(1946-1977) South African activist whose death while in police custody made him a symbol of the struggle for civil rights in that country.

Biko's activism went back to his high school days, when he was expelled for his political activities. While in college he co-founded the all-black South African Students' Organization, a group dedicated to raising black consciousness and throwing off the psychological oppression of blacks by whites. The movement quickly spread from the campus to the streets.

The government responded by issuing orders that strictly limited their activities and movements, so they carried out much of their work in secret from then on. The Zimele Trust Fund, which Biko established in 1975, aided political prisoners and their families.

During this period Biko was arrested and jailed without trial several times. His arrest in 1977 would be the last. He was held, naked and in chains, for 24 days before he was discovered unconscious from brain lesions caused by blows to his head.

A report declared the police innocent of any wrongdoing.

Died: September 12, 1977


  • Whites must be made to realize that they are only human, not superior. Same with blacks. They must be made to realize that they are also human, not inferior.
  • 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. (testimony in court, Pretoria, May 3, 1976)
  • We are looking forward to a non-racial, just and egalitarian society in which color, creed and race shall form no point of reference.
  • For goodness sake, will they hear, will white people hear what we are trying to say? Please, all we are asking you to do is to recognize that we are humans, too. (Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in the New York Times, Jan. 3, 1985)
  • The Eastern Cape Security Police were notoriously brutal, and the South African government took a chance in letting them question Biko because there was a real risk of harm to him, and the Vorster government knew this would be a disaster for them. Unfortunately, Police Minister Jimmy Kruger was a weak man who liked to court popularity with his security police by giving them a free hand with political prisoners. When they found they had gone too far in beating Biko, Kruger tried to take the heat off by claiming Biko had died after a hunger strike. At a provincial congress of the National Party, Kruger jokingly agreed with one delegate that it was "democratic to give prisoners the democratic right to starve themselves''. Within days, though, the starvation story was abandoned, because I had gone with Biko's widow to view his body at a small rural mortuary and it was obvious he had lost no weight from his normally bulky body. It was equally obvious that he had been badly beaten up, with marks of blows to the head, which explained why we had been given the runaround by police. (Donald Woods, _Mail & Guardian_ (South Africa), February 4, 1997 http://www.mg.co.za/mg/news/97jan2/3feb-woods.html Also: http://people.qualcomm.com/sck/biko.html)
  • We are gathered here to pay homage to one of the greatest sons of our nation, Stephen Bantu Biko. His hope in life, and his life of hope, are captured by his resounding words: "In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift - a more human face."... History called upon Steve Biko at a time when the political pulse of our people had been rendered faint by banning, imprisonment, exile, murder and banishment. Repression had swept the country clear of all visible organisation of the people...It is the dictate of history to bring to the fore the kind of leaders who seize the moment, who cohere the wishes and aspirations of the oppressed. Such was Steve Biko, a fitting product of his time; a proud representative of the re-awakening of a people. (South African President Nelson Mandela, address in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of Steve Biko's death, London, September 12, 1997)
alt.quotations was the source of these quotes.

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