Steve Biko's philosophy was that political
freedom would only be achieved if blacks stopped
feeling inferior to whites. This formed the heart of
the Black Consciousness Movement. He believed that
black people should lead the fight against
Biko, who became more and more outspoken, gave
up medical school to devote himself to the struggle.
Frustrated by the multiracial Nusas, he and his
colleagues founded the South African Student's
Organisation (SASO) in 1969. SASO was involved in
providing legal aid and medical clinics, as well as
social upliftment programmes in black communities.
the black students, under his leadership, argued
that they were black before they were students and
that a black political movement should be formed.
Finally, in July 1972, the Black People's Convention
(BPC) was founded. The BPC effectively brought
together about 70 different black consciousness
groups and associations.
His movement came into its own in the mid-1970s
when the liberation movement appeared to be
faltering, with many ANC leaders in jail or exile.
Visit Biko's grave
Steve Biko was buried in Ginsberg
cemetery. To reach the grave, follow
Cathcart St south of
King William's Town and
turn left down a dirt track that is
signposted to the Steve Biko Garden of
In 1973, he was banned by the apartheid
government. Under the ban, Biko was restricted to
his hometown of
King Williamstown and he was
prevented from writing or saying anything about
On 18 August 1977, Biko was arrested while
travelling home from a political meeting with his
friend Peter Jones. He was detained in
Elizabeth for 26 days under the Terrorism Act.
According to testimony given at the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997,
"Biko sustained a head injury during
interrogation on 7 September 1977, after
which he acted strangely and was uncooperative.
The doctors who examined him (naked, lying
on a mat and manacled to a metal grille)
initially disregarded overt signs of
Film: Cry Freedom
Richard Attenborough's ambitious
1987 epic, Cry Freedom, is seen as
an overview of conditions in South
Africa at the height of apartheid.
Denzel Washington memorably plays
Biko, a former student leader who
founded the Black Consciousness
Movement in 1969 and gave up medical
training to devote himself to the
Biko's message inspired a
generation. He is portrayed in the
film is as a charismatic leader in
the model of Martin Luther King.
But though the film does tell
Biko's story, it is essentially
aimed at white audiences and as such
concerns itself more with the story
of Donald Woods.
Woods, played by Kevin Kline,
was part of a group of progressive
South African journalists which
helped establish truthful and
objective press, exposing the crimes
Cry Freedom tells the story of
how Woods' friendship with Biko
roused his political consciousness.
Woods eventually had to flee to
Lesotho on New Year's Eve 1977,
dressed as a priest, after Biko's
By 11 September 1977, Biko had slipped
into a semi-conscious state. The police
doctor recommended that he be transferred to
hospital. Biko was, however, transported
1,200km to Pretoria in the back of a Land
A few hours after arriving at Pretoria
Central Prison on 12th September 1997, Biko
died from brain damage, alone and naked in
his cell. He was 30 years old.
police first claimed he had starved himself
to death while on a hunger strike. They
later changed their story to say Biko had
hit his head against a wall in a scuffle.
Finally, 20 years later, the police admitted
before the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission that they had killed Biko.
Biko was buried in the Ginsberg cemetery
King William's Town on 25