40 years since Steve Biko died in detention – ‘”It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die’

Today marks 40 years since the 30-year-old activist and intellectual Steve Biko died of brain injuries after he was arrested in Port Elizabeth. He was severely beaten by cops, shackled and driven naked in the back of a police vehicle to Pretoria where he died in a prison cell. He had an international reputation and his death drew condemnation from around the world. But no one involved in the killing of one of the country’s most important struggle leaders has faced consequences.

Biko was arrested in August 1977, like others who were seen as influential to the student protests a year before. The then minister of justice and police, Jimmy Kruger, claimed he died in custody while on a hunger strike. He was said to be the 20th person to have died in custody in the preceding 18 months.

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

Steven Biko

The amnesty applications of the five policemen implicated were rejected, but in 2003 the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) declined to prosecute. It said there was insufficient evidence to justify charges, with a lack of eyewitnesses, but it might reconsider its decision if new evidence emerged.

But Biko’s legacy is only becoming more and more important in South Africa. His voice has an increasingly prominent influence on modern politics, particularly amongst student activists calling for rapid and far-reaching change.

Change the way people think and things will never be the same:

Steven Biko

Please understand that I take these actions, not out of selfishness or arrogance, but to preserve a South Africa worth living in for blacks and whites:

Steven Biko

Born to a poor family in the Eastern Cape, in 1966 he went to study medicine in Durban.

In 1972, he was involved in founding the Black People’s Convention (BPC) to promote Black Consciousness ideas among the wider population. The government came to see Biko as a subversive threat and placed him under a banning order in 1973, severely restricting his activities. He remained politically active, helping organise BCPs such as a healthcare centre and a crèche in the Ginsberg area. During his ban he received repeated anonymous threats, and was detained by state security services on several occasions. Following his arrest in August 1977, Biko was severely beaten by state security officers, resulting in his death. Over 20,000 people attended his funeral.

So as a prelude whites must be made to realise that they are only human, not superior. Same with Blacks. They must be made to realise that they are also human, not inferior:

Steven Biko

Biko’s fame spread posthumously; a 1978 biography by his friend , Daily Dispatch editor in East London, Donald Woods became the basis for the 1987 film Cry Freedom. He was the subject of numerous songs and works of art, and the ownership of his political legacy remains a matter of contention. During Biko’s life, the government alleged that he hated whites, various anti-apartheid activists accused him of sexism, and African racial nationalists criticised his united front with Coloureds and Indians. Nonetheless, Biko became one of the earliest icons of the movement against apartheid, and is regarded as a political martyr and the “Father of Black Consciousness”.






Northern KZN Courier, Greg Nicholl, Daily Maverick

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