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Wed, 12.18.1946

A disciple of Freedom, Stephen Biko

Stephen Biko

Stephen Biko was born on this date in 1946. He was a nonviolent anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1960s.

Stephen Bantu Biko was a student at the University of Natal Medical School. At the time he was involved with the multiracial National Union of South African Students. He realized that Black, Indian, and Colored students in South Africa needed an organization of their own. Biko helped found the South African Students' Organization (SASO) in 1968 and was elected its first president. The SASO evolved into the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). In 1972, Biko became honorary president of the Black People's Convention.

The government banned him for his activities. He was not allowed to speak to more than one person at a time, was restricted to certain areas, and could not make speeches in public during the height of apartheid in March 1973. All organizations were also forbidden to quote anything he said, including speeches or simple conversations, or to otherwise mention him. In spite of the repression of the apartheid government, Biko and the BCM played a large role in organizing the protests which led to the Soweto riots on June 16, 1976.

In the aftermath of the Soweto riots, police began to target Biko further. On August 18, 1977, he was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody and was chained to a window grille. A month later, police loaded him into the back of a car and began the 740-mile drive to Pretoria. He died shortly after his arrival in the Pretoria prison on September 12, 1977. Police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike, despite the fact that he was found to have massive injuries to his head. Because of his fame, news of his death quickly spread globally, and it provided a wake-up call internationally to the extent of the brutality of the South African apartheid regime.

On October 7, 2003, South African Justice Ministry officials announced that the five policemen who were accused of killing Biko would not be prosecuted because of insufficient evidence. They said a murder charge could not be supported partly because there were no witnesses to the killing. Charges of culpable homicide and assault were also considered, but because the killing occurred in 1977, the time frame for prosecution had expired. In 2004, he was voted 13th in the top 100 great South Africans list.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa report,
Copyright McMillan,
March 1999.

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