UPDATED: 8:30 a.m. ET, Sept. 12, 2021
Originally published: Jan. 28, 2013
Legendary anti-Apartheid activist Steve Biko died on Sept. 12, 1977, as a political prisoner who was murdered by the police in South Africa because he was against the country’s government-sanctioned racial segregation.
The suspicious details surrounding Biko’s beating death after spending hundreds of days in custody took two decades to finally come to light. Although South African officials rebuffed claims by Biko supporters that the killing was essentially a political assassination, four police officers confessed to their crimes on this day in history 44 years ago.
Biko rose to infamy in the eyes of the South African government in the 1960s and 1970s alongside current human rights lawyer Barney Pityana as leaders of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), which rejected Apartheid and the ideology of white domination in South Africa. Biko and the BCM attracted the ire of the Afrikaner government, and he was banned in 1973 from participating in political matters in a most extreme fashion by making it illegal for him to talk to more than one person at a time or speaking in public. Deemed a terrorist under South African law, Biko was arrested in August of 1977 at a police roadblock and then taken into custody.
Biko was interrogated and tortured for 22 hours, suffering a head injury that resulted in a coma.
Biko’s inhumane treatment continued into the following month after they stripped him naked and thre him to the back of a jeep and drove nearly 700 miles to the city of Pretoria in order to gain access to a prison with a hospital.
Near death during the journey, Biko would succumb to his injuries on September 12 at the age of 30.
Listen to Biko discuss Black unity and the Black Consciousness Movement here:
Police initially said the activist’s death was because of a hunger strike protest, but an autopsy revealed the cause of death to be a brain hemorrhage due to blows to the head. Many of Biko’s supporters — as well as external media — suspected foul play in Biko’s untimely death.
International protests arose over Biko’s death, including a U.N.-imposed embargo on arms. A reported 10,000 people attended his funeral, which included world leaders and the like. But who truly exposed the sordid machinations of the case was white journalist and friend of Biko, Donald Woods, who took photos of the activist’s injuries in the morgue and fought to expose the case as murder. Because of his work, Woods was targeted by the government and thus fled to England. He later penned the book “Biko,” which formed the basis for the 1987 film, “Cry Freedom,” starring Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline as Biko and Woods, respectively.
As expected, the government would not prosecute the officers and later gave the Biko family $78,000 as compensation for his death. In 1995, after majority rule was passed to Black South Africans, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created to investigate Apartheid-related abuses over the duration of the racist regime. In a clever but underhanded strategy, outgoing white government members asked the Commission to grant them amnesty for those who confess their past crimes as a condition of the power transfer.
Bishop Desmond Tutu was the head of the Commission, but it was frowned upon by many for its propensity to grant pardons to pro-apartheid Whites.
Police Colonel Gideon Nieuwoudt and four other officers confessed to their crimes in front of the Commission on this day in 1997, promptly applying for amnesty. Although a New York Times piece reported that Biko’s widow, Ntsiki Mashalaba, had finally gotten some closure on the death of her husband, she was fearful that justice would not be served.
The officers were later denied amnesty in 1999.
Biko’s legacy lives on among South Africans and others across the globe who revered his call for Black solidarity and pride in the face of oppression. He has been honored in songs by the likes of Peter Gabriel, Beenie Man, and A Tribe Called Quest.
Listen to Beenie Man’s “Steve Biko” here:
Biko’s grave is housed in King William Town, a place where he was banished by the government as a means to silence him. It is fitting that his name is associated with groups and organizations that fight for the voiceless and powerless, all while being continually honored by college buildings and hospitals the world over that name their facilities after him.
While justice was stalled in the case of Steve Biko, his soul can rest easy knowing that his slogan “Black Is Beautiful” still resonates in the minds of his people and abroad.
Rest In Power: Notable Black Folks Who We've Lost In 2021
1. Carl Bean, gay preacher, 77
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🧵More sad news fam...HIV/AIDS activist Archbishop Carl Bean, the founder of Minority AIDS Project and Unity Fellowship Church--often nicknamed the Black gay church for being the country's 1st Black church affirming of the #LGBTQ community has transitioned and is now an ancestor. pic.twitter.com/r5bOBhyPtj— Jasmyne Cannick (@Jasmyne) September 7, 2021
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11. Rachael Oniga, Nollywood actress, 64
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Nigeria has lost an absolute veteran & iconic actress - RIP Rachel Oniga 💔💔🥺 pic.twitter.com/zD3VhRQpyK— ✨👑 DaddyMO👑✨ (@therealdaddymo1) July 31, 2021
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19. Consuewella Dotson Africa, MOVE leader, 67
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Heartbroken to learn that Consuewella Africa passed away today. She was arrested on Aug 8, 1978 w/ the MOVE 9 + spent 16 yrs in prison. May 13th, 1985, her daughters Netta and Tree were murdered. 2 mos ago, we learned Penn Museum held hostage Tree's remains. And now she is gone pic.twitter.com/nZSW7Yu2yE— Krystal Strong (@misskstrong) June 16, 2021
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30. Curtis Fuller, legendary jazz trombonist, 88Source:Getty 30 of 75
31. Henrietta Turnquest, pioneering Black woman politician, 73
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MARTA is saddened by the passing of Henrietta Turnquest, who was appointed to the MARTA Board in 2003, the first African American woman to be appointed and serve on the MARTA Board of Directors. https://t.co/nTGaNeRfIk pic.twitter.com/CFdMRiFT9h— MARTA (@MARTAservice) May 4, 2021
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33. Antron Pippen, 33
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45. Jo Thompson, muscian-singer, 92
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Jo Thompson broke racial barriers during the decades she played the piano and sang to audiences from Detroit’s top supper clubs to ones in Cuba, New York, London and Paris during the 1950s. https://t.co/9GGN8Njdx4— The Detroit News (@detroitnews) March 11, 2021
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Today we are mourning the passing of @NABJ Founding Executive Director Paul H. Brock. “Founder Brock played such an integral role in the success of NABJ,” said @Dorothy4NABJ. Read more about Founder Brock and his legacy by clicking here: https://t.co/NFYmKLa9nc pic.twitter.com/BxluBXKPGy— #NABJ Headquarters (@NABJ) March 14, 2021
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61. Frederick K.C. Price, evangelist, 89
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"They know if we ever let these Black people get equality that they will take over they will be on top of everything" - Frederick K. C. Price pic.twitter.com/NYI11QgTEz— The Black Detour (@theblackdetour) February 12, 2021
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73. Meredith C. Anding Jr., civil rights icon, 79
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We are saddened to hear of the passing of Meredith Anding Jr., one of the Tougaloo College students who attempted to integrate the Jackson Municipal Library in 1961. Thank you for taking a stand for Freedom! Our thoughts and prayers are with the Anding family. pic.twitter.com/HC1tURbUd2— Medgar&MyrlieEversInstitute (@MMEI63) January 12, 2021
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Never Forget: Anti-Apartheid Activist Steve Biko Was Murdered By South African Police On This Day In 1977 was originally published on newsone.com