Political and Social Movements


Who was Biko?

Stephen Biko (1946–1977) was a black leader in the fight against South African apartheid and white minority rule. In 1969 Biko, who was then a medical student, founded the South African Student’s Organization, which took an active role in the black consciousness movement, a powerful force in the fight against apartheid. Preaching a doctrine of black self-reliance and self-respect, Biko organized protests, including antigovernment strikes and marches. Viewing such activities as a challenge to its authority and fearing an escalation of unrest, in August 1977, the white government had Biko arrested. Within one month, he died in prison. Evidence indicated he had died at the hands of his jailers, a revelation that only cemented antigovernment sentiment. Along with Nelson Mandela (1918-), who was imprisoned in South Africa from 1962 to 1990 for his political activities, Biko became a symbol of the antiapartheid movement, galvanizing support for racial justice at home and abroad.


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