History Repeating: What Steve Biko’s Battle Against Apartheid
Can Teach Us About Racialized Police Violence In The US Today
On December 18, 1946, Steve Biko was born into South African apartheid. On September 12th, 1977, police killed him for trying to end it.
There wasn’t a scuffle or an undiagnosed/untreated injury or some other way to explain his death; he was murdered by his own country’s police. Nelson Mandela spent almost as much time as a prisoner on Robben Island (27 years) as Steve Biko got to live (30 years). Biko is widely credited with establishing South Africa’s Black Consciousness Movement; he helped found the South African Students’ Organization as well as the Black People’s Convention. He was a medical student.
Apartheid had no such provision as “the first amendment” — the government banned him from speaking in public, talking to the media, and talking to more than one person at a time (considering he was a husband and a father I don’t know how this last order was possible). They banned him from publishing data on political trends in South Africa. The media were equally forbidden to quote him or write about him. He was also banned from most public buildings, denied a passport, and not allowed to leave his town.
On August 18th, 1977, Steve Biko was stopped and arrested at a roadblock as authorized by the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967; it wasn’t the first time he had been arrested or detained for months, but he would have had no way of realizing that this would be his last arrest. Among other gross injustices, Act No 83 allowed police to detain anyone suspected of terrorism (which could be applied as loosely as “might endanger the maintenance of law and order”) for 60 days.
Scary? Definitely. It only gets more horrifying. The detainment could be renewed indefinitely by any senior police officer. Yes, indefinitely. As in FOREVER. The Act did not require the police or the government to make public the names of anyone they were holding captive under the Act. Apartheid made it quite easy to disappear anyone looking for even the smallest amount of justice. Until Steve Biko. Until some very brave friends refused to let him disappear without explanation …
Read more, including how one of my early MTV experiences helped radicalize my politics. Full article is posted here.