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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Stephen Bantu Biko

A young black politician who died under brutal and degrading circumstances during the apartheid period. Biko's life reflected the lot of frustrated young black intellectuals. In his death he became a symbol of the martyrdom of black nationalists whose struggle focused critical world attention on South Africa more strongly than at any time since Sharpeville in 1960.

Biko was a black consciousness exponent who developed intellectually and emerged with others out of the changing literate African population in the major urban centres during the 1960s. Feeling deeply their subservience, they searched for self-identity and hoped to build up pride in a culture that was not emasculated by white state rule. Biko and his student colleagues had been receptive to the political ideas expressed by many black intellectuals and they learned to use the sheer emotional power of the message of black consciousness with bitter assertiveness. These ideas and slogans filtered down to a much broader group of socially unorganised people, angry and impatient for meaningful action, who made up a new African petty bourgeoisie.

Black university students had tried for many years to make progress through the multiracial National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) because it was outspoken in its criticism of government actions, especially at English-speaking universities where NUSAS membership was strong. Several young liberal white leaders of NUSAS were moved by the black cause and tried to protect politically active black students from government counter-action by speaking out for them. Media coverage of these dissident activities caused a dismayed response from the parents of white students who wished to shield their children from political involvement that could shatter their lives in detentions and banning orders. In a backlash of reaction white students disaffiliated themselves from NUSAS. This swing to the right left no channels for black students to express their anti-apartheid feelings. Dissatisfaction was intense. In the period 1967-68, one of the students who began to analyse and criticise the situation was Steve Biko, a medical student at Natal University. He was to become the hero of millions of Africans who rejected apartheid

See www.sahistory.org.za for full text.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.