Azapo members at the prison cell where Steve Biko took his last breath at Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Services. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

On this day 42 years the brutal apartheid regime robbed South Africa of one its greatest Black leaders when Steve Bantu Biko succumbed to multiple injuries sustained while in police custody having travelled in the back of police van from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria, naked and unconscious. 

Below we look at five reasons why the leader of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) was a pivotal figure in South Africa’s fight against the oppressive regime and the conscientising of black people in the 1960s and 1970s:

1. At a time when the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were banned and silenced by the apartheid government, Biko’s creation of the Black Consciousness Movement helped forge a youth discontentment with the oppressive laws of apartheid that would ultimately lead to the Soweto Uprisings of 1976. The Uprisings would prove to be the catalyst for a new found momentum in the youth led fight against apartheid.

2. Apart from the creation of BCM, Biko was also critical to the formation of student movements such as the South African Students Organisation (SASO), in 1968, which had been formed as a Black alternative to the liberal National Union of South African Students (NUSAS).

3. His book of writings titled ‘I Write What I Like’, published a year after his death is still a popular reference for Black thinkers and leaders, who use Biko’s teachings to spread the message of Black Consciousness and to keep its flame alive. 

4. His quotes on conscientising the Black masses to love themselves without inhibitions were also inspirational. Amongst his famous quotes include: “The greatest weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”, which fuelled Black youths to stand up to the apartheid regime and among other things reject Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at Black schools.  

5. To keep the memory of Steve Biko alive, in 1998 the Steve Biko Foundation was formed with the aim of promoting the values that Biko lived and died for and it remains active more than 21 years later, while the Steve Biko Centre was established in 2012 in Biko’s hometown of King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape to translate global interest in Biko’s legacy into an intellectual, economic and heritage resource for the local and regional economy. 

* Sources: sahistory.org.za and the Steve Biko Foundation (sbf.org.za)

Political Bureau

* This story has been selected as study material for the National High Schools Quiz final. For more stories click here.