Bantu Steve Biko is a heroic figure in the fight against apartheid and colonial occupation, and would always be remembered for his intelligence, charisma, his philosophy, and a life cut short in the struggle against apartheid.
He was born in 1946 in the segregated South Africa, where the Dutch and later on, English racist and genocidal systems prevailed. He was raised in the Xhosa tradition and Anglican Christian values. He lost his father when he was barely four, leaving his mother with the difficult task of raising him and his brother. In accordance with their tradition, he was initiated into adulthood, following the Ulwaluko traditional initiation rite and circumcision.
Steve Biko developed passion and sympathy for the Pan African Congress after he joined his brother Khaya at Lovedale, as the organization’s value was centered around affirming the African Identity. Not long, the two brothers were suspected of belonging to the armed wing of the congress, they were arrested and banished from Lovedale.
Steve Biko later considered studying law, but his associates advised otherwise because of his growing political activism, he was advised to study medicine. In 1966, Biko at 20, he attended the Non-European section of the Segregated University of Natal, Durban, where he, as expected, joined the fight against apartheid which was at the time dominated by the progressive whites.
However, after a while, Biko refused to identify with multiracial organizations when he realized that the progressive whites were paternalistic and their vigor in the fight against apartheid and the black struggle was governed by the same ideologies as the indubitably white racists. Biko could see that they imposed themselves on the Blacks as they considered themselves superior to the blacks.
The progressive whites, on the other hand, wouldn’t back down on the fight against apartheid, and though some purely black organizations excluded them, it wasn’t in their place to treat them as racists or take up the role of leading the Blacks since the struggle was against white racism.
A quote for which Biko is best known till date says “The most potent weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”. He made this statement because he realized on the struggle that the Black man’s first problem was with his mindset about himself.
He believed Blacks had problems of inferiority complex, fear and lack of trust. This mental state gave room for exploitation and was definitely a hindrance to achieving the freedom for which they fought.
Black Consciousness Was Steve Biko’s Philosophy
The purpose of Biko’s thought which is black consciousness was to restore the Black man’s pride as Black and African so that he is it for the fight. Biko emphasized that South Africa is an African country and the natural land of the Black, and so the African identity was supposed to dominate and should be accepted by others who lived there.
According to Biko’s analysis, the elements that made inferiority complex on the part of the Blacks thrive were;
- The falsified black history that makes the Black man believe he is an incapable barbarian from the dawn of time.
- The European languages that make everything that is bad black
- The Christian religion that serves to oppress blacks, whereas African spirituality has been soiled by the dominant system and described as an illogical superstition.
- The black culture that has been crushed in favor of the norms of Western culture.
- The beauty criteria that make black people believe that they are ugly and that beauty is white.
To this end, Biko said, “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”.
Steve Biko figured that it was important to awaken and spread black history and culture, to reveal the beauty of being African to fellow blacks, to make the word “black” positive and to see that Christianity was no longer a tool of oppression against the Blacks.
Steve Biko started the Black Consciousness Movement, (BCM) and their philosophy was to rely solely on themselves. In Biko’s words “Black man, you’re on your own” This was to get the black man to wield the will as whole and responsible to solely fight against apartheid because freedom begins in the mind, to bring about a mental paradigm shift that would set the Black man free of every mental chain that restricts him from harnessing his full potential.
Freedom is also economical and the process involves black economic communitarianism. Biko maintained a cordial relationship with white progressive leaders but didn’t accept whites in BCM, only blacks and Indians were accepted.
In 1969, Biko founded SOSA, South African Student’s Organization, and in 1971, at only 25, the manifesto of Black Consciousness ideology of SOSA was adopted. SOSA became a voice in South African campuses, imposing Biko’s ideas under the pseudonym Frank Talk and standing in the forefront of the battle against apartheid.
In 1973, Steve Biko was bullied, charged with terrorism and placed under house arrest with his house shut down. These happened after BCM was declared dangerous by the colonial authorities, however, he found a way to communicate with the outside world. In spite of his ordeal, he raised funds to build health centers, nurseries, aided political prisoners as well as financed scholarships.
In 1976, the Dutch colonial government tried to impose its language (Afrikaans), as language of instruction on Black schools but on the 16th of June 1976, with the support of BCM, 20,000 black students from Soweto marched the streets in protest and the white police shot between 176 and 700 people, mostly children and adolescents to death. This resulted in great pandemonium across the country, it was the popular Soweto riots. The oppression of BCM members escalated.
On June 18, 1977, Steve Biko was arrested at Ikapa, Capetown, for breaking his house arrest. He was taken to a house in Port Elizabeth where he was chained, severely beaten and tortured. This caused him severe brain hemorrhage, disfiguration and kidney failure which led to him falling into a coma. In that state, he was driven naked at the back of a normal car and without medical attention on a 12-hour journey to Pretoria Central Prison. There he was left on the floor of his cell in excruciating pain. The next day is 12th September 1977, Steve Biko died at only 31 years of age.
His funeral attracted 20,000 mourners. This was the first mass funeral South Africa would record until the end of the apartheid.
Bantu Stephen Biko should not just be remembered for being a young charismatic African who fought and died, he should be recognized for his thought, his analysis of the African problem and the solutions he proffered should be embraced and studied all over Africa. In many ways his thought was Afrocentric, in other words, reinforcing the blacks in their identity so that they can be equipped for economic and political struggle.
Cheikh Anta Diop belongs to this school of thought and believes that Steve Biko’s philosophy should be taught and learned in African schools today.