Steve Biko: Founder Of The Black Consciousness Movement


REVOLUTIONARY VOICES AGAINST IMPERIALISM

Pan-African News Wire

Steve Bantu Biko, a political activist and writer, is regarded as the father of the Black Consciousness movement in the Union of South Africa. Biko’s short 30-year life was consumed with the development of an acute awareness of the evils of apartheid, the social system under which non-whites lived in South Africa.

Apartheid is based on the idea of institutionalised separate development for blacks and whites. To paraphrase Biko, he was able to outgrow the things the system had taught him. One of his unique characteristics may be summed up in the title of an edited collection of his writings, “I Write What I Like”.

Much of what Biko “liked to write,” not surprisingly, dealt with the definition of black consciousness and setting it out as an approach to combating white racism in South Africa. Indeed the very phrase “I write what I like” was boldly used as a heading to begin many of his political essays.

One such essay was accompanied by the by-line “Frank Talk,” an aptly chosen pseudonym.

Biko can be seen as a follower of Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire, in contrast to more multi-racialist ANC leaders such as Nelson Mandela after his imprisonment at Robben Island and Albert Luthuli who were first disciples of Mahatma Gandhi.

He was born in King Williamstown, Cape Province, South Africa, on December 18, 1946. He was the second son (third child) of Mzimgayi Biko. Raised and educated in a Christian home, Biko eventually became a student at Wentworth, a White medical school in Durban.

There in 1968 he formed SASO (South African Students’ Organisation), an activist group seeking equal rights for South African black people. Expelled from Wentworth in 1972 (the stated cause being poor academic performance), Biko devoted his time to activist activities. His concept of black consciousness continued to develop as he next went to work for BCP (Black Community Programmes). By 1973 his political activities had caused him to be banned from Durban and restricted to his hometown.

Back in King Williamstown, undaunted, he set up a new branch of BCP — only to have it banned there as well. Still, Biko continued to work for black consciousness. This led to repeated detentions and caused him to be placed in security over and over again. Yet he was never charged.

In 1977 he became honorary president of the Black People’s Convention he had founded in 1972. His appointment was to be for a period of five years, but nine months later he died of brain damage after being beaten by police officers while in detention.

A magnetic, eloquent, tall and large-proportioned person, Biko inspired love and loyalty. In 1970 he married Ntsiki Mashalaba, then a nursing student in Durban.

His mother courageously supported her son’s activities, welcomed him home during the years of restriction, helped protect him from the inquiring eyes of government security forces, and provided a Christian (Anglican) home environment for his children.

Biko’s death echoed around the world — an irony, given the repeated attempts made to silence him while he lived. As a leader of South African blacks, Biko is likened in importance to others such as Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe who preceded him.

Like Biko, their influence was during the post-1948 years — that is, after the African National Congress began to gain support throughout the nation in the interest of black liberation. Mandela and Sobukwe, too, were repeatedly banned and imprisoned. In fact, it was while they were in detention in the 1960s that Biko formed SASO to fill the “vacuum in South African politics’ that they had left.

Biko’s “Black Consciousness” was a call to black young people to dissociate white control and black fear in South Africa and to adopt an attitude of psychological self-reliance in the struggle for liberation from white rule. The proponents of Black Consciousness urged blacks to withdraw from multiracial organisations. The resulting formation of the all-black SASO alienated some white liberal students — particularly those who belonged to NUSA (National Union of South African Students). These students’ idealism was given a jolt by SASO’s assertion of an independent black struggle.

The concept of Black Consciousness has been preserved in Biko’s writings and in transcripts taken in the BPC-SASO trial at which Biko was called to testify, allowing him to break a three-year imposed silence. This trial was the only opportunity Biko had to speak out after 1973 when his travel, public speaking and writing for publication had been banned.

The trial also turned out to be the last time Biko was heard from before his death in Port Elizabeth on September 12, 1977. The South African government disclaimed any responsibility in Biko’s death and official pronouncements about its circumstances revolve around talk of a hunger strike while others cite evidence of beatings.

Twenty years later, in 1997, five former police officers acknowledged responsibility for his death of a brain haemorrhage. The officers made their confession to South Africa’s Truth Commission, which has the power to grant amnesty to individuals willing to reveal their role in the violence against anti-apartheid activists.

