Stephen Bantu Biko (18 December 1946 – 12 September 1977) – an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s would have been 70 years of age today.
As a student leader, Biko founded the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) 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”.
On 18 August 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967 and interrogated by officers of the Port Elizabeth security police including Harold Snyman and Gideon Nieuwoudt. This interrogation took place in the Police Room 619 of the Sanlam Building in Port Elizabeth. The interrogation lasted twenty-two hours and included torture and beatings resulting in a coma. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody at the Walmer Police Station, in a suburb of Port Elizabeth, and was chained to a window grille for a day.
On 11 September 1977, police loaded him in the back of a Land Rover, naked and restrained in manacles, and began the 1,100-kilometre (680 mi) drive to Pretoria to take him to a prison with hospital facilities. He was nearly dead owing to the previous injuries. He died shortly after arrival at the Pretoria prison, on 12 September. The police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike, but an autopsy revealed multiple bruises and abrasions and that he ultimately succumbed to a brain hemorrhage from the massive injuries to the head, which many saw as strong evidence that he had been brutally clubbed by his captors. Then Donald Woods, a journalist, editor and close friend of Biko’s, along with Helen Zille, later leader of the Democratic Alliance political party, exposed the truth behind Biko’s death.
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.”
Peter Gabriel performs ‘Biko’ live in 1986:
I defy you to listen to this song without at least one tear forming – FARG, we really need to continue the healing in South Africa.
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