Today marks the 40-year anniversary of the death of black consciousness leader Steve Biko, who died in police custody after being held at the Pretoria Central Prison in 1977. He was just 30 years old.
Biko’s legacy lives on today, with several events taking place across the country in honour of the memory of the late activist and freedom fighter. At just 22, Biko formed the South Africa Student’s Organisation and was elected as its first president.
The funeral of Steve Biko. Picture: Daily Dispatch
President Jacob Zuma attended a wreath laying ceremony at the Kgosi Mampuru Correctional Centre in honour of Biko today.
“Steve Biko suffered great abuse, harassment and torture over a period of time and paid the supreme price for the liberation of black people from oppression and bondage. We shall always remember his sacrifice and contribution. We also thank the international community for honouring this great man and patriot in various ways,” President Jacob Zuma said.
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So profound is the legacy of Biko that Human Right’s Day this year (March 21) was dedicated to him.
President Jacob Zuma lays a wreath at Steve Biko’s grave in Ginsburg, King Williams Town.Picture: Patrick Kukard
Biko was born in the Eastern Cape, and the Steve Biko Centre was built in King Williams Town, as part of the Steve Biko Foundation to honour his memory.
Son of Biko, Nkosinathi Biko, said in a recent piece on the Steve Biko Foundation website that the death of his father put things into perspective.
“Recently, I walked past the graves that have since filled the cemetery, on the way to his. I noticed for the first time something that is otherwise glaringly obvious, that most of the tombstone messages were of a personal nature such as, rest in peace, missed by, survived by. On his tombstone the message is simply: ‘Bantu Stephen Biko Honorary President Black People’s Convention. Born 18-12-1946. Died 12-9-1977. One Azania One Nation.’
“It is so because his death was a loss to the nation and thousands came to join his family to share in its pain, thus the message of unity, which had been the rallying cry of the Black Consciousness Movement. Biko himself had argued that “death can itself be a politicising thing”, Nkosinathi said.
Read: Biko is beautiful and the legend in quotes
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane said that the freedom to promote and defend ideas “has the power to shape the future and create a just and fair society for all”.
“40 years on, and our challenge is to build a post nationalist society, where it is not a competition of races, but where the rights of all individuals – whether black or white – can be protected and advanced. Moreover, today marks a moment to reflect on how we advance the dignity of those who are still left behind. We can and we must build an inclusive and prosperous society for all,” Maimane said.Biko’s death echoed that of slain apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, who like Biko, was tortured and eventually died in police custody. Timol was held at the infamous John Vorster Square and fell from the tenth floor of the building.
The reopened Timol Inquest into his death took place over the last few months, and presiding Judge Billy Mothle is expected to make his ruling on the case in the upcoming weeks.
Meanwhile prominent figures took to Twitter to express their respect for Biko.