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South Africa as it stands today has been defined by its strength to overcome the apartheid era. On Freedom Day, every year on April 27, the country not only celebrates this, but reflects on the persistent battle it had to face to get to a point where every voice was heard. 

We cannot speak about Freedom Day or South Africa’s democracy without the image of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically-elected president, coming into view.

While his life is one that the country, and the whole world, will always honour, there are so many resilient freedom advocates who also dreamed of a united South Africa that deserve their props for helping the country achieve its democracy. 

These were the people on the ground, dedicating their lives to achieving a future that, at the time, seemed far out of reach. They gave South Africans hope and purpose in their plans to create a better future for the country. They consistently displayed their bravery by confronting the apartheid government head-on and speaking up for what they believed in. 

South Africa’s democracy was not built in a day. It took several movements, cost numerous lives, and tore the country apart time and time again before it was able to be put back together. Without strong citizens on the ground who took it upon themselves to lead the country towards a united future, South Africa would not be celebrating Freedom Day. 

While we celebrate these freedom fighters on April 27, it’s worth noting that there are so many more incredible leaders who couldn’t fit on this list, and they too must be honoured. 

1. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela 

biography of a person who helped build democracy

To the majority of people around the world Madikizela-Mandela is known as Nelson Mandela’s former wife. However, in South Africa she is the “ mother of the nation ,” and an anti-apartheid heroine in her own right. Madikizela-Mandela kept the fire burning and the fight against apartheid going while many leaders were imprisoned or forced to flee the country.

Her struggle against the apartheid government cost her own freedom. In 1969, Madikizela-Mandela was locked in solitary confinement for 491 days at the Pretoria Central Prison where she was beaten and tortured.

In 1977, she was banished to a small town in the Free State province, formerly Brandfort, and still she did not accept defeat — Madikizela-Mandela inspired the youth and women in the area to become politically active. Her stay was not a peaceful one — she was harassed by the police on numerous occasions and they hassled anyone who tried to help her. She left Brandfort in 1985 to return to her home in Soweto to continue the fight. 

For her contribution to South Africa’s democracy during apartheid, she was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award , among other accolades. 

Madikizela-Mandela not only stood for Black women’s rights as the leader of the African National Congress’ Women’s League in 1993, she also occupied a seat in the National Assembly and continued advocating for the rights of Black people and women and girls as a member of parliament from 1994 to 2004. 

2. David Webster

Academic and anthropologist David Webster spent his life connecting with people in hardship and finding creative ways to amplify their stories. 

His very first protest against apartheid regulations was in 1965 at Rhodes University, when the then 22-year-old Webster organised a sit-in on the library steps against the city council’s decision to ban Black people from watching rugby games. 

He took this activism with him into the working world as a lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand. There he founded the Conference of Academics for a Democratic Society (CADS), which hosted a group of academics who believed in democracy, and was designed to pressure the university into getting involved with the community around them. He was also known for hosting social gatherings known as the “David Webster tea parties", which were for discussing creative ways to assist the liberation struggle.

Webster was assassinated in May 1989 in a hit ordered by the apartheid defence force’s security branch, the Civil Co-operation Bureau, who said he was involved in “terrorist activtities” . He died just nine months before Nelson Mandela was released from prison. 

3. Helen Suzman

biography of a person who helped build democracy

Helen Suzman’s work of over 36 years, as a parliamentarian who stood for equality and human rights, came full circle when she served on the Independent Electoral Commission that oversaw the first democratic elections in 1994. 

Before this historic moment, Suzman used her voice as a Member of Parliament to speak up in the name of justice . She represented the Progressive Party in parliament, which was in opposition to the governing party during the apartheid era. For 13 years she stood as the sole representative voice for marginalized people in an all-white parliament, and was ridiculed for her stance. 

She criticised the governing party’s enforcement of apartheid regulations at the time, spoke for those who were wrongly imprisoned, and strongly opposed discrimination against Black women, among other things. In 1978 she was  awarded the United Nations Award for International League of Human Rights for her persistence in standing for social and political justice. 

After 1994 she sat as a member of the statutory Human Rights commission and stood alongside Nelson Mandela as he signed in the country’s new constitution in 1996.

4. Solomon Mahlangu

Solomon Mahlangu was a military operative and freedom fighter who fought against apartheid regulations during his short life.

At the young age of 20, Solomon Mahlangu was forced to leave school in Grade 8 when it was closed during the Soweto Uprising , which was a series of demonstrations led by Black schoolchildren.

He joined the African National Congress (ANC) and was sent to Mozambique to be trained as part of the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC, which was founded after the Sharpeville massacre — a mass shooting on a peaceful demonstration that left 69 dead and 180 injured. He received his training in Angola and Mozambique, and returned to South Africa in 1977 to join the student protests. 

Mahlangu is best known for being hanged for a double murder that he did not commit. When he returned to South Africa, he along with two companions were stopped by police and a gun fight ensued that left two civilians dead and two injured. While one accomplice managed to escape, Mahlangu and the shooter were arrested — the latter beaten so badly in custody that he was not fit to stand trial. 

Apartheid laws meant that Mahlangu was charged with the murders as an accomplice, and despite international protestations, his not guilty plea, and the acceptance from the judge that he was not the shooter, the apartheid state demanded the death penalty.  

Mahlangu was sentenced to death by hanging on March 2, 1978 and executed on April 6, 1979 at the Pretoria Central Prison. 

His last words were: “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight.” 

5. Steve Biko

biography of a person who helped build democracy

Steve Biko was an anti-apartheid activist who died in a police hospital after being interrogated by the South African police in 1977 — with his death sparking international protests and a UN arms embargo. Biko was strongly against the apartheid system and the white minority rule in South Africa. 

Biko spearheaded the formation of the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO), which fought against injustices faced by Black students when both their student groups and Black political organisations were illegal. 

He then went on to found and lead the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) alongside fellow activists, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele and Barney Pityana.

The BCM was an anti-apartheid movement that filled the power void when the ANC and Pan African Congress leaders were banished and jailed and was founded as a direct result of the Sharpeville Massacre in the late 1960s. The massacre saw around 300 South African police open fire on unarmed civilians who were peacefully marching against the apartheid  pass laws — a regulation that required Black people and other people of colour to carry a pass book whenever travelling so that the government could monitor their movements. 

The movement sought to empower young Black South Africans and inspire them to break themselves free from the chains of white governance. The BCM helped with the empowerment and mobilisation of Black people in urban areas. 

Before his death, Biko was handed a banning order that prevented him from speaking in public, and confined him to King Williams Town, in the Eastern Cape province. 

