Steve Biko, a pioneer of the Black Consciousness Movement, is born

Wednesday, 18 December 1946

Sixty-five years ago Steve Bantu Biko who would become a pioneer of the Black Consciousness(BC) philosophy was born in King William's Town, Eastern Cape. Biko’s unshaken stance against apartheid inspired the hope of freedom among millions in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa. He was banned and detained several times by the apartheid authorities for his involvement in the liberation struggle. Biko was introduced to politics at an early age, when one of his older brothers, Khaya, a student at Lovedale High School, was arrested as a suspected Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) member. Apparently Khaya had recruited almost the entire Stars of Hope rugby club into the PAC and was jailed for three months.

The young Biko stood out as an enduring emblem of Black Consciousness under the apartheid system of racial segregation that ended with the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the country's first fully democratic elections in 1994. Biko was one of the University of Natal's Black Campus Student RepresentativeCouncil (SRC) members who formed the South African Student Organisation(SASO) in 1968. SASO was formed as a break-away student movement of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS).

In 1974 nine South African activists were put on trial for terrorism. The activists were all officers of either the SASO or the Black People's Convention (BPC), organisations known collectively as the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). They were charged with threatening the peace, order and security of the then white minority government.

Biko, as the pioneer of the Black Consciousness philosophy was arrested on the outskirts of the Eastern Cape on 18 August 1977 and taken to the apartheid security police headquarters in Port Elizabeth. He was accused of writing inflammatory pamphlets and "inciting unrest" among the black community. Whilst in police custody in Port Elizabeth, Biko was badly beaten then driven 700 miles to Pretoria, where he was thrown into a cell. On 12 September 1977, he died shackled naked on a filthy floor of a police hospital.

• (2008) 'Biko: first liberate the mind' from History and Heritage [online] Available at [Accessed 17 November2011]
• Magaziner, D. R. (2010) The Law and The Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968-1977. South Africa: Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd. pp1-3

Last updated : 14-Dec-2016

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