Biko is widely referred to as the ideologically African nationalist and African socialist, for his contribution during the struggle era, when he was at the forefront of a grassroots anti-apartheid campaign known as the Black Consciousness Movement during the late 1960s and 1970s.
Born in a very a poor Xhosa family, at the Ginsberg township in the Eastern Cape, this couldn’t stop Biko from educating himself and be a freedom fighter. He began studying medicine at the University of Natal, where he joined the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS).
Strongly opposed to the apartheid system of racial segregation and white-minority rule in South Africa, Biko was frustrated that NUSAS and other anti-apartheid groups were dominated by white liberals, rather than by the blacks who were most affected by apartheid. He believed that even when well-intentioned, white liberals failed to comprehend the black experience and often acted in a paternalistic manner. He developed the view that to avoid white domination, black people had to organise independently, and to this end he became a leading figure in the creation of the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) in 1968.
He was only 30 when he died in a police cell after being brutally assaulted.
What led to Biko’s death, how did he die?
Naked, shackled and suffering from severe head injuries is how the anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko died in a prison cell. It was a death that changed South African politics forever.
On the 6th of September, Biko was detained by the police for having violated the order restricting him to King William’s Town. He broke his banning order by travelling to Cape Town, hoping to meet Unity Movement leader Neville Alexander to discuss the possibilities of fighting for democracy and freedom for Black South Africans under the oppression of Whites.
Biko was taken to the Walmer police station in Port Elizabeth, where he was held naked in a cell with his legs in shackles. On the same day, he was transferred from Walmer to room 619 of the security police headquarters in the Sanlam Building in central Port Elizabeth, where he was interrogated for 22 hours, handcuffed and in shackles, and chained to a grille.
On 11 September, police loaded him into the back of a Land Rover, naked and manacled, and drove him 740 miles from Port Elizabeth to the prison hospital in Pretoria. There, Biko died alone in a cell on 12 September 1977.
What life would be if Biko could have still be alive?
Today we dedicate this day to the prophet of Black Consciousness, who was one of the sharpest thinkers in South Africa’s history, a philosopher and activist whose ideas still influence and inspire people today.
South Africa is crying out for someone with his vision to lead it. As it is seen today, that the country is still struggling in terms of a good leadership, and for someone who will take the country forward.
Biko and the late freedom fighter Robert Sobukwe still remains highlighted figures in which our current generation is wondering how life would be if these two struggle stalwarts were still alive.
Solomon Tsie, Political Lecture at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) says that it will not be this South Africa that we are living in now if Biko was still alive. He says Biko would have made President Nelson Mandela reconsider his approach to introducing democracy to South African.
“If Steve Biko did not die, he could have also contributed in the draft of the new constitution and re-thinking the strategy for national liberation. He would have been at the forefront of adopting the united democratic front,” says Tsie.
“Biko was not in support of the policies of the South African black liberation movement, that led him to establish the Black Consciousness Movement, so that blacks can voice out their frustration,” concluded Tsie.
Now, almost 40 years since Biko’s tragic death, his philosophies could be as important as they were then.
Biko loved education, South African higher education would have implemented free education in Universities and in the Colleges. Biko formed the SASO (South African Student Organisation) in order to make the voices of the students to be heard, for surely students at across higher institutions will not be struggling as of today.
“If Biko was alive today we would have seen free higher education with our own naked eyes being a possibility in South Africa,” said Kamogelo Langa, student at TUT.
“I think the young people of today, particularly us higher education students, we could have seen the benefits of the philosophy of black consciousness because Biko embraced the black consciousness,” said Madile Rammile, student at TUT.
Biko rallied to bring tangible change to black communities. Before his death, he was to meet with then ANC President Oliver Tambo to discuss uniting the ANC, the PAC and the BCM, to promote black South Africans without isolating white South Africans.
This was difficult as both the ANC and PAC were competing to be regarded as the voice of black people in the country.