6. Albertina Sisulu

biography of a person who helped build democracy

Albertina Sisulu was a nurse and freedom fighter. While working as a trainee nurse at Johannesburg General Hospital she encountered racism directly for the first time in her life  — with her white counterparts treated as superior to the Black nurses. 

Sisulu’s political journey began in 1984, when she joined the ANC Women’s League , the women empowerment division of the ANC. In 1956, Sisulu helped to organise the revolutionary anti-pass women's march . 

In her opposition and activisim against the Bantu education system, which divided people racially and was aimed at limiting the futures of Black people, she turned her own Soweto home into a makeshift school for Black children until the government passed a law prohibiting it. 

She and her husband, fellow anti-apartheid activist, Walter Sisulu, were harassed and arrested on several occasions for their political activities and willingness to stand up for Black people’s rights.

In 1963 , after her husband fled the country while waiting for his appeal against a six-year sentence, Sisulu and her son Zwelakhe Sisulu were arrested under the General Law Amendment Act of 1963 because she refused to tell the police the whereabouts of her husband. She was the first woman to be arrested under the act.

In 1994 she was elected to be a part of South Africa’s first democratic parliament. 

7. Lillian Masediba Ngoyi

Lilian Ngoyi joined the ANC in 1950 during their Defiance Campaign , the first and largest protest whereby South Africans of all races fought against the apartheid laws. 

Ngoyi had a talent for public speaking which won her recognition by the ANC, and in 1951 was elected as president of the ANC Women’s League. In 1954, the Federation of South African Women was formed and Ngoyi was elected as its president.

On Aug. 9, 1956 , together with Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, and Sophia Theresa Williams de Bruyn, Ngoyi led the women’s anti-pass march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, holding a petition signed by thousands of women to be delivered directly to Prime Minister Strijdom’s door.

Today, Aug. 9 is honoured as National Women’s Day in South Africa thanks to this historical action, and the Koos Beukes Clinic at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto was renamed Lilian Ngoyi Community Health Center in her honour.

8. Helen Joseph

biography of a person who helped build democracy

Helen Joseph worked as an information and welfare officer in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during the Second World War . After the war, she took a job with the  Garment Workers Union (GWU) — a union of factory workers that stood for women from all walks of life, regardless of race or class. The purpose of this union was also to fight for women of lower status who received low pay.

In 1955, she was one of the leaders who read out the Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People — “a crucial historical moment in establishing a new order based on the will of the people…” and a “document that embodies the hopes and aspirations of Black people”, according to the University of KwaZulu-Natal . 

Joseph was also one of the organisers of the historical Women’s March on Aug. 9 1956. She was a founding member of the South African Congress of Democrats, a white anti-apartheid organisation, and also held the role of the national secretary of Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW).

9. Charlotte Maxeke

Maxeke was known as the "Mother of Black Freedom" in South Africa as she fought for women’s rights and also helped make quality education available to Black children after building a school in Evaton, Johannesburg.  

She helped organise the anti-pass movement in 1913, which aimed to end the laws that forced women, especially women of colour, to carry pass books with information of where they worked and commuted to so that the apartheid government could keep tabs on their movements.

Maxeke also founded  the Bantu Women’s League of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), which was an organisation set up to fight for injustices faced by women, such as carrying passes. She then led a team of representatives to Prime Minister Louis Botha to address concerns around passes that had to be carried by women.

Maxeke also protested against low wages for the industrial workforce and participated in the formation of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) in 1920. She addressed the Women’s Reform Club, an organisation that fought for women’s voting rights. Maxeke set up an employment agency for Africans in Johannesburg as she was concerned about the welfare and future of African people.

10. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

biography of a person who helped build democracy

The current executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, is a passionate human rights, equality, and social justice advocate. Mlambo-Ngcuka was also actively involved in the liberation struggle to end apartheid in South Africa.

Mlambo-Ngcuka was part of the women’s rights movement that helped to ensure that women were represented in South Africa’s democratic constitution. In 1984, she was the youth director for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) Board in Geneva, where she was promoting the development of education in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Between 1987 and 1989 , she promoted economic independence and ran skills training programmes for women in informal settlements and African independent churches.

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10 South African Freedom Fighters (Who Aren't Nelson Mandela) That Everyone Should Know

April 27, 2021

Biography Online


People who shaped and helped the growth of democracy

This is a selection of people in history, who have played an important role in the creation and growth of democracy.

Democracy means society is governed by the input and sanction of all members of society. Democracy means power does not rest in the hands of a few wealthy and privileged people, but people of all rank can have a say in the decision-making process.

Throughout history, democracy has been an evolution. Early democracies were limited to men, and people of certain status in society. But, these early democracies were still an important difference to the rule of absolute monarchs, dictators or oligarchs. Arguably, there are no ‘perfect democracies’ – But, some societies are more democratic than others.

In recent centuries, democracy has also come to include ideas such as liberty and individual freedom – treating everyone in an equal manner. Also given the rise in population size, direct democracy is rarely practised; instead democracy tends to involve elected representatives.

Key figures in the history of democracy

biography of a person who helped build democracy

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan .   “People who shaped democracy”, Oxford, UK. , 01/08/2013. Last updated 1 February 2018.

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Oliver Tambo

Oliver Tambo


Who Was Oliver Tambo?

Early life and career.

Oliver Reginald Tambo was born on October 27, 1917, in the village of Bizana, South Africa to the Pondo people. Of modest farming origins, he earned a scholarship to attend the University of Fort Hare, the only university open to Black citizens in the country, where he studied education and science. He received his bachelor's degree in 1941.

Working With Nelson Mandela

In 1944, Tambo and Mandela, who came from the same region as Tambo and also attended Fort Hare, helped form the Youth League of the African National Congress. Tambo taught at a missionary school for a time but opted to study law, seeing legal action as a powerful tool in which to dismantle state-supported segregation. In 1952, he joined with Mandela to open the Johannesburg-based Mandela and Tambo, the first Black South African law firm. An Anglican, he also had considered a career in the priesthood.

Tambo became increasingly at the forefront of ANC political activity, further agitating against apartheid, the caste system enforced upon the native Black population by the white-controlled government. He and other party members were arrested in 1956 for treason, though later cleared. During this period, Tambo married Adelaide Tshukudu, a nurse and member of the ANC's Youth League; the couple would go on to have three children.