The effect of Biko’s death, seen by many as symbolic of black South Africa suffering under apartheid and the most widely publicised dramatisation of the apartheid system in operation, added impetus to Black Consciousness — the very movement that repeated bannings and restrictions by government officials sought to quell. The idea of Black Consciousness is thought by many to have uplifted and inspired South African black people and to have given direction to their lives.

To Biko, black psychological self-reliance was the path to social equality. His vision of the future for South African blacks was one “looking forward to a non-racial, just and egalitarian society in which colour, creed, and race shall form no point of reference.”

Many hoped Biko’s dream would become reality when apartheid was disbanded and in 1994, ANC leader Nelson Mandela was elected president of the country.




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2 Comments

  1. JDM says:

    About Bantu Stephen Biko
    Biography

    Bantu Stephen Biko was born in Tylden in the Eastern Cape on the 18 th December 1946, the third child of the late Mathew Mzingaye and Alice Nokuzola “Mamcethe” Biko. He attended primary school in King William’s Town and secondary school at Marianhill, a missionary school situated in a town of the same name in KwaZulu-Natal. Steve Biko went on to register for a degree in medicine at the Black Section of the Medical School of the University of Natal in 1966.

    Very early in his academic program Biko showed an expansive search for knowledge that far exceeded the realm of the medical profession, ending up as one of the most prominent student leaders. In 1968, Biko and his colleagues founded the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO).

    He was elected the first President of the organization at its inaugural congress held at Turfloop in 1969. This organization was borne out of the frustrations Black students encountered within the liberal and multi-racial NUSAS. In the eyes of Biko and his colleagues, NUSAS showed signs of an organization unwilling to adopt radical policy positions and comfortable with playing safe politics. The questions that triggered the formation of SASO became known as the ‘best able debate’ – are white liberals best able to define the texture and tempo of resistance? SASO was founded therefore as a call to Black students to refrain from being spectators in a game in which they should be participant. Maintaining working relationships with other student organizations, SASO’s primary engagement was to address the inferiority complex that was the mainstay of passiveness within the ranks of Black students. It was not long before it became the most formidable political force spreading to campuses across the country and beyond. After serving as the organizations President Biko was elected Publications Director for SASO where he wrote prolifically under the pseudonym, Frank Talk.

    With the seeds of Black Consciousness having been sown outside of student campuses, Biko and his colleagues argued for a broader based black political organization in the country. Opinion was canvassed and finally, in July 1972, the Black People’s Convention (BPC) was founded and inaugurated in December of the same year. Inspired by Biko’s growing legacy the youth of the country at high school level mobilized themselves in a movement that became known as the South African Students Movement (SASM). This movement played a pivotal role in the 1976 Soweto Uprisings, which accelerated the course of the liberation struggle. The National Association of Youth Organizations was also formed in order to cater for the youth more generally.

    Biko was instrumental in the development and formation of a core SASO project – the Black Worker’s Project (BWP), which was co-sponsored by the Black Community Programs (BCP) for which Biko worked at the time. The BCP addressed the problems of Black workers whose unions were not yet recognized by the law. After being expelled from Medical School in 1972 Biko joined the BCP at their Durban offices. The BCP engaged in a number of community-based projects and published a yearly called the Black Review, which provided an analysis of political trends in the country.

    In March of 1973 Biko was banned and restricted to King William’s Town. There he set up a BCP office where he stood as Branch Executive. It was not long before his banning order was amended to restrict him from any association with the BCP. Despite this the office that he had established did well managing amongst other achievements to build the Zanempilo Clinic and a crèche, both of which were very popular with the people. As an example of his resolve and indestructible black pride Biko was also instrumental in the founding of the Zimele Trust Fund in 1975, which was set up to assist political prisoners and their families. This he achieved in spite of the inconveniences and restrictions placed on him by his own banning order. He continued his hard work by setting up the Ginsberg Educational Trust to assist black students.

    In 1976 the BCP unanimously elected Biko Honorary President in recognition of his momentous contribution to the liberation struggle. In his short but remarkable life Biko was frequently harassed and detained under the country’s notorious security legislation. This interrogation culminated in his arrest, together with his colleague and comrade Peter Cyril Jones, at a Police roadblock outside of King William’s Town on the 18 th August 1977. Biko and Jones had in fact been to Cape Town, despite the banning order, to lend their weight to efforts to get all political organizations fighting for liberation to agree on a broader program of co-operation. Both were detained under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act. Biko’s quest for black unity would eventually cost him his life.

