King William's Town's hero:
Steve Biko 1946 - 1977

Bantu Steven Biko was born on 18 December 1946 in Ginsberg, a township outside King William's Town. Thirty years later, he was dead after being severely beaten while in police custody. Biko, best known of the leaders of the Black Consciousness Movement, is regarded as one of the greatest martyrs of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Biko's philosophy was that political freedom would only be achieved if blacks stopped feeling inferior to whites. This formed the heart of the Black Consciousness Movement. He believed that black people should lead the fight against apartheid.

Biko, who became more and more outspoken, gave up medical school to devote himself to the struggle. Frustrated by the multiracial Nusas, he and his colleagues founded the South African Student's Organisation (SASO) in 1969. SASO was involved in providing legal aid and medical clinics, as well as social upliftment programmes in black communities.

But the black students, under his leadership, argued that they were black before they were students and that a black political movement should be formed. Finally, in July 1972, the Black People's Convention (BPC) was founded. The BPC effectively brought together about 70 different black consciousness groups and associations.

His movement came into its own in the mid-1970s when the liberation movement appeared to be faltering, with many ANC leaders in jail or exile.

In 1973, he was banned by the apartheid government. Under the ban, Biko was restricted to his hometown of King William's Town and he was prevented from writing or saying anything about black consciousness.

On 18 August 1977, Biko was arrested while travelling home from a political meeting with his friend Peter Jones. He was detained in Port Elizabeth for 26 days under the Terrorism Act.

According to testimony given at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997, "Biko sustained a head injury during interrogation on 7 September 1977, after which he acted strangely and was unco-operative. The doctors who examined him (naked, lying on a mat and manacled to a metal grille) initially disregarded overt signs of neurological injury."

By 11 September 1997, Biko had slipped into a semi-conscious state. The police doctor recommended that he be transferred to hospital. Biko was, however, transported 1 200km to Pretoria in the back of a Land Rover.

A few hours after arriving at Pretoria Central Prison, Biko died from brain damage, alone and naked in his cell. He was 30 years old.

The police first claimed he had starved himself to death while on a hunger strike. They later changed their story to say Biko had hit his head against a wall in a scuffle. Finally, 20 years later, the police admitted before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that they had killed Biko.

Biko was buried in the Ginsberg cemetery just outside King William's Town on 25 September 1977.

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 Visitor's info

Visit Biko's grave
Steve Biko was buried in Ginsberg cemetery. To reach the grave, follow Cathcart St south of King William's Town and turn left down a dirt track that is signposted to the Steve Biko Garden of Remembrance.

The Ginsberg home where Biko was born has been declared a national monument. Contact the Steve Biko Foundation on (043) 642-1177 for details.

Steve Biko
Pic: Daily Dispatch
 Interesting links

Visit the Steve Biko Foundation's website at www.sbf.org.za

Read about Cry Freedom, Richard Attenborough's movie about Steve Biko, on the Internet Movie Database site

 What he said

"We have set on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the distant horizon we can see the glittering prize. Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common plight and brotherhood. In time we shall be in a position to bestow upon South Africa the greatest gift possible - a more human face".
Steve Biko, Black Consciousness - A quest for a true humanity.

 Biko biography

18 December 1946: Born in Ginsberg

1969: Founds Black Consciousness Movement

1970: Marries Ntsiki Mashalaba

1973: Banned by the government

18 August 1977: Arrested by police on the way home from a political meeting

12 September 1977: Dies, aged 30

1987: Richard Attenborough makes Cry Freedom, a movie depicting Biko's life

1997: Nelson Mandela unveils a bronze statue of Biko in East London at the start of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

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