Appointed ANC Acting President

After the Sharpville demonstration massacre, where dozens of citizens were killed or hurt, the ANC took on the stance of using violent, militant tactics to overthrow apartheid. The party was banned by the government and Mandela would be sentenced to life imprisonment. Tambo was appointed to head the ANC in exile by the party's president, Chief Albert Luthuli. Tambo became acting party president in 1967, upon Luthuli's death.

Tambo established residences in Zambia and London, England, among other locales, and received party aid from some European countries, including Holland, East Germany and the Soviet Union. From abroad Tambo coordinated resistance and guerrilla movements, and, despite internal organizational struggles, was able to keep the multiracial ANC intact. During the 1980s, with the unrest in South Africa reaching chaotic heights under the P.W. Botha regime, Tambo was increasingly able to find Western support for the plight of the people, including economic boycotts.

Return to South Africa and Death

Though steadfast in his resolve, Tambo was noted for his grace, warmth and affection. He was able to return to his native country in 1990, when the ban against the ANC was lifted by new South African President F.W. de Klerk. In struggling health after having suffered a stroke, Tambo turned over party presidency to Mandela in 1991 and became chairman. Tambo died on April 24, 1993, in Johannesburg, South Africa.


  • Name: Oliver Tambo
  • Birth Year: 1917
  • Birth date: October 27, 1917
  • Birth City: Bizana
  • Birth Country: South Africa
  • Gender: Male
  • Best Known For: Oliver Tambo was the acting president of the African National Congress, the South African anti-apartheid political party. Tambo served primarily in exile.
  • World Politics
  • Astrological Sign: Scorpio
  • University of Fort Hare
  • Nacionalities
  • South African
  • Death Year: 1993
  • Death date: April 24, 1993
  • Death City: Johannesburg
  • Death Country: South Africa

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  • Last Updated: July 15, 2020
  • Original Published Date: April 2, 2014
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Winnie Mandela’s legacy

biography of a person who helped build democracy

By Sisonke Msimang

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela  died  Monday at age 81. As she is eulogised, there will be many who point to her perceived failures. They will call her a “firebrand” and point to her “radical” political views. Most damning, they will say she was a convicted kidnapper, a corrupt politician, and an  adulterous ,  violent  woman.

Many will compare her with her ex-husband, Nelson Mandela. He will be cast as an angel, while she will be painted as the she-devil who almost took him down. Hers was a life marked as much by racism as sexism. That she was able to meet both head-on is a testament to her fierce spirit. Madikizela-Mandela had strong feminist instincts.

She challenged patriarchy not only in words but also in deeds, and she suffered for it but seemed never to worry too much about how she was perceived by her opponents. She was, to the very end, a remarkably independent woman.

To be sure, Madikizela-Mandela was controversial. She was convicted of kidnapping and assaulting a young activist named Stompie Seipei during a period in the late 1980s when she was often in the company of the notorious  Mandela United Football Club  — a group of bodyguards who both protected and betrayed Madikizela-Mandela.

Madikizela-Mandela was part of the complex politics that dominated the South African landscape as the apartheid regime cracked down on activists. She was deeply enmeshed in  smuggling  guns and other contraband in and out of the country and had been imprisoned, detained and banished on numerous occasions.

These bold acts made her a hero to black South Africans. They understood that like many other leaders and members of the African National Congress (ANC) party, Madikizela-Mandela was in the difficult position of having to lead a revolution while dealing with intense personal trauma.

The primary difference between Madikizela-Mandela and others was that she was a woman. Though she lived in a deeply patriarchal society, her stature and popularity were simply unrivaled. Her defiant attitude was profoundly destabilising to men within her own movement as well as in the broader white society she was challenging.

She had been married only a few years when her husband was sentenced to life in prison. Her two daughters, Zenani and Zindzi, were both just a few years old. Instead of collapsing, as others might have, the woman who was the first  black medical social worker in the country  became a powerful spokesperson for racial justice.

She had a knack for articulating both her intense disdain for the architects of apartheid and her fury at the injustice that had specifically been done to her husband. She was thoroughly unapologetic and crystal clear.

While Nelson Mandela became the most recognisable prisoner of conscience in the world, his wife had one of the most recognisable voices on South African radio. She was fully supportive of the ANC’s decision to burnish Mandela’s reputation and status — to deliberately create an icon the world could rally around. She did much to keep his name and story alive.

Mandela was canonised long before he emerged from jail in 1990. His wife, however, was demonised — taking the fall for speaking when he could not.

For close to three decades, no one saw Mandela’s image. In his place stood Madikizela-Mandela. She took on the role of mourner in chief — grieving for a husband who was imprisoned while giving voice to the pain of black South Africans and articulating their daily losses.

Madikizela-Mandela was punished far more severely for her missteps than her male comrades were for theirs. Although many men had sexual liaisons with women who were not their partners, none of them were shamed for their behaviour. Madikizela-Mandela’s desire for companionship could hardly have been described as unreasonable given her husband’s decades-long imprisonment.

Still, she faced vitriolic criticism when news of her love interests was leaked by spies. In the aftermath of her split from Mandela, there were attempts to cast him as a saint and her as a sinner.

Many people outside South Africa find it difficult to understand why Madikizela-Mandela garnered such widespread support among black South Africans. In some ways, she represented a sort of South African everywoman.

She was powerful and loving and fiercely protective of her children. Like many black women who raised children alone under apartheid, Madikizela-Mandela knew how to survive arbitrary arrest and humiliation, harassment and bullying. Black South Africans saw themselves in her very public struggles.

Madikizela-Mandela never fully adjusted to post-apartheid politics. She rarely attended Parliament and did not seem to enjoy ministerial responsibilities; she had thrived in an era of rage and discontent. With a democratic dispensation in place, she only occasionally made pronouncements that affected politics.

Still, in recent times a restive mood has settled over the country. Mandela’s attempts to bridge the chasm between white and black South Africans are being tested by a new generation of South Africans who have grown up in a grossly unequal society.

There is a renewed militancy in South Africa’s politics, and the embrace of honesty — regardless of its costs — may well be Madikizela-Mandela’s legacy.

Perhaps it is right that in death she finds her place at the center of a politics of resistance again — immortalised as the Pied Piper of defiance, a woman who lived life on her own terms and spoke truth to power.

*This article was published in the Washington Post.  To view the article on their website click  here . 

biography of a person who helped build democracy

Sisonke Msimang

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Biography of Stephen Bantu (Steve) Biko, Anti-Apartheid Activist

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Steve Biko (Born Bantu Stephen Biko; Dec. 18, 1946–Sept. 12, 1977) was one of South Africa's most significant political activists and a leading founder of South Africa's Black Consciousness Movement . His murder in police detention in 1977 led to his being hailed a martyr of the anti-apartheid struggle. Nelson Mandela , South Africa's post-Apartheid president who was incarcerated at the notorious Robben Island prison during Biko's time on the world stage, lionized the activist 20 years after he was killed, calling him "the spark that lit a veld fire across South Africa."

