Stephen Biko, anti-apartheid martyr

Through its history, South Africa has seen long periods of struggle against racial discrimination and social injustice. Undoubtedly, the political landscape has seen numerous developments sparked by several leaders. One such admired leader was Stephen Biko (Stephen Bantu).

Stephen Biko was a South African political leader of the late 1960s, who became known as an international symbol of resistance and ceaseless determination in the fight for equality and fraternity. In the height of his political career, Biko quickly became a martyr for Black Nationalism upon his death in prison in 1977.

Early Political Life

Biko was born in Eastern Cape, South Africa. He attended the University of Natal in 1966 where he studied medicine. Here, he began his political activism surrounding a staunch resistance against the rigid racial policies of the white supremacist government and the apartheid movement. He was however expelled in 1972 for such activities, labelled as 'anti-establishment' behaviour.

The Fight For Black Linearization

Even in the height of racial segregation and white supremacy, Biko sought to bring about an ideological revolution in South Africa. His aim was to liberate the minds of Africans from the mental oppression that they had been for long subjected to. Biko argued that liberation grows out of “the realization by the Blacks that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”; a powerful statement that stresses the important of mental liberation for the oppressed and underprivileged black race.

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Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement

Biko was one of the founders of the ‘Black Consciousness Movement’ (BCM) in the late 1960s. This prolific group of leaders later found the South African Student’s Organisation in 1968. This organisation operated as a black group separate from the white-run National Union of South African Students. Biko served as the black organization’s first president.

Furthermore, he was instrumental in starting a number of other black pressure groups. In fact, in 1972, a coalition of more than 70 black organizations established the Black People's Convention, and Biko was named the honorary president. The convention worked on social upliftment projects around Durban. This included the ‘South African Student's Movement’ (SASM), which played a significant role in the 1976 uprisings, the ‘National Association of Youth Organisations’, and the ‘Black Workers Project’ which supported black workers whose unions were not recognized under the Apartheid regime.

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As the BCM increased its political activities and became more powerful, the South African government became increasingly intolerant of the organisation and began cracking down on them in the early 1970s. During this period, Biko was arrested numerous times and was banned for any political activity. While in custody, he was beaten by the police. In August 1977,Biko was arrested and was severely beaten while in custody. He lapsed into a coma and died within a month of his arrest.

His Legacy

Biko’slegacy is being carried on by his former partner, respected anti-apartheid activist MamphelaRamphele. In February of this year, Ramphele resigned as chairwoman of Gold Fields (one of South Africa's biggest mining companies)and she announced the formation of a new political party, named ‘Agang’ (Sotho for "Build"), intending to challenge the ANC. She said this pivotal change was in order to “"to further her socio-economic and political work".

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Today, Biko represents the fight for the hope of a people and the power of liberation from mental oppression. He is a national and international symbol of peace and democracy, a fate that South Africa enjoys today.

By: Norvan Martin



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