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Life and times of Biko

By unknown | Feb 06, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

The spotlight this week falls on Steven Bantu Biko, one of our three lifetime-achievement award recipients.

The spotlight this week falls on Steven Bantu Biko, one of our three lifetime-achievement award recipients.

Biko was a prominent black consciousness movement leader and one of South Africa's most influential student leaders in the 1970s.

He was born in King William's Town in Eastern Cape on December 18 1946, the third child of a clerk and a domestic worker mother.

Biko started his education around 1952. In 1953, the Bantu Education Act was passed by the Nationalist Party government.

The law was one of many introduced by the apartheid government to stifle the development of black people.

Biko, a very bright pupil, attended Brownlee Primary School, Charles Morgan Higher Primary, St Francis Catholic boarding school outside Durban and Lovedale Institute. He also studied at the University of South Africa.

While Biko was a student at Lovedale, his brother was arrested and jailed for nine months for being a suspected member of the Pan Africanist Congress's military wing, Poqo.

Biko was initially involved with the multiracial National Union of South African Students (Nusas), but later became convinced that African, Indian and coloured students needed an organisation of their own. He helped found the South African Students Organisation (Saso) in 1968 and was elected its first president.

Saso was an integral part of the influential black consciousness movement (BCM). His writing and activism were aimed at empowering black people from servitude.

Biko was seen as a threat to white supremacy and was detained and interrogated by the security police.

After matriculating at St Francis, Biko enrolled at the University of Natal. It was here that his political activism began to blossom and grow. He devoted much of his time to the cause of black emancipation.

His desire to study medicine was hampered by his constant involvement in political activities.

In 1972, Biko became the honorary president of the Black People's Convention. He was banned in March 1973. This meant that he was not allowed to be in the company of, or to speak to more than one person at a time. He was confined to the magisterial district of King William's Town.

Publications were banned from quoting Biko.

With the help of his comrades, Biko set up a health clinic outside King William's Town for poor rural people who battled to access city hospitals.

In the wake of the student revolt which started in Soweto in June 1976, security police hounded Biko. At this time Biko had begun studying law through the University of South Africa.

On August 18 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act.

During his detention in a Port Elizabeth police cell, Biko was chained to a grill at night and left to lie in urine-soaked blankets. He had been stripped naked and kept in leg-irons for 48 hours in his cell. He also suffered a major head injury.

On September 11 1977 police put Biko in the back of a Land Rover, naked, and began the 1200km journey to Pretoria. He died on September 12 shortly after his arrival at Pretoria Prison.

Police said he had died as the result of a hunger strike.


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