Fast Facts: Stephen Bantu (Steve) Biko

  • Known For : Prominent anti-apartheid activist, writer, founder of Black Consciousness Movement, considered a martyr after his murder in a Pretoria prison
  • Also Known As : Bantu Stephen Biko, Steve Biko, Frank Talk (pseudonym)
  • Born : December 18, 1946 in King William's Town, Eastern Cape, South Africa
  • Parents : Mzingaye Biko and Nokuzola Macethe Duna
  • Died : September 12, 1977 in a Pretoria prison cell, South Africa
  • Education : Lovedale College, St Francis College, University of Natal Medical School
  • Published Works : "I Write What I Like: Selected Writings by Steve Biko," "The Testimony of Steve Biko"
  • Spouses/Partners : Ntsiki Mashalaba, Mamphela Ramphele
  • Children : Two
  • Notable Quote : "The blacks are tired of standing at the touchlines to witness a game that they should be playing. They want to do things for themselves and all by themselves."

Early Life and Education

Stephen Bantu Biko was born on December 18, 1946, into a Xhosa family. His father Mzingaye Biko worked as a police officer and later as a clerk in the King William’s Town Native Affairs office. His father achieved part of a university education through the University of South Africa, a distance-learning university, but he died before completing his law degree. After his father's death, Biko's mother Nokuzola Macethe Duna supported the family as a cook at Grey's Hospital.

From an early age, Steve Biko showed an interest in anti-apartheid politics. After being expelled from his first school, Lovedale College in the Eastern Cape, for "anti-establishment" behavior—such as speaking out against apartheid and speaking up for the rights of Black South African citizens—he was transferred to St. Francis College, a Roman Catholic boarding school in Natal. From there he enrolled as a student at the University of Natal Medical School (in the university's Black Section).

While at medical school, Biko became involved with the National Union of South African Students. The union was dominated by White liberal allies and failed to represent the needs of Black students. Dissatisfied, Biko resigned in 1969 and founded the South African Students' Organisation. SASO was involved in providing legal aid and medical clinics, as well as helping to develop cottage industries for disadvantaged Black communities.

Black Consciousness Movement

In 1972 Biko was one of the founders of the Black Peoples Convention, working on social upliftment projects around Durban. The BPC effectively brought together roughly 70 different Black consciousness groups and associations, such as the South African Student's Movement , which later played a significant role in the 1976 uprisings, the National Association of Youth Organisations, and the Black Workers Project, which supported Black workers whose unions were not recognized under the apartheid regime.

In a book first published posthumously in 1978, titled, "I Write What I Like"—which contained Biko's writings from 1969, when he became the president of the South African Students' Organization, to 1972, when he was banned from publishing—Biko explained Black consciousness and summed up his own philosophy:

"Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time. Its essence is the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression—the blackness of their skin—and to operate as a group to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude."

Biko was elected as the first president of the BPC and was promptly expelled from medical school. He was expelled, specifically, for his involvement in the BPC. He started working full-time for the Black Community Programme in Durban, which he also helped found.

Banned by the Apartheid Regime

In 1973 Steve Biko was banned by the apartheid government for his writing and speeches denouncing the apartheid system. Under the ban, Biko was restricted to his hometown of Kings William's Town in the Eastern Cape. He could no longer support the Black Community Programme in Durban, but he was able to continue working for the Black People's Convention.

During that time, Biko was first visited by Donald Woods , the editor of the East London Daily Dispatch , located in the province of Eastern Cape in South Africa. Woods was not initially a fan of Biko, calling the whole Black Consciousness movement racist. As Woods explained in his book, "Biko," first published in 1978:

"I had had up to then a negative attitude toward Black Consciousness. As one of a tiny band of white South African liberals, I was totally opposed to race as a factor in political thinking, and totally committed to nonracist policies and philosophies."

Woods believed—initially—that Black Consciousness was nothing more than apartheid in reverse because it advocated that "Blacks should go their own way," and essentially divorce themselves not just from White people, but even from White liberal allies in South Africa who worked to support their cause. But Woods eventually saw that he was incorrect about Biko's thinking. Biko believed that Black people needed to embrace their own identity—hence the term "Black Consciousness"—and "set our own table," in Biko's words. Later, however, White people could, figuratively, join them at the table, once Black South Africans had established their own sense of identity.

Woods eventually came to see that Black Consciousness "expresses group pride and the determination by all blacks to rise and attain the envisaged self" and that "black groups (were) becoming more conscious of the self. They (were) beginning to rid their minds of the imprisoning notions which are the legacy of the control of their attitudes by whites."

Woods went on to champion Biko's cause and become his friend. "It was a friendship that ultimately forced Mr. Woods into exile," The New York Times noted when Woods' died in 2001. Woods was not expelled from South Africa because of his friendship with Biko, per se. Woods' exile was the result of the government's intolerance of the friendship and support of anti-apartheid ideals, sparked by a meeting Woods arranged with a top South African official.

Woods met with South African Minister of Police James "Jimmy" Kruger to request the easing of Biko's banning order—a request that was promptly ignored and led to further harassment and arrests of Biko, as well as a harassment campaign against Woods that eventually caused him to flee the country.

Despite the harassment, Biko, from King William's Town, helped set up the Zimele Trust Fund which assisted political prisoners and their families. He was also elected honorary president of the BPC in January 1977.

Detention and Murder

Biko was detained and interrogated four times between August 1975 and September 1977 under Apartheid era anti-terrorism legislation. On August 21, 1977, Biko was detained by the Eastern Cape security police and held in Port Elizabeth. From the Walmer police cells, he was taken for interrogation at the security police headquarters. According to the "Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa" report, on September 7, 1977:

"Biko sustained a head injury during interrogation, after which he acted strangely and was uncooperative. The doctors who examined him (naked, lying on a mat and manacled to a metal grille) initially disregarded overt signs of neurological injury. "

By September 11, Biko had slipped into a continual semi-conscious state and the police physician recommended a transfer to the hospital. Biko was, however, transported nearly 750 miles to Pretoria—a 12-hour journey, which he made lying naked in the back of a Land Rover. A few hours later, on September 12, alone and still naked, lying on the floor of a cell in the Pretoria Central Prison, Biko died from brain damage.

