ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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His death in detention at the hands of the operatives of one the most savage and

repressive regimes ever known to humankind, less than a month after his detention,

robbed the country of one of its foremost political thinkers and analysts.


Books by and about Steve Biko

I Write What I Like: Selected Writings (2002)  /  The Testimony of Steve Biko (1984) 


 Biko (1991) / Black Consciousness in South Africa (1979) / Biko Lives!: Contesting the Legacies of Steve Biko



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Bantu Stephen Biko

(December 18, 1946 - September 12, 1977)

Compiled by Mpotseng Jairus Kgokong



A Profile  

We have set on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the distant horison we can see the glittering prize. Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common plight and brotherhood. In time we shall be in a position to bestow upon South Africa the greatest gift possible - a more human face. Steve Biko

The above quotation from Steve Biko's essay "Black Consciousness - A Quest for a True Humanity," perhaps encapsulates his mind frame and the role that he set himself towards the betterment of his people, given their experience, which he shared.

Bantu Stephen Biko was born in Kingwilliamstown on the 18th December 1946, the third son of the late Mr & Mrs Mzimgayi Biko. He did his primary schooling in Kingwilliamstown. His secondary schooling was virtually all done at the Marianhill Secondary School in Kwazulu. He entered the Medical School of the University of Natal(Black Section) in 1966. This is where he broke his political teeth.

Biko gave up what could have been a comfortable and affluent life of the stethoscope to selflessly work for the total liberation of his people. He and his colleagues founded the South African Students' Organisation(SASO) in 1968. He was elected the first President of the organisation at its inaugural congress held at Turfloop in 1969. This organisation was borne out of the frustrations Black students encountered within the multi-racial NUSAS and geared itself at addressing those frustrations and problems of black students and black people generally.

But the black students, under his leadership, went on to further argue that they were black before they were students and argued for a black political organisation in the country. Opinion was canvassed and finally the organisation, the Black People's Convention (BPC), was founded in July 1972 and inaugurated in December of the same year.

Through his inspiration, the youth of the country at high school level were mobilised and this resulted in the formation of the South African Students' Movement (SASM). This is the Movement that played a pivotal role in the 1976 Uprisings, which accelerated the course of our liberation struggle.

The other formation was the National Association of Youth Organisations (NAYO), which catered for the youth generally.

He was instrumental in the formation of one of SASO's projects, the Black Workers' Project (BWP) which was co-sponsored by the Black Community Programmes (BCP) for which Steve worked. This project addressed problems of Black workers whose unions were then not recognised in law.

After serving as President, Biko was elected Publications Director of SASO where he wrote prolifically under the pen name Frank Talk in the SASO Newsletter.

On leaving the Medical School in 1972 - from which he was expelled, Steve joined the BCP, which he co-founded, in their Durban offices.

This organisation engaged in a number of community based projects and published a yearly, Black Review, which was an analysis of political trends in the country.

In March 1973 he was banned and restricted to Kingwilliamstown. There he set up a BCP office where he worked as a Branch Executive. But soon his banning order was amended to prohibit him from working or associating with the BCP. The BCP did well however, building a clinic, the Zanempilo Clinic, and a creche, both of which were very popular.

Despite the inconvenience brought about by the restriction order, Steve was instrumental in the founding of the Zimele Trust Fund in 1975. This was set up to assist political prisoners and their families. This was another example of the man's resolve and his indestructible black pride.

In Ginsberg, he set up the Ginsberg Educational Trust to assist black students.

In January 1977, the Black People's Convention (BPC), in recognition of his momentous contribution to the liberation struggle, unanimously elected him its Honorary President.

In his short but remarkable political life, Steve was always a target of the "system". He was frequently harassed and detained under the country's notorious security legislation.

On the 18th August 1977, he was arrested in a police roadblock with his colleague and comrade, Peter Cyril Jones and detained under Section 6 of the nefarious Terrorism Act.

Steve and Peter had in fact been to Cape Town, despite Steve's banning, to lend their weight to efforts to get all political organisations of the people to agree to a broader programme of co-operation to advance our course. His quest for black unity was eventually to cost him his life.

That is the kind of man Steve was, no price was ever too high for him if what was asked of him was to advance the struggle.

Unfortunately, this detention rudely interrupted Steve's noble journey in his quest for a true humanity. His death in detention at the hands of the operatives of one the most savage and repressive regimes ever known to humankind, less than a month after his detention, robbed the country of one of its foremost political thinkers and analysts.

But, he did us proud as people, because even in the face of his death, he remained dignified. The man died on his feet and not on his knees as the enemy would have loved.