    During their detention Biko and Jones were tortured at the headquarters of the Security Division housed in what was then known as the Sanlam building in Port Elizabeth. It was during this period that Biko sustained massive brain haemorrhage. On the 11 th of September 1977 Biko was transported to Pretoria central prison – a twelve-hour journey, naked, without medical escort, in the back of a police Land Rover. Biko died on the floor of an empty cell in Pretoria Central Prison on the 12 th of September. It was in this way that South Africa was robbed of one of its foremost political thinkers.

    Quotes

    Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.”

    “Merely by describing yourself as black you have started on a road towards emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being.”

    “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

    “Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time. Its essence is the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression – the blackness of their skin – and to operate as a group to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.”

    “We do not want to be reminded that it is we, the indigenous people, who are poor and exploited in the land of our birth. These are concepts which the Black Consciousness approach wishes to eradicate from the black man’s mind before our society is driven to chaos by irresponsible people from Coca-cola and hamburger cultural backgrounds.”

    “Even today, we are still accused of racism. This is a mistake. We know that all interracial groups in South Africa are relationships in which whites are superior, blacks inferior. So as a prelude whites must be made to realize that they are only human, not superior. Same with blacks. They must be made to realize that they are also human, not inferior.” quoted in the Boston Globe

    “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.”
    –evidence given at the SASO/BPC trial

    “It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realise that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality. The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth.”

    “Apartheid—both petty and grand—is obviously evil. Nothing can justify the arrogant assumption that a clique of foreigners has the right to decide on the lives of a majority”

    “The logic behind white domination is to prepare the black man for the subservient role in this country. Not so long ago this used to be freely said in parliament, even about the educational system of the black people. It is still said even today, although in a much more sophisticated language. To a large extent the evil-doers have succeeded in producing at the output end of their machine a kind of black man who is man only in form. This is the extent to which the process of dehumanization has advanced.”

    “The system concedes nothing without demand, for it formulates its very method of operation on the basis that the ignorant will learn to know, the child will grow into an adult and therefore demands will begin to be made. It gears itself to resist demands in whatever way it sees fit.”

    “In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift—a more human face.”

    “It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die.”

    “Tradition has it that whenever a group of people has tasted the lovely fruits of wealth, security and prestige it begins to find it more comfortable to believe in the obvious lie and accept that it alone is entitled to privilege.”

  2. About Bantu Stephen Biko
    Biography

    Bantu Stephen Biko was born in Tylden in the Eastern Cape on the 18 th December 1946, the third child of the late Mathew Mzingaye and Alice Nokuzola “Mamcethe” Biko. He attended primary school in King William’s Town and secondary school at Marianhill, a missionary school situated in a town of the same name in KwaZulu-Natal. Steve Biko went on to register for a degree in medicine at the Black Section of the Medical School of the University of Natal in 1966.

    Very early in his academic program Biko showed an expansive search for knowledge that far exceeded the realm of the medical profession, ending up as one of the most prominent student leaders. In 1968, Biko and his colleagues founded the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO).

    He was elected the first President of the organization at its inaugural congress held at Turfloop in 1969. This organization was borne out of the frustrations Black students encountered within the liberal and multi-racial NUSAS. In the eyes of Biko and his colleagues, NUSAS showed signs of an organization unwilling to adopt radical policy positions and comfortable with playing safe politics. The questions that triggered the formation of SASO became known as the ‘best able debate’ – are white liberals best able to define the texture and tempo of resistance? SASO was founded therefore as a call to Black students to refrain from being spectators in a game in which they should be participant. Maintaining working relationships with other student organizations, SASO’s primary engagement was to address the inferiority complex that was the mainstay of passiveness within the ranks of Black students. It was not long before it became the most formidable political force spreading to campuses across the country and beyond. After serving as the organizations President Biko was elected Publications Director for SASO where he wrote prolifically under the pseudonym, Frank Talk.

    With the seeds of Black Consciousness having been sown outside of student campuses, Biko and his colleagues argued for a broader based black political organization in the country. Opinion was canvassed and finally, in July 1972, the Black People’s Convention (BPC) was founded and inaugurated in December of the same year. Inspired by Biko’s growing legacy the youth of the country at high school level mobilized themselves in a movement that became known as the South African Students Movement (SASM). This movement played a pivotal role in the 1976 Soweto Uprisings, which accelerated the course of the liberation struggle. The National Association of Youth Organizations was also formed in order to cater for the youth more generally.

