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Images of Southern Africa - Bantu Stephen Biko's grave

Bantu Stephen Biko’s grave

Bantu Stephen Biko was born in King William’s Town, in the former Homeland of the Ciskei (now part of the Eastern Cape), on 18 December 1946. He studied medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Wentworth Section) from 1966. Biko founded the South African Students’ Organisation in 1968 and was elected its first President. He also organised the high school students who formed the South African Students’ Movement. In 1972 he was expelled from medical school and in 1973 restricted to the area of King William’s Town. Biko was frequently arrested and detained because of his political activism – he became leader of the Black Consciousness Movement.

On the 18 August 1977, Stephen Biko was arrested at a police roadblock and detained in Port Elizabeth under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act. Three weeks later he was transferred to a prison in Pretoria over 1100km away. One day later, on 12 September 1977, while in police custody, the 30 year old was found naked, bruised and dead from a brain haemorrhage.

Cry Freedom is one of the most moving files of Biko’s life. Made by Richard Attenborough in 1987, the film tells the story of the friendship between Stephen Biko and a newspaper editor Donald Woods.

In his essay ‘Black Consciousness - A quest for a true humanity’ Stephen Biko wrote the now famous words: ‘In time we shall be in a position to bestow upon South Africa the greatest gift possible - a more human face’. He also said ‘We are looking forward to a non-racial, just and egalitarian society in which colour, creed and race shall form no point of reference.’ Unfortunately, Biko did not live to see either of these dreams become reality.

Bantu Stephen Biko’s body lies in a modest cemetery on the edge of King William’s Town. It has not yet been developed as a major site in the commemoration of the apartheid era.

The continued importance of Stephen Biko to post-apartheid South Africa, was apparent in the decision by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made 25 years after his death - that the five individuals responsible for his death should not be granted an amnesty.

Ideas for further exploration:

  • On Stephen Biko’s grave are inscribed the words ‘One Azania. One Nation’. Can you find out what or where Azania is?
  • What elements of Stephen Biko’s short life reflect the story of apartheid South Africa?

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