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  • Steve Biko died on Sept. 12, 1977 after brutal treatment in custody.

    Steve Biko died on Sept. 12, 1977 after brutal treatment in custody. | Photo: Daily Dispatch

Published 12 September 2018

On the death anniversary of Steve Biko, anti-apartheid activists, EFF, and AZAPO remember his teachings about Black consciousness.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a South African leftist political party, while remembering the leader of Black Consciousness Movement, Steve Biko, said Wednesday that expropriation of land without compensation is the right way to commemorate the leader on his 41st death anniversary.

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They have supported a constitutional amendment giving Black citizens land, a call which according to EFF is inspired by the Black Consciousness teachings of Biko. The EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi made the remarks as the nation and the supporters of Black Consciousness Movement marked his death anniversary.

The Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO) has also taken to the streets to honor Biko. Scores of people from AZAPO gathered at the Kgosi Mampuru Correctional facility, where Biko died on Sept. 12, 1977, to mark the 41st year of his death.

Bantu Stephen Biko, widely known as Steve Biko was born on Dec. 18, 1946, in King William’s Town, South Africa. The anti-apartheid activist is popularly known as the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement.

After being expelled from high school for political activism, Biko enrolled in and graduated from St. Francis College in 1966. He then entered the University of Natal Medical School where he got involved with the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). However, he soon got disillusioned with the moderate NUSAS and called for the reorientation of society around the culture of the Black majority instead of just allowing Blacks to participate in a white South African Society.

In 1968, Biko co-founded the all-black South African Students’ Organization (SASO) and became its first president. SASO, which was based on the philosophy of Black consciousness, encouraged people to recognize their self worth and dignity. The movement spread quickly from university campuses to urban communities in South Africa. Biko also founded the Black People’s Convention, an umbrella organization of black consciousness groups.

In 1973, when SASO was banned, Biko started operating covertly. He established the Zimele Trust Fund in 1975 to help political prisoners and their families. Over the next two years, he was arrested four times and detained without trial for months.

On Aug. 18, 1977, Biko and a fellow activist were picked up by police at a roadblock and jailed in Port Elizabeth. He was found naked and shackled outside a hospital in Pretoria on Sept. 11 and died the next day of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 30.

Though initially the apartheid police denied their hand in Biko’s death, in 1997 five former police officers confessed to killing the leader and applied for amnesty at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a body convened to review atrocities during apartheid years. They were denied amnesty in 1999.  

A collection of his writings, “I Write What I Like” was published a year after his death.  

 

Remembering Biko, people from AZAPO gathered in front of the cell where he died. According to them, “He championed mental freedom, but more importantly dealt with fear, which enabled hundreds of thousands of young people to confront the brutal apartheid system with nothing but sheer courage.”

The EFF spokesperson said that his teachings about dignity and self-love are still relevant. "Biko thus teaches us that to be Black, conscious, is to refuse the usage of our skin color as a means of our exclusion, discrimination, and marginalization. It is therefore in memory of Biko that we must never retreat as a generation of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to demand the return of the land for all Black people, in particular for native African populations,” he said.

Stressing the legacy of the anti-apartheid leader, Biko’s former comrade, Pandelani Nefolovhodwe said, "You can see it all over. Fees Must Fall, the land question, decolonizing education... that's the legacy of Steve Biko."

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa who was also a member of SASO, will deliver a keynote address on Sept. 14 at the 19th Annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture in his memory.

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