    Biko was instrumental in the development and formation of a core SASO project – the Black Worker’s Project (BWP), which was co-sponsored by the Black Community Programs (BCP) for which Biko worked at the time. The BCP addressed the problems of Black workers whose unions were not yet recognized by the law. After being expelled from Medical School in 1972 Biko joined the BCP at their Durban offices. The BCP engaged in a number of community-based projects and published a yearly called the Black Review, which provided an analysis of political trends in the country.

    In March of 1973 Biko was banned and restricted to King William’s Town. There he set up a BCP office where he stood as Branch Executive. It was not long before his banning order was amended to restrict him from any association with the BCP. Despite this the office that he had established did well managing amongst other achievements to build the Zanempilo Clinic and a crèche, both of which were very popular with the people. As an example of his resolve and indestructible black pride Biko was also instrumental in the founding of the Zimele Trust Fund in 1975, which was set up to assist political prisoners and their families. This he achieved in spite of the inconveniences and restrictions placed on him by his own banning order. He continued his hard work by setting up the Ginsberg Educational Trust to assist black students.

    In 1976 the BCP unanimously elected Biko Honorary President in recognition of his momentous contribution to the liberation struggle. In his short but remarkable life Biko was frequently harassed and detained under the country’s notorious security legislation. This interrogation culminated in his arrest, together with his colleague and comrade Peter Cyril Jones, at a Police roadblock outside of King William’s Town on the 18 th August 1977. Biko and Jones had in fact been to Cape Town, despite the banning order, to lend their weight to efforts to get all political organizations fighting for liberation to agree on a broader program of co-operation. Both were detained under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act. Biko’s quest for black unity would eventually cost him his life.

    During their detention Biko and Jones were tortured at the headquarters of the Security Division housed in what was then known as the Sanlam building in Port Elizabeth. It was during this period that Biko sustained massive brain haemorrhage. On the 11 th of September 1977 Biko was transported to Pretoria central prison – a twelve-hour journey, naked, without medical escort, in the back of a police Land Rover. Biko died on the floor of an empty cell in Pretoria Central Prison on the 12 th of September. It was in this way that South Africa was robbed of one of its foremost political thinkers.

    http://www.sbf.org.za/Main_Site/about_steve_bantu_biko.php

    Quotes

    Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.”

    “Merely by describing yourself as black you have started on a road towards emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being.”

    “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

    “Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time. Its essence is the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression – the blackness of their skin – and to operate as a group to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.”

    “We do not want to be reminded that it is we, the indigenous people, who are poor and exploited in the land of our birth. These are concepts which the Black Consciousness approach wishes to eradicate from the black man’s mind before our society is driven to chaos by irresponsible people from Coca-cola and hamburger cultural backgrounds.”

    “Even today, we are still accused of racism. This is a mistake. We know that all interracial groups in South Africa are relationships in which whites are superior, blacks inferior. So as a prelude whites must be made to realize that they are only human, not superior. Same with blacks. They must be made to realize that they are also human, not inferior.” quoted in the Boston Globe

    “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.”
    –evidence given at the SASO/BPC trial

    “It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realise that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality. The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth.”

    “Apartheid—both petty and grand—is obviously evil. Nothing can justify the arrogant assumption that a clique of foreigners has the right to decide on the lives of a majority”

    “The logic behind white domination is to prepare the black man for the subservient role in this country. Not so long ago this used to be freely said in parliament, even about the educational system of the black people. It is still said even today, although in a much more sophisticated language. To a large extent the evil-doers have succeeded in producing at the output end of their machine a kind of black man who is man only in form. This is the extent to which the process of dehumanization has advanced.”

    “The system concedes nothing without demand, for it formulates its very method of operation on the basis that the ignorant will learn to know, the child will grow into an adult and therefore demands will begin to be made. It gears itself to resist demands in whatever way it sees fit.”

    “In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift—a more human face.”

    “It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die.”

    “Tradition has it that whenever a group of people has tasted the lovely fruits of wealth, security and prestige it begins to find it more comfortable to believe in the obvious lie and accept that it alone is entitled to privilege.”

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