South African Minister of Justice Kruger initially suggested Biko had died of a hunger strike and said that his murder "left him cold." The hunger strike story was dropped after local and international media pressure, especially from Woods. It was revealed in the inquest that Biko had died of brain damage, but the magistrate failed to find anyone responsible. He ruled that Biko had died as a result of injuries sustained during a scuffle with security police while in detention.

Anti-Apartheid Martyr

The brutal circumstances of Biko's murder caused a worldwide outcry and he became a martyr and symbol of Black resistance to the oppressive apartheid regime. As a result, the South African government banned a number of individuals (including Woods) and organizations, especially those Black Consciousness groups closely associated with Biko.

The United Nations Security Council responded by imposing an arms embargo against South Africa. Biko's family sued the state for damages in 1979 and settled out of court for R65,000 (then equivalent to $25,000). The three doctors connected with Biko's case were initially exonerated by the South African Medical Disciplinary Committee.

It was not until a second inquiry in 1985, eight years after Biko's murder, that any action was taken against them. At that time, Dr. Benjamin Tucker who examined Biko before his murder lost his license to practice in South Africa.   The police officers responsible for Biko's killing applied for amnesty during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, which sat in Port Elizabeth in 1997, but the application was denied.   The commission had a very specific purpose:

"The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created to investigate gross human rights violations that were perpetrated during the period of the Apartheid regime from 1960 to 1994, including abductions, killings, torture. Its mandate covered both violations by both the state and the liberation movements and allowed the commission to hold special hearings focused on specific sectors, institutions, and individuals. Controversially the TRC was empowered to grant amnesty to perpetrators who confessed their crimes truthfully and completely to the commission.
(The commission) was comprised of seventeen commissioners: nine men and eight women. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu chaired the commission. The commissioners were supported by approximately 300 staff members, divided into three committees (Human Rights Violations Committee, Amnesty Committee, and Reparations and Rehabilitation Committee)."  

Biko's family did not ask the Commission to make a finding on his murder. The "Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa" report, published by Macmillan in March 1999, said of Biko's murder:

"The Commission finds that the death in detention of Mr Stephen Bantu Biko on 12 September 1977 was a gross human rights violation. Magistrate Marthinus Prins found that the members of the SAP were not implicated in his death. The magistrate's finding contributed to the creation of a culture of impunity in the SAP. Despite the inquest finding no person responsible for his death, the Commission finds that, in view of the fact that Biko died in the custody of law enforcement officials, the probabilities are that he died as a result of injuries sustained during his detention."

Woods went on to write a biography of Biko, published in 1978, simply titled, "Biko." In 1987, Biko’s story was chronicled in the film “Cry Freedom,” which was based on Woods' book. The hit song " Biko ," by Peter Gabriel, honoring Steve Biko's legacy, came out in 1980. Of note, Woods, Sir Richard Attenborough (director of "Cry Freedom"), and Peter Gabriel—all White men—have had perhaps the most influence and control in the widespread telling of Biko's story, and have also profited from it. This is an important point to consider as we reflect on his legacy, which remains notably small when compared to more famous anti-apartheid leaders such as Mandela and Tutu. But Biko remains a model and hero in the struggle for autonomy and self-determination for people around the world. His writings, work, and tragic murder were all historically crucial to the momentum and success of the South African anti-apartheid movement.

In 1997, at the 20th anniversary of Biko's murder, then-South African President Mandela memorialized Biko, calling him "a proud representative of the re-awakening of a people" and adding:

“History called upon Steve Biko at a time when the political pulse of our people had been rendered faint by banning, imprisonment, exile, murder and banishment....While Steve Biko espoused, inspired, and promoted black pride, he never made blackness a fetish. At the end of the day, as he himself pointed out, accepting one’s blackness is a critical starting point: an important foundation for engaging in struggle."
  • Biko, Steve. I Write What I Like . Bowerdean Press, 1978.
  • “ Cry Freedom .”  IMDb ,, 6 Nov. 1987.
  • “ Donald James Woods .”  Donald James Woods | South African History Online ,
  • Mangcu, Xolela. Biko, A Biography. Tafelberg, 2012.
  • Sahoboss. “ Stephen Bantu Biko .”  South African History Online , 4 Dec. 2017.
  • “ Steve Biko: The Philosophy of Black Consciousness ." Black Star News, 20 Feb. 2020.
  • Swarns, Rachel L. “ Donald Woods, 67, Editor and Apartheid Foe .”  The New York Times , The New York Times, 20 Aug. 2001.
  • Woods, Donald. Biko . Paddington Press, 1978.

“ Apartheid Police Officers Admit to the Killing of Biko before the TRC .”  Apartheid Police Officers Admit to the Killing of Biko before the TRC | South African History Online , 28 Jan. 1997.

Daley, Suzanne. “ Panel Denies Amnesty for Four Officers in Steve Bikos Death .”  The New York Times , The New York Times, 17 Feb. 1999.

“ Truth Commission: South Africa .”  United States Institute of Peace , 22 Oct. 2018.

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Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

biography of a person who helped build democracy

Nelson Rolihlahla (Madiba) Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla (Madiba) Mandela is an amazing man who changed history in South Africa and brought democracy to the nation. Nelson Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in the small village of Mvezo, near Umtata in Transkei, South Africa. His father was the Chief Councillor to the Superior Chief of the Thembu. As a young boy, he was being prepared to take over as the Chief of the Thembu. With the death of his father in 1930, he was placed under the care of his guardian and cousin, David Dalindyebo, the acting Chief of the Thembu.

While at home, a prepared marriage was being set up for him. To avoid getting married, Mandela and his cousin Justice moved to Johannesburg where he worked temporarily as a night watchman as he wanted to be a lawyer.

In Johannesburg, Mandela met Walter Sisulu who assisted him in finding employment as an articled clerk with a legal firm. When he completed his BA degree by correspondence in 1941, Mandela enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand for an LLB.

The ANC (African National Congress)

In December 1952, Mandela and Oliver Tambo opened the first Black legal partnership in the country. In the same month, Mandela and some other activists were charged under the Suppression of Communism Act. Mandela was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment with hard labour, suspended for two years.

Over a period of nine years he was put under banning orders. In this time he was also made the Deputy National President of the ANC. Even though he was not allowed to attend the meetings of the ANC, he worked with small groups of the ANC members.

Nelson Mandela played a major role in the constructing of the 'M Plan' (named after him). The plan formulated the grouping of ANC members to cope with underground activity. Renewed bans made it imperative for Madiba to resign from the ANC in September 1953. From that point Madiba had to lead secretly, except during the year of the Treason Trial.