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Published by Azanian People’s Organisation: 7th Floor Balmoral House, 100 President Street, Johannesburg, 2001. PO Box 4230, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2000. Tel.: +27 11 336 1874; 

+27 11 336 3551; +27 11 333 6681

©Azanian People's Organisation 2001  /  

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The Life and Death of Steve Biko (1977) The Life and Death of Steve Biko (1977) Part 2

Why Steve Biko Wouldn't Vote

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I Write What I Like: Selected Writings

By Steve Biko

"The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." Like all of Steve Biko's writings, those words testify to the passion, courage, and keen insight that made him one of the most powerful figures in South Africa's struggle against apartheid. They also reflect his conviction that black people in South Africa could not be liberated until they united to break their chains of servitude, a key tenet of the Black Consciousness movement that he helped found.

I Write What I Like contains a selection of Biko's writings from 1969, when he became the president of the South African Students' Organization, to 1972, when he was prohibited from publishing.

The collection also includes a preface by Archbishop Desmond Tutu; an introduction by Malusi and Thoko Mpumlwana, who were both involved with Biko in the Black Consciousness movement; a memoir of Biko by Father Aelred Stubbs, his longtime pastor and friend; and a new foreword by Professor Lewis Gordon.Biko's writings will inspire and educate anyone concerned with issues of racism, postcolonialism, and black nationalism.

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Steve Biko: Black Consciousness in South Africa

Edited by Miliard Arnold

In May 1976, nine Blacks were arrested in South Africa and charged with terrorism for having 'thoughts' unacceptable to the regime. Bantu Stephen Biko, that country's most important Black leader, stepped forward to testify on their behalf and thus broke the ban on his public speaking.

In the late 1960s, Biko had founded the Black Consciousness movement, which called for the psychological and cultural liberation of the Black mind as a precondition to political freedom; the movement spread rapidly among students and the masses, and his goal of using group pride to break the strangle hold of White oppression was partly realized by the time that his colleagues were placed on trial.

Biko's courageous and delicate testimony, recorded here in the dramatic format of direct and cross examination, explores almost every issue in South Africa and..shows something of Biko's brilliance, humor, vision and quickness of mind. This was to be his last public statement. In Sept. 1977, Bantu Stephen Biko was murdered in a South African jail.Random House

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This book is an excellent source for seeing the experience of apartheid from which the theory of black consciousness emerged. Biko lucidly articulates both the people and the regime he found himself in conflict with, and parallel's between his appraisal and his idea's are made clear. A must read for anyone who wants to get a full understanding of black consciousness.—Amazon Customer

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           Lyrics by Peter Gabriel (1980)

September '77
Port Elizabeth weather fine
It was business as usual
In police room 619

Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
The man is dead, the man is dead

When I try to sleep at night
I can only dream in red
The outside world is black and white
With only one colour dead

You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher

Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
The man is dead, the man is dead

And the eyes of the world are
Watching now
Watching now

Oh oh oh
Oh oh oh
Oh oh oh, na na na na na
Oh oh oh, na na na na na
So Biko, Biko
Oh Biko, Biko

Source: Rosenberg  

Peter GabrielBiko Live 1986  / Peter Gabriel—Biko

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Freedom Now

             Lyrics By Tracy Chapman (1989)

They throwed him in jail
And they kept him there
Hoping soon he’d die
That his body and spirit would waste away
And soon after that his mind
But every day is born a fool
One who thinks he can rule
One who says tomorrow’s mine
One who wakes one day to find
The prison doors open the shackles broken
And chaos in the street
Everybody sing we’re free free free free free (3 times)
They throwed him in jail
And they kept him there
Hoping his memory’d die
That the people forget how he once led and fought for justice in their lives
But every day is born a man
Who hates what he can’t understand
Who thinks the answer is to kill
Who thinks his actions are god’s will
And he thinks he’s free free free free
Yes he thinks he’s free free free free
He thinks he’s free free free free
Soon must come the day
When the righteous have their way
Unjustly tried are free
And people live in peace I say
Give the man release
Go on and set your conscience free
Right the wrongs you made
Even a fool can have his day
Let us all be free free free free (3 times)
Free our bodies free our minds
Free our hearts
Freedom for everyone
And freedom now
Freedom now
Freedom now
Freedom now

Source: Rosenberg

Tracy Chapman—Freedom Now Live SNL / Tracy Chapman—Freedom Now Live

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Pilgrimage  to an  Ancestral Land: Ghana  / Miriam in Ghana  / AmandlaPublishers

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Will the World Cup benefit South Africa?

When FIFA awarded South Africa hosting honors for the 2010 World Cup, many skeptics believed the nation could not pull it off. Others maintained that the event would negatively impact a country in which abject poverty is still widespread. But the event has kicked off with everything from stadiums to transport infrastructure ready. Inside Story asks what the costs of hosting the World Cup have been to South Africa and what South Africans stand to gain from the event.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 19 June 2010




Home The African World

Related files:  Biko Biosketch   Biko Speaks on Africans  Introduction I Write What I Like  Why Steve Biko Wouldn't Vote   Biko and the Problematic of Presence

Hunger for a Black President  Black Education and Afro-Pessimism