12 September 1977 – 18 December 1946
“Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.”
– The Definition of Black Consciousness, I Write What I Like, 1978.
Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) leader, South Africa’s most influential and radical student leader in the 1970s and a law student at the time of his death. He became a martyr of the Freedom Struggle and posed one of the strongest challenges to the apartheid structure in the country. Biko was murdered on 12 September 1977, in a Pretoria detention cells.
Due to local and international outcry his death prompted an inquest which at first did not adequately reveal the circumstances surrounding his death. Police alleged that he died from a hunger strike and independent sources said he was brutally murdered by police. Although his death was attributed to “a prison accident,” evidence presented during the 15-day inquest into Biko’s death revealed otherwise. During his detention in a Port Elizabeth police cell he had been chained to a grill at night and left to lie in urine-soaked blankets. He had been stripped naked and kept in leg-irons for 48 hours in his cell. A blow in a scuffle with security police led to him suffering brain damage by the time he was driven naked and manacled in the back of a police van to Pretoria, where he died.