In December 1956 Mandela and 155 political activists were arrested and charged with High Treason. Almost five years later, Justice Rumpff found all of the accused not guilty. In the late 1950s Mandela became National President of the ANC Youth League. By 1959 the treason trial was still in progress. In the same year, the ANC planned an anti-pass laws campaign. The campaign was displaced when the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), arranged mass anti-pass protests on 21 March 1960.

During one of the protests, the Sharpeville massacre occurred. This resulted with the banning of the ANC and the PAC and the government declared a state of emergency. During the time period of the emergency up 1 800 political activists, including Mandela, were imprisoned without charge or trial.

In March 1961 an All-In Africa Conference was held in Pietermaritzburg. Various political groups came together. The banning order on Mandela expired on the eve of the conference, allowing him to make a surprise appearance. Subsequently he was placed as the Honorary Secretary of the All-In National Action Council. Mandela and the Council decided to arrange demonstrations against the proclamation of South Africa as a Republic on 31 May.

They wanted to arrange for a three day stay-at-home strike on 29, 30 and 31 May 1961. Mandela had to go underground, to avoid arrest. Mandela and Walter Sisulu travelled the country in secret arranging the specifics of the strike. Mandela (nicknamed the Black Pimpernel at the time) was a fugitive for almost a year and a half. After large police roll-out on the strikers, Mandela called the strike off on the second day.

The Imprisonment of Nelson Mandela

In 1962 Mandela crossed the border in secret to make a surprise appearance at the Pan-African Freedom Movement Conference in Addis Ababa. He explained to the conference why Umkhonto we Sizwe had to make their initial attacks. On his trip, he got guerrilla training in Algeria and travelled to London where he met with leaders of British opposition parties.

When Mandela returned to South Africa, he was captured on 5 August near Howick in Natal. Mandela was tried in Pretoria's Old Synagogue and in November 1962 sentenced to five years' imprisonment for incitement and illegally leaving the country. He began this sentence in Pretoria Central Prison.

While Mandela was in prison, police raided the underground headquarters of the ANC at Lilliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, arresting members like, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg and Lionel Bernstein. Police found documents relating to the manufacture of explosives, Mandela's diary of his African tour and copies of a draft memorandum - 'Operation Mayibuye' - which outlined a possible strategy of guerrilla struggle.

In October 1963 Mandela was brought from jail to join the other eight accused on trial for sabotage, conspiracy to overthrow the government by revolution, and assisting an armed invasion of South Africa by foreign troops. Mandela's statement from the dock was, "I am Prepared to Die" which received worldwide publicity.

On 12 June 1964, all of the accused were sentenced to life imprisonment. The following evening Nelson Mandela was flown to Cape Town en route to Robben Island Prison where he was held until April 1982, when he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison near Cape Town. A massive 'Release Mandela Campaign' was launched in 1982, in South Africa and abroad. A lot of foreign countries put pressure on the South African government to release Mandela, who at that point was the world's most famous political prisoner.

From July 1986 Mandela was in contact with government members, initially with the Minister of Justice Kobie Coetzee, and then with the Minister of Constitutional Development, Gerrit Viljoen. Eventually he had a meeting with the State President PW Botha in July 1989 at Tuynhuys. In December 1989 he met the new state president, FW de Klerk.

Mandela's Release

The years following up to 1994 were very busy. Nelson Mandela travelled South Africa and parts of the World, meeting up with important members of government and the ANC. He started with a trip to Lusaka to meet the ANC's Executive Committee in March 1990.

Mandela then visited the ANC President - Oliver Tambo in Sweden, but had to end the trip early with the growing unrest within South Africa. In May 1990, Mandela headed the ANC delegation, which held talks with South African government representatives at Groote Schuur. In June, Mandela embarked on his six week tour of Europe, the United Kingdom, North America and Africa. He received recognition wherever he went.

During 1992, Mandela continued his programme of extensive international travel, visiting Tunisia, Libya and Morocco. He and the State President - FW De Klerk jointly accepted the Unesco Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize in Paris on 3 February. At the same time the two men attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

On 13 April 1992, Mandela called a press conference at which he stated that he and his wife, Winnie, had agreed to separate as a result of differences, which had arisen between them in recent months.

Mandela indicated in September 1992 that he was prepared to meet De Klerk on condition that he would ban of the public display of dangerous weapons and release the political prisoners. They met at the end of the month and these bi-lateral talks resulted in the signing of a Record of Understanding by the two leaders, which enabled negotiations to be resumed.

Presidential Elections

In September 1993, Mandela visited America and urged world business leaders to lift economic sanctions on South Africa. During the latter half of 1993 and early 1994 Mandela campaigned on behalf of the ANC for the 1994 elections and addressed a large number of rallies and people's forums. In 1994, the first general elections were held, for all members of the public to vote no matter their race denomination.

On 9 May 1994, Mandela was elected as the State President of South Africa. His presidential inauguration took place the next day at the Union Buildings in Pretoria and was attended by the largest gathering of international leaders ever in South Africa.

During his inauguration speech, Mandela called for a 'time of healing' and stated that his government would not allow any sort of discrimination. Mandela promised to create a society in which all South Africans could walk tall without fear.

In 1999 Mandela retired from active political duty. He still works with health and educational issues through the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

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biography of a person who helped build democracy

Nelson Mandela

biography of a person who helped build democracy

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Resistance to apartheid was led by the African National Congress (ANC) and allied organisations. The considerable energies of African nationalism were increasingly channelled into the struggle for a democracy defined by non-racialism. There were four pillars to this struggle – armed resistance, underground work, international solidarity and mass mobilisation. The apartheid regime was not overthrown. When it became clear that the slow disintegration of the apartheid system could not be stemmed, the regime engaged its opponents in a process of negotiated settlement.

In February 1990 the ANC and all other outlawed oppositional organisations were legalised, and Nelson Mandela was released from prison. This began a period of formal negotiation leading to South Africa’s first democratic elections in April 1994. Although the ANC, led by Mandela, won a sweeping victory in that election, it would manage the first five years of democracy-building through a Government of National Unity. The nature of the transition to democracy meant that there would be no dramatic dismantling of the apartheid system. Rather, the new would be built out of the old through processes of transformation and reconciliation. These processes were given a powerful symbolic embodiment in the person of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

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Charlotte maxeke (manye) (1874-1939).

biography of a person who helped build democracy

Charlotte Maxeke (maiden name Manye) was a  South African  woman who broke societal barriers throughout her life. She was born in South Africa on April 7, 1874 and in the early 1880s attended secondary school at Edwards Memorial School. Upon her graduation, with a  missionary  education in 1885, Manye moved to Kimberly, South Africa with her family and began teaching. In 1891, while in Kimberly, Manye and her sister, Katie, joined the African Jubilee  Choir . This led to a two-year choir tour in  Europe , where she once performed for Queen Victoria. The success of the tour was followed by another tour to  Canada  and the United States. during the mid-1890s. However, this trip ended when the choir organizer abandoned the group in the U.S. without money, passports, or a way home.

