South Africa’s apartheid is historically documented as one of the worst exhibitions of white supremacy in the continent after systemized colonialism. It was a period of internalized and institutionalized segregation of racial identities, with black South African indigenes at the bottom of the ladder. While many freedom fighters dedicated their lives and efforts at combating the creases of apartheid notably Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, one Steve Biko’s memory is forever etched amongst the Mount Rushmore of Black Liberation on the African Continent. The resonation of the black pride through Biko’s Black Conscious Movement was not only a threat to the apartheid but furthermore an emphatic claim on the power of the black man, a power that needed to be revived by the spiritism of Biko.
Born Stephen Bantu Biko on December 18, 1946 in King William’s Town, South Africa, the third child of Mzingaye Biko, policeman and later a clerk and Nokuzola Macethe Duna a cook, he would have a fatherless childhood with his father dying when he was only 4.
It was his elder brother, Khaya, whom one would have thought to be the explosive politician Steve became as it was he who early on became involved in the Pan Africanist Movement, a rising political movement at the time that would eventually be banned by the government. Khaya confesses that although he had intentionally attempted to influencing Biko politically, it was not until an unlawful arrest at 16 while he was still at student at Lovedale School that his beast for political piety was unsettled.
Biko would begin to harness his political, analytical and argumentation skills and rise to vice chair of the St Francis College’s Literary and Debating Society noted to have trained political luminaries fighting against the injustice that the time.
A less studious but sterling student, Biko would excel in his examination and attain admission to Durban Medical School in 1966, which under apartheid segregation had sections of color; Steve was in the Non-European Section of the University of Natal (now University of Kwa-Zulu Natal) which housed the medical house.
In his very first year, he was voted into the SRC that paid allegiance to the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) which characteristic of the times was dominated by the white minority in the country that had greater representation in universities because of their privileges for higher education over indigenes. After his second year of tolerating the extension of the popularized discrimination that had seeped into the universities from the townships, he together with some like-minded friends co-founded the South African Students’ Organization (SASO) an all-black movement to contest the subjective treatment of blacks in NUSAS.
Steve Biko became the first president of the organization through which he championed the Black Conscious Movement towards relegating the identity damage that apartheid had ingrained in the minds of black South Africans. His movement would rally young people across universities to form a united front of Black South Africans who valued and exhibited their self-worth.
The influence and rapid growth of SASO and the fame of the Black Conscious Movement amongst the youth would demand that it stretched its tentacles to all people, beyond students who subscribed to the ideology of the movement. That growth gave birth to the Black People’s Convention.
The state’s determination to intimidate the progress of the movement and its members led it to the imprisonment of several members of the group including Biko himself who has suffered multiple unjustified arrests in a space of two years.
On one such planned arrests, Biko was captured and imprisoned in Port Elizabeth together with another avid member to the movement on 18th August 1977. Almost a month later September 11, his body was found lying in the streets of Pretoria outside of a hospital. He was confirmed death the next day just a month to his 31st birthday.
The legendary martyria of this young man is beautifully captured in Biko, written by his longstanding ally, Donald Woods and in the motion-picture starring Denzel Washington, Cry Freedom. His memory is cemented in East London, an honorable statue of a deserving young man who gave his life for the fight of the end of the apartheid.
Biko’s death and influence is phenomenal in the effectual triumph over apartheid in South Africa. He gave a reason for Black South Africa to fight against apartheid and even though he could not witness the fruition of his works, he inspired many toiled even after his death to actualize his dream.