stephen bantu biko

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September 12th 1977: Steve Biko dies

On this day in 1977, South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Bantu Biko died aged 30 while in police custody in Pretoria. Biko founded the Black Consciousness Movement and coined the famous phrase “black is beautiful”. He had been a target long before his arrest on August 18th 1977, having been censored and ‘banned’ by the apartheid government in 1973 and had his movement in his country restricted. Upon his arrest, Biko was brutally tortured and beaten during police interrogations which lasted almost 24 hours, eventually dying from head injuries on September 12th. The police claimed he died due to a hunger strike, but it was clear his death was caused by police violence after his arrest. The authorities’ flimsy protestations of innocence fooled very few, and the truth about Biko’s death caused widespread outrage. His killers were never bought to justice, but due to his high-profile Biko’s family were able to secure financial compensation from the South African government. He was a hero of black South Africans for his activism, but since his tragic death Steve Biko has also become a martyr for his cause and a symbol of the anti-apartheid movement.

“They had to kill him to prolong the life of apartheid”
- Nelson Mandela on Steve Biko