York Times reported his death on their issue on September 13th, 1977.  It is unfortunate that, Steve Biko wasn’t alive to see what he sacrificed his life for, the fall of apartheid.

As we come to the 33rd anniversary of Biko’ death, it is worthwhile to say that September 12 of every year, should be declared as a holiday in the Republic of South Africa, in honor of that great man. If a day in America is observed as a holiday for the Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr, then late Steve Biko should be given that recognition too in South Africa. Steve Biko died at the age of 31. He left behind a widow and two boys.

Biko share the same school of thought Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X because of his fearless and oratory skills that he used to fight for justice. Biko came to popularity at a time where the white minority rule in South Africa used to silenced everyone through detentions, death threat and other physical torture. In this perspective, many people were fearful of criticize the apartheid government of their wrong doings. In the history of the political scene in South Africa, Biko is remembered as one of the people who came out to fight against the evil apartheid, oppression, mass arrests, detention without trial and other injustices along the line with Nelson Mandela, Oliver Thambo, Chief Buthelezi, and others in the struggle to emancipate blacks from hardships. Former South African President Nelson Mandela, who used to be a close old friend of Steve Biko, had a word to say about the man. “Steve Biko is one of the great heroes in the struggle for the liberation of our country,” Nelson Mandela said (10 September 2004, University Of Cape Town). Mandela added “His death, which we remember and commemorate in these days, was in many ways as powerful in its effect on our national consciousness as was his life.”

PS: I wrote the paper for my journalist class.

Black Kennedy.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Janet Anthony on September 9, 2010 at 1:07 am

    thanks for reminding us Kennedy.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Bella on February 10, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Wow, this was just as informative watching ‘cry freedon’. Do you know if the film sticks to the real story or if reading ‘Biko’ would tell me more?
    I always wish I could meet these amazing people!

    Reply

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