On this day in December 1946, Stephen Bantu Biko was born.
When South Africa and the Apartheid system are mentioned, who comes to mind is the great Mandela. When a great cause or war is won, there are the forefront warriors, the boardroom warriors, and those who oil the lamp of such success. Stephen Bantu Biko is the latter.
Born on December 18, 1946, in Tarkastad, Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape), Biko was the third child of Mzingaye Biko and Nokuzola Macethe Duna. His life was shaped by the circumstances of his upbringing, his environment, and the people that featured in his growth. Biko’s activism was passed on from his elder brother Khaya, whom he shared in the consequences of his fight against white supremacy. Among the black South African students, he was a catalyst for revolt and change. In the larger scheme of the black African community, he was a nationalist and admirable pan-Africanist. Generally, he was a great force against Apartheid in South Africa and a staunch advocate of black consciousness. He believed that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressed is the mind of the oppressed. Biko’s greatest contributions to Black history are his ability to elevate Black voices, instill a Black feeling of pride akin to Césaire and Senghor’s “Negritude,” advance the liberation cause, and inspire the youth movement.
Solitary confinement is very common among people who pursue nationalism or self-determination, and Biko was not an exception. During the peak of the Soweto Uprising, Steve was arrested and held in solitary confinement for 101 days. Before being moved to the Sanlam Building in Port Elizabeth, where the Security Police were stationed, Steve was undressed and placed in manacles for a period of twenty days. Even though his captors ordered him to stay upright, he disobeyed them and took a seat. Captain Siebert, enraged, abused him, but Steve retaliated. After suffering severe injuries, Steve experienced a brain bleed on September 6th and 7th. The police left him naked and tied to a grille in spite of his wounds. On the 12th day of September, he bowed to death. A young man in the very early phase of his thirties was uprooted and had speculations surrounding his death. Upon his death, the police never put a temporary restraint on their brutality. It stretched to his burial and beyond.
Steve Biko, in one of his quotes, said that he has devoted his life to seeing equality for blacks, and at the same time, he was denied the needs of his family. He begged to understand that he took these actions not out of selfishness or arrogance but to preserve a South Africa worth living in for blacks and whites. There are early birds, and there are late bloomers. The early birds, most of the time, seem to be in a rush. At 31, Steve Biko attained a political and revolutionary feat that most of his contemporaries never scratched. People like this come and go in a flash. In writing, he left his imprints in ‘I Write What I Like’, ‘No Fears Expressed’, ‘Black Consciousness in South Africa’, ‘Voices of Liberation’, where all have a similar common theme of fighting for one course. “You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can’t care anyway.” However, this course he fought and died for is still cared about by this generation especially when Nasty C, one of the biggest contemporary rap/hip hop artists in South Africa, dedicated a song from his album, Zulu Man With Some Power; and sang that he feels like the new Steve Biko.
By Chidimma NWAFOR