Steve Biko, Black Consciousness Movement Leader, is buried

Remembering Steve Biko, 37 Years On Image source

Sunday, 25 September 1977

Steve Biko, anti-apartheid activist and leader of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, was thirty years old and was reportedly extremely fit when arrested. He was taken to prison in Port Elizabeth but was later transferred to Pretoria Central Prison where he died in detention under mysterious circumstances on 12 September 1977.

On 25 September 1977 Steve Biko's funeral was held in King William's Town it was attended by some 15,000 people. Twelve Western diplomats are present, including the American ambassador. Nevertheless, police actions prevented thousands of mourners from reaching the funeral venue from Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and other areas on the grounds that this would lead to lawlessness. Police armed with FN rifles and machine guns erected and manned a number of roadblocks to prevent thousands of mourners from attending. One of the speakers, Dr. Nthato Motlana, who flew from Johannesburg after he was blocked off when attempting to travel by road, said at the funeral that he had watched with disgust as black police hauled mourners off the buses in Soweto and assaulted them with truncheons.

Later in the day, Steve Biko was buried in a muddy plot beside the railroad tracks after a marathon funeral that was as much a protest rally against the white minority government's racial policies as it was a commemoration of the country's foremost young black leader. Several thousand black mourners punched the air with clenched fists and shouted "Power!" as Biko's coffin was lowered into the grave. The crowd of more than ten thousand listened to successive speakers warning the government that Biko's death would push Blacks further towards violence in their quest for racial equality.

Due to local and international outcry his death prompted an inquest which at first did not adequately reveal the circumstances surrounding his death. Police alleged that he died from a hunger strike and independent sources said he was brutally murdered by police. Although his death was attributed to "a prison accident," evidence presented during the 15-day inquest into Biko's death revealed otherwise. During his detention in a Port Elizabeth police cell he had been chained to a grill at night and left to lie in urine-soaked blankets. He had been stripped naked and kept in leg-irons for 48 hours in his cell. A blow in a scuffle with security police led to him suffering brain damage by the time he was driven naked and manacled in the back of a police van to Pretoria, where, on 12 September 1977 he died.


Feature: Black Consciousness and Steve Bantu Biko

• Kalley, J.A.; Schoeman, E. & Andor, L.E. (eds) (1999). Southern African Political History: a chronology of key political events from independence to mid-1997, Westport: Greenwood).
South African History Online,'Black Consciousness and Steve Bantu Biko'. from South African History Online,available at: [Accessed: 18 September 2013]

Last updated : 20-Sep-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011