Stephen Biko


Biography of Stephen Biko

Stephen Bantu Biko (18 December 1946 – 12 September 1977) was an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s.

A student leader, he later founded the Black Consciousness Movement 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".

Despite friction between the African National Congress and Biko throughout the 1970s the ANC has included Biko 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.

Biko was born in King William's Town, in the present-day Eastern Cape province of South Africa. He studied to be a doctor at the University of Natal Medical School. Biko was a Xhosa. In addition to Xhosa, he spoke fluent English and fairly fluent Afrikaans.

1948 general election Coloured vote constitutional crisis Treason Trial Sharpeville massacre Rivonia Trial Soweto uprising Church Street bombing Khotso House bombing Cape Town peace march CODESA Saint James Church massacre Shell House massacre.

He was initially involved with the multiracial National Union of South African Students, but after he became convinced that Black, Indian and Coloured students needed an organization of their own, he helped found the South African Students' Organisation (SASO), whose agenda included political self-reliance and the unification of university students in a "black consciousness." In 1968 Biko was elected its first president. SASO evolved into the influential Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). Biko was also involved with the World Student Christian Federation.

Biko married Ntsiki Mashalaba in 1970. They had two children together: Nkosinathi, born in 1971, and Samora. He also had two children with Dr Mamphela Ramphele (a prominent activist within the BCM): a daughter, Lerato, born in 1974, who died of pneumonia when she was only two months old, and a son, Hlumelo, who was born in 1978, after Biko's death. Biko also had a daughter with Lorraine Tabane, named Motlatsi, born in May 1977.

In the early 1970s Biko became a key figure in The Durban Moment. In 1972 he was expelled from the University of Natal because of his political activities and he became honorary president of the Black People's Convention. He was banned by the apartheid regime in February 1973, meaning that he was not allowed to speak to more than one person at a time nor to speak in public, was restricted to the King William's Town magisterial district, and could not write publicly or speak with the media. It was also forbidden to quote anything he said, including speeches or simple conversations.

When Biko was banned, his movement within the country was restricted to the Eastern Cape, where he was born. After returning there, he formed a number of grassroots organizations based on the notion of self-reliance: Zanempilo, the Zimele Trust Fund (which helped support former political prisoners and their families), Njwaxa Leather-Works Project and the Ginsberg Education Fund.

In spite of the repression of the apartheid government, Biko and the BCM played a significant role in organising the protests which culminated in the Soweto Uprising of 16 June 1976. In the aftermath of the uprising, which was crushed by heavily armed police shooting school children protesting, the authorities began to target Biko further.

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