Bantu Stephen Biko should not just be remembered for being a young charismatic African who fought and died; he should be recognized for his thought and his analysis of the African problem. Even more, the solutions he proffered should be embraced and studied all over Africa
The Hero would always be remembered in the fight against apartheid and colonial occupation, his intelligence, charisma, philosophy, and a life cut short in the struggle against apartheid.
Born in 1946 in the segregated South Africa where the Dutch, English racist and genocidal systems prevailed, he was raised in the Xhosa tradition and Anglican Christian values.
He lost his father when he was barely four, leaving his mother with the difficult task of raising him and his brother. Under their tradition, he was initiated into adulthood, following the Ulwaluko traditional initiation rite and circumcision.
Steve Biko developed passion and sympathy for the Pan African Congress after he joined his brother Khaya at Lovedale. The organization’s value was centered on affirming the African Identity. Not long after the two brothers were suspected of belonging to the armed wing of the congress, they were arrested and banished from Lovedale.
He later considered studying law, but his associates advised otherwise because of his growing political activism, he was advised to study medicine.
In 1966, at the age of 20, he attended the Non-European section of the Segregated University of Natal, Durban, where he joined the fight against apartheid which was dominated by the progressive whites as at that time.
However, after a while, Biko refused to identify with multiracial organizations when he realized that the progressive whites were paternalistic and their vigor in the fight against apartheid and the black struggle was governed by the same ideologies as the indubitably white racists. Biko could not stand to see that they imposed themselves on the Blacks as they considered themselves superior to the blacks.
The progressive whites, on the other hand, wouldn’t back down on the fight against apartheid, and though some purely black organizations excluded them, it wasn’t in their place to treat them as racists or take up the role of leading the Blacks since the struggle was against white racism.
He believed Blacks had problems of inferiority complex, fear and lack of trust. Unfortunately, this mental state gave room for exploitation and was a hindrance to achieving the freedom for which they fought.
“Black Consciousness” – Steve Biko’s Philosophy
The purpose of Biko’s thought which is black consciousness was to restore the Black man’s pride as Black and African so that he is it for the fight.
According to Biko’s analysis, the elements that made inferiority complex on the part of the Blacks thrive were;
- The falsified black history that makes the Black man believe he is an incapable barbarian from the dawn of time.
- The European languages that make everything that is bad black
- The Christian religion that serves to oppress blacks, whereas African spirituality has been soiled by the dominant system and described as an illogical superstition.
- The black culture that has been crushed in favor of the norms of Western culture.
- The beauty criteria that make black people believe that they are ugly and that beauty is white.
To sum it up, Biko said,
“The basic tenet of black consciousness is that the black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity”.
He figured that it was important to awaken and spread black history and culture so he started the Black Consciousness Movement, (BCM) and their philosophy was to rely solely on them.
In His words “Black man, you’re on your own” This was to get the black man to wield the will as whole and responsible to solely fight against apartheid because freedom begins in the mind.
He maintained a cordial relationship with white progressive leaders but didn’t accept whites in BCM, only blacks and Indians were accepted.
In 1969, Biko founded SOSA, South African Student’s Organization, and in 1971, at only 25, the manifesto of Black Consciousness ideology of SOSA was adopted. SOSA became a voice in South African campuses and imposed his ideas under the pseudonym Frank Talk and stood in the forefront of the battle against apartheid.
Four years after, Steve Biko was bullied, charged with terrorism and placed under house arrest with his house shut down. These happened after BCM was declared dangerous by the colonial authorities.
Despite his ordeal, he found a way to communicate with the outside world and raised funds to build health centers, nurseries, aid political prisoners as well as financed scholarships.
In 1976, the Dutch colonial government tried to impose its language on Black schools but with the support of BCM, 20,000 black students from Soweto marched the streets in protest. This made the white police to shoot between 176 and 700 people – mostly children and adolescents – to death.
This resulted in great pandemonium across the country, it was the popular Soweto riots and the oppression of BCM members escalated.
On the 18th of June 1977, Steve Biko was arrested at Capetown for breaking his house arrest. He was taken to a house in Port Elizabeth where he was chained, tortured and beaten severally. This caused severe brain hemorrhage, disfiguration, and kidney failure and led to him falling into a coma.
In that state, he was driven naked at the back of a normal car and without medical attention on a 12-hour journey to Pretoria Central Prison. There he was left on the floor of his cell in excruciating pain. The next day which is the12th of September, Steve Biko died at the age of 31..
His funeral attracted 20,000 mourners. This was the first mass funeral South Africa would record until the end of the apartheid.