Last Friday saw the 2016 annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture taking place at Unisa in Pretoria, in commemoration of the 39th anniversary of the murder of Bantu Stephen Biko. Biko, born in the Eastern Cape on the 18th December 1946, died on the 12th September 1977 at the age of 31, after weeks of torture at the hands of the Security Police. At the time of his death Steve Biko was the 20th person in a period of 18 months to die whilst in police custody .
The death of Steve Biko, who had gained prominence as the leader of the Black Consciousness Movement, drew international attention with many governments making statements and sending their condolences. Biko’s funeral was attended by close to 20,000 people, despite the scores of roadblocks that tried to prevent people entering the area of King William’s Town, where the funeral was being held. Diplomats from 13 Western countries – the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Holland, Canada, Australia, Brazil and the Scandinavian countries, attended the funeral that lasted for more than six hours and became something of a political rally, with funeral goers raising their fists and shouting ‘Amandla’ as Biko’s coffin was lowered into the grave.
The national headquarters of the South African Students Organisation (SASO) were located at 86 Charlotte Maxeke Street (formerly Beatrice Street) during the 1970s, now a stop on the Liberation Heritage Route. SASO, led by Steve Biko, was a radical organisation comprised of activists from the racially segregated universities, commonly referred to as ‘bush colleges’. Working from the offices at Beatrice Street, Steve Biko and other SASO leaders developed and promoted the ideology of Black Consciousness. On 19 October 1977 SASO was banned following widespread national unrest and international outcry over the torture and death of Steve Biko five weeks earlier.
Donald Woods, journalist, anti-apartheid activist, and friend of Steve Biko published the following statement after the death of Biko:
“In the three years that I grew to know him my conviction never wavered that this was the most important political leader in the entire country, and quite simply the greatest man I have ever had the privilege to know.”