BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL – a 3-word slogan that led to a radical shift in the mentality of the oppressed masses in South Africa during the final decades of the apartheid era. I am honoured to be writing a blogpost about a man – the man – that came up with this powerful motto for Black South Africans. I am, of course, talking about Stephen (Steve) Bantu Biko, and how you can learn from him if you believe in more for yourself.
Early Years, SASO, and the BCM
Born in 1946 in King William’s Town, Steve Biko was the third child of Mzingaye Biko and Nokuzola Macethe Duna.
His father worked as a policeman and then as a town clerk; he was a bright man, but he sadly died before he could complete his law degree. At 4-years-old, Steve was left without a father, with just his mother to support him and his three siblings on her meagre wages as a domestic worker and then as a hospital cook.
Initially reluctant to delve into politics, Steve’s older brother, Khaya Biko, succeeded in politicising Steve in his early teens, and from there Stephen became an unstoppable force.
As early as grade 9, his political activities had him in the hot seat, and he was thusly expelled from high school. This expulsion would build within Steve a strong sense of resentment toward white authority and propel him forward into the great South African leader he was destined to become.
Even in Grade Five, Steve was known for being a radical thinker, a teacher, as well as a supporter and helper to the underdog. After his expulsion, subsequent continuation of his education at St. Francis College, and starting his medical degree at Durban Medical School, Steve never forgot where he came from and what was most important to his heart.
It was precisely his experience of inequality and segregation at these various institutions of education that spurred him on to do more for people of colour who were suffering countrywide. Steve was elected as the president of SASO (South African Students’ Organisation) in 1968 – this gave him the momentum he needed to create the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM).
In 1972, Biko was one of the founders of the Black Peoples Convention (BPC) and was then expelled from university for his involvement therein. The BPC brought approximately 70 different Black-conscious groups together, allowing Stephen to unify the BCM under one organisation.
An Untimely Death and an Infinite Legacy
Although BCM ideas precede the life of Steve Biko, his ingenuity lay in his ability to take deeply philosophical thoughts and present them to the people as action plans. Using words and patient teachings, Biko made an entire generation perceive themselves and their skin colour in a completely different light.
This South African hero died before he reached the age of 31-years-old – there was a global outcry at his death and to this day he is seen as one of our country’s greatest martyrs who sacrificed his life for the rights of people of colour.
Stephen Bantu Biko was a man of grace, humility, intelligence, and compassion. What made him great was that wherever he went he enlightened those around him, altering the way in which people viewed the world. Like all truly great teachers, what really made Steve Biko so special as a person and leader is that he never stopped learning.
“In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift – a more human face.”
– Stephen Bantu Biko
This Africa Day, we at Oxbridge Academy are proud to be honouring the legacy of our country’s finest leaders and thinkers by offering anyone and everyone with a human face the opportunity to study with us.