When faculty and staff at  Wilberforce   University , an  African Methodist Episcopal (AME)  Church-sponsored institution, heard about Manye being stuck in the U.S., she was offered a scholarship to attend the university. Maxeke accepted and at Wilberforce, studied with a number of scholars including  W.E.B. DuBois . She geared her college experience toward preparing for missionary work once she returned to South Africa. During her studies, Maxeke met a fellow South African, Marshall Maxeke, who would later become her husband.

In the early 1900s, Maxeke returned to South Africa and is now recognized as the first black South African woman to have a college degree, as she graduated from Wilberforce with bachelors of science degree. She began teaching in Pietersburg (now Polokwane), while simultaneously working on opening the first AME college in South Africa. Maxeke and her husband founded a primary and secondary school called “Wilberforce Institute” in Evaton, South Africa.

In 1912 Maxeke and her husband continued their work while attending the first convention of the South Africa Native National Congress’ (SANNC, which eventually became the African National Congress) held in Bloemfontein. At this event, she promoted women’s rights and religious concerns. In 1913 Maxeke worked with other advocates to coordinate Bloemfontein’s anti-pass movement. Five years later in 1918, she founded the Bantu Women’s League (BWL), a branch of SANNC. She continued to promote women’s rights serving as Women’s Missionary Society’s president in 1920.

Maxeke and her family moved to Idutywa, Eastern Cape in 1926 to assume positions at Lota High School. Maxeke’s husband became the school’s president, while Maxeke held the role of Head Teacher. Unfortunately, Marshall Maxeke died in 1928 at 53. After his death, Charlotte Maxeke moved to  Johannesburg ’s juvenile magistrate as a parole officer and court welfare officer.  Charlotte Maxeke died in Johannesburg in 1939. She was 65.

Throughout her life, Maxeke worked to create opportunities and equality for women in South Africa. She participated in a variety of organizations, including the Joint Councils of Europeans and Bantus and helped establish the Widow’s Home and the Foreign Missionary Society. Additionally, she vouched for  Hastings Walter Kazumu Banda  who led Malawi’s independence campaign and who in 1966 became the country’s first President, helping him receive a passport to attend Wilberforce University on scholarship.

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biography of a person who helped build democracy

This Mexican scientist invented the 'mark of democracy' used across the world


Some ninety million people will vote tomorrow in Mexico. After they cast their ballots, a poll worker will dab their finger with a chemical, and that spot on their finger will turn sepia. It has come to be known as the mark of democracy. NPR's Eyder Peralta spoke to the man who makes that so-called indelible ink.


EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: When we get to his lab at the National Polytechnic Institute, Dr. Filiberto Vazquez Davila, who is 80, stands in front of a mound of empty bottles of voting ink.


PERALTA: "We've shipped two trailers full of ink for 98 million Mexicans."

VAZQUEZ DAVILA: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "And I'm going to paint all of them," he says. Vazquez says his obsession with ink started in 1987 when a newspaper publisher told him Mexico was importing all the ink they used. A few days later, he showed up with a few buckets of ink, and the press operator threw it into the machines.

PERALTA: As the press got running, he remembers thinking, "I hope I don't mess up a machine."

PERALTA: And then a worker brought him the final product...

PERALTA: ...The front page in full color. He was in love. And when the electoral commission announced a contest in 1993 for someone to create an indelible ink to use for elections, he was the only one of 53 people to turn in a sample that was not ink.

PERALTA: He calls his assistant.

PERALTA: He wants to test the indelible liquid on me.

And it looks clear as it goes on.

This, he says, is a secret formula that is different from the silver nitrate first used in India. It works faster, he says, and there's no way to remove it.

PERALTA: "It works by forming a new layer of dead cells," he says, "but with color." And just like that, my finger turns a deep sepia. Vazquez smiles broadly satisfied with his work.

PERALTA: "The reaction takes less than one minute."

PERALTA: "Everything is chemistry," he says.

PERALTA: "Matter and chemistry are the same."

PERALTA: "Matter changes constantly in the universe."

PERALTA: "If matter didn't change, we'd have no universe."

PERALTA: "Life is quite simply," he says, "chemical reactions." His indelible liquid has been used across Central America and in Haiti. This will be his sixth presidential election in Mexico.

PERALTA: "I make simple things," he says. "I don't have the smarts to put rockets on the moon, so I focus on simple things." Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Stephen Bantu Biko


Stephen (Steve) Bantu Biko was a popular voice of Black liberation in South Africa between the mid 1960s and his death in police detention in 1977. This was the period in which both the ANC and the PAC had been officially banned and the disenfranchised Black population (especially the youth) were highly receptive to the prospect of a new organisation that could carry their grievances against the Apartheid state. Thus it was that Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) came to prominence and although Biko was not its only leader, he was its most recognisable figure. It was Biko, along with others who guided the movement of student discontent into a political force unprecedented in the history of South Africa. Biko and his peers were responding to developments that emerged in the high phase of Apartheid, when the Nationalist Party (NP) , in power for almost two decades, was restructuring the country to conform to its policies of separate development. The NP went about untangling what little pockets of integration and proximity there were between White, Black, Coloured and Indian people by creating new residential areas, new parallel institutions such as schools, universities and administrative bodies, and indeed, new ‘countries’, the tribal homelands.

Though Biko was killed before his thirty first birthday, his influence on South Africa was, and continues to be profound. Aside from the BCM, he is also credited with launching the South African Students Organisation (SASO) , which was created as a Black alternative to the liberal National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) . It is necessary to disambiguate this move, as Biko is frequently misunderstood to have been ”anti-White.” This categorisation is demonstrably untrue, as Biko had no issue with White people per se - his target was always, ultimately white supremacy and the Apartheid government. The decision to break away from NUSAS and the formation of the BCM was rather to create distance from liberal sympathisers who could attempt to speak for their Black counterparts but were nonetheless, by virtue of their race, beneficiaries of an iniquitous system. Biko is best remembered for empowering Black voices, installing a sense of Black pride similar to Césaire and Senghor’s ‘Negritude’, and for taking the liberation struggle forward and galvanising the youth movement.

