Stephen Biko

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Anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko died on September 12 1977, after 22 hours of interrogation and torture, following his arrest at a police roadblock in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Since his death, he is viewed as a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement.

Biko’s activism dated back to the mid-sixties, when he joined the National Union of South African Students, a multiracial organization advocating for the improvement of black citizens’ rights.

In 1968, he helped form the South African Students’ Organization, an all-black student organization focused on the resistance of apartheid. He became the organization’s president the following year.

In 1972, his political activism caused him to be expelled from the University of Natal. He then co-founded another black activist group, the Black People’s Convention, and became the group’s leader. The group became the central organization for the Black Consciousness Movement, which made a significant impact throughout the seventies.

His strident activism continued to cause conflict with authorities and prior to his death Biko was arrested four times and held for several months at a time.

His death was famously memorialised in song by Peter Gabriel (lyrics below).

September ’77
Port Elizabeth weather fine
It was business as usual
In police room 619
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
-The man is dead

When I try to sleep at night
I can only dream in red
The outside world is black and white
With only one colour dead
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
-The man is dead

You can blow out a candle
But you can’t blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher
Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
-The man is dead

And the eyes of the world are
watching now
watching now

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