Born in 1946, Steve Biko was a black anti-apartheid campaigner who died in police custody in 1977. Biko established himself as a student leader in the 1960’s. His belief in the need for black South Africans to organise and liberate themselves free from liberal white influence led him to establish the Black Consciousness Movement in 1969. The BCM aimed to promote black culture and challenge the monopoly on truth and power held by the Afrikaan minority.
The Black Consciousness Movement supported the Soweto uprising of 1976. The uprising was caused by the passing of new legislation which forced all black schools to use Afrikaans and English as languages of instruction. An estimated 200 protesters, mainly school children, were killed by South African security forces as they crushed the uprising.
Police brutality and intimidation was a constant threat to Steve Biko and his supporters. He was expelled from the University of Natal in 1972, banned from speaking in public, banned from writing and his movement was restricted to his hometown. Despite the threats he faced Biko continued to challenge Afrikaan rule, he said “It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die.”
On the 18th August 1977 Biko was arrested under anti-terrorism legislation. Taken into police custody he was interrogated, tortured and beaten until he fell into a coma. Biko died of his injuries in a prison hospital on the 11th of September that year, the outcry at his death led to an inquest which was nothing more than a cover up by the state. However, anti-apartheid journalists were able to reveal the real cause of his death to the world. Over 10,000 people attended Biko’s funeral and he is regarded as a national hero for black South Africans. The University of Manchester’s Steve Biko Building, known to most as the Students’ Union, was named in his honour.