Steve Biko’s Legend Endures

By Amanda Hawker

Thirty seven years ago, on 12 September 1977, South African activist, Stephen Bantu Biko, died in police custody. He was 31 years old.
As the founder and driving force behind the Black Consciousness Movement, the history of Steve Biko’s life and death is well known to most South Africans – to much of the world, in fact. With the top leaders of the ANC either in prison or in exile, Biko became a symbol of South Africa’s struggle for liberation. His death made him a martyr. Books have been written about him. The movie, Cry Freedom, was based on his life. Peter Gabriel, ex-frontman of the British pop group, Genesis, penned a haunting tribute to him.
But how does his legacy hold up 37 years after his death? How does the legend measure up?
They endure. His writings, collected and released under the title I Write What I Like, are still read and quoted to this day and are a wonderful insight into his philosophies. His teachings, over and above the concept that “black is beautiful” are also of unity, compassion and humanity (in Southern Africa we call it Ubuntu.) These are concepts that are even more important nowadays in this modern age where intolerance, oppression, racism, hatred, war and genocide are still the order of the day.
Biko believed that only black people could change their situation. It’s safe to say that it’s an idea that could relate to any oppressed part of society, in any part of our continent or the world. Only we can save ourselves.
The legacy endures because it’s still relevant. The legend endures because it’s still powerful.

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