Our Proud Philosophical Heritage: Steve Biko
“You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can’t care anyway”
These are the words of Steve Biko as quoted in the Boston Globe, 25 October 1977. In the world we live in today, what can one say about being alive, proud and caring? Steve was one of the prominent figures who fought for the freedom we enjoy today. Out of concerns and opposition to the apartheid regime, Steve became a political activist. This began when he was at the University of Natal Medical School, where he was voted onto the Students Representative Council and became involved with the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS).
NUSAS was known for its ideals against apartheid, but was dominated by white students. Many black students felt NUSAS did not understand or appreciate the hardships faced by black people. Furthermore, NUSAS focused its attention on issues impacting white students only. This led to the formation of the South African Students Organisation (SASO), led by Steve. SASO was formed to address the needs of black students. Steve’s membership in SASO and his prolific political writing were very impactful in persuading black people. They should be proud of their humanity and be confident in making their demands known and rights respected.
As a leader in the Black Consciousness Movement, Steve devoted his life to working against injustice. The purpose of the movement was to assist black people and enable them to overcome their inferiority complex. The Black Consciousness Movement identified all oppressed people in South Africa – Coloured, Indian and African – as black, an identity opposed to the colonial concepts created by European supremacy. The sense of pride encouraged by the movement was to assist people to live meaningful lives that were not reliant on the government for advancement and well-being. One of their famous slogans were ‘Black is Beautiful’. However, Steve emphasised that all races should actively work together towards a future South Africa, free from racial hatred.
Steve worked in Black Community Programmes that helped counter the impact of apartheid laws and Bantu Education. The fight against Bantu Education influenced the student Soweto uprising in 1976; an event recognised as an impactful contribution by youth in the fight against apartheid laws.
In all his endeavours to assist the nation fight against injustices, Steve faced a number of challenges. He was expelled from university for his political activities, he was under constant surveillance from Security Police, he was banned from organisations and his movements were restricted. The ban prohibited him from holding discussions with more than one person at a time and writing for any publications. He was arrested several times in an effort to curb his influence. Despite all these challenges his determination to empower people never stopped. As a brave and influential leader who cared deeply for his people and the nation, Steve Biko’s impact in the transformation of South Africa may never be forgotten.
By Bonga Mchunu
They Fought For Freedom: Steve Biko
South African History Online: The life of Steve Biko, at https://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/ii-life-steve-biko