Childhood and Schooling

Biko was born in Tarkastad in the Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape ) on 18 December 1946, the third child of Mzingaye Biko and Nokuzola Macethe Duna. Mzingaye worked as a policeman, and later as a clerk in the King William’s Town Native Affairs office. An intelligent man, he was also enrolled at the University of South Africa (UNISA), the distance-learning university, but did not complete enough courses to get his law degree before he died. In 1948, the family moved to Ginsberg Township, just outside of King William’s Town in today's Eastern Cape. The Bikos eventually owned their own house in Zaula Street in the Brownlee section of Ginsberg - this despite Nokuzola's meagre income as a domestic worker.

Mzingaye died suddenly in 1950, when Steve was four years old. His mother subsequently raised the children on her own, working as a cook at Grey’s Hospital.

Steve’s elder brother, Khaya, was politically active as well as enjoying sports. He started a rugby club called Sea Lions, which later morphed into the Star of Hope rugby club. Khaya was well-read and well-spoken, and he became a reporter for the school newspaper at Forbes Grant School, and got involved with the local branch of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) , a political tendency which had a strong presence in the area. After coming under the influence of Malcolm Dyani, who was also at Forbes Grant, Khaya was made the secretary of the local branch, and he tried to use the Star of Hope rugby club to recruit people into the PAC.

Steve was known as a joker by his friends and schoolmates, Zinzo Gulwa, Ndikho Moss, Sipho Makwedini and Siphiwo Ceko. Around 1952 (the exact date varies from source to source), he went to Charles Morgan Higher Primary School when he started Standard Three (Grade Five). His teacher, Damsie Monaheng, who remembered him as a naughty boy who was always barefoot, recommended that he be promoted to Standard Five, so he skipped Standard Four. Although his friends never saw him study, he was one of the brightest kids in the class, and he would help the other kids when they did not understand their lessons.

Steve passed Standard Six in 1959 and in 1960 he went on to Forbes Grant, a school through which many passed to become prominent figures in post-apartheid South Africa. At Forbes, Steve eventually befriended Larry Bekwa, who had been expelled from Lovedale College after he took part in a strike protesting against South Africa’s becoming a republic in 1961. Steve proved to be a studious high school student, excelling in mathematics and English. In 1962, at the age of 16, Steve and Larry completed their Junior Certificate (Grade Ten).

Steve then went to Lovedale, where his brother Khaya, was already a student. However, in April, Steve was taken into custody by the police, who came to the school to arrest Khaya, who was suspected of being involved with Poqo , the armed wing of the PAC. The police took both brothers to King William’s Town, 60km away, and Khaya was charged. He was given a sentence of two years, with 15 months suspended, and served his term at Fort Glamorgan jail near East London .

Steve was released and returned home, but he ran away from Ginsberg to live with his friend Larry Bekwa in Peddie (Eastern Cape) for the rest of the year. Nevertheless, he continued going to classes at Lovedale, where he became friends with Barney Pityana , who was at the school on an Andrew Smith bursary. The political tensions at Lovedale were palpable, as Steve arrived at the school soon after Thabo Mbeki had been expelled, following strikes by students. Following Khaya’s arrest, Steve was interrogated by the police and subsequently he was also expelled from Lovedale after only attending for three months. This incident inculcated in Steve a "strong resentment toward White authority", which would shape his political career.

Khaya was barred from attending any school after his release from prison, so he began to work as a clerk for a law firm. Concerned about his younger brother’s education, he wrote to various schools and got Steve accepted at St Francis College (a Catholic boarding School outside Durban ) in Marianhill in Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal ) in 1964, where he began doing Form Four. By now, after his brush with the police, Steve had become politicised. Khaya remembered:

“Steve was expelled for absolutely no reason at all. But in retrospect I welcome the South African government’s gesture of exposing a really good politician. I had unsuccessfully tried to get Steve interested in politics. The police were able to do in one day what had eluded me for years. This time the great giant was awakened.”

Steve was in illustrious company at Marianhill, and he thrived, becoming the vice chair of the St Francis College’s Literary and Debating Society. He became friends with Jeff Baqwa , who described Steve’s burgeoning analytical and political capacities during a discussion about Rhodesia’s (now Zimbabwe ) unilateral declaration of independence [UDI]:

“We needed clarity on UDI in Rhodesia, and that’s where Steve shone. And when Churchill died Steve was there to describe the political implications. He was able to make all these connections and link them to what was going on in South Africa.”

Steve underwent the traditional Xhosa initiation rites at his uncle’s house in Zwelitsha, King William’s Town in December 1964, and “returned to St Francis as a man in 1965,” according to the author Xolela Mangcu.

University and NUSAS

After matriculating from St Francis with very good grades, Steve was admitted to Durban Medical School at the University of Natal Non European section (UNNE) at the beginning of 1966. Known as Wentworth, Steve lived in the Alan Taylor Residence, the segregated living quarters for Black students at Natal University (now known as the University of kwaZulu-Natal–UKZN).

The Black Section had its own Students Representative Council (SRC), which was a member of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). Steve was elected to the SRC in his first year, and he became involved in NUSAS politics, attending the annual NUSAS conference for the first time. But even before he went to the conference, he was engaging in debates about the role of NUSAS, especially since White students dominated the body, there being more Whites than Blacks at South African universities at the time. The African National Congress (ANC) aligned African Students Association (ASA) was in favour of remaining in NUSAS, while the PAC-aligned African Students Union of South Africa (ASUSA) was in favour of breaking off from the supposedly national student body.

At this time, Steve befriended Aubrey Mokoape, who had been involved with the PAC, and they engaged in frequent debates about the NUSAS question. Mokoape was against remaining in NUSAS, while Steve argued that it was useful to belong to the organisation – because of its resources, if not for any other reason.

The NUSAS Conference of July 1967

In July 1967, the young Steve went to the NUSAS conference at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, his second appearance at the annual gathering. The Wentworth students travelled to Grahamstown by train, and debated the affiliation issue during their trip, resolving to pull out of NUSAS if the organisers adhered to Apartheid legislation by housing the Black students separately.

Biko recalled the circumstances while giving evidence at the SASO/BPC trial in 1975:

“It so happened that when we got to Rhodes University, in the first instance the conference organiser could not quite say where we were going to stay. We were all put in the hall in different places, and we eventually noticed that all the White students went first, then some of the Indian students, then eventually he came to us to say he had found a church where we could stay. At that moment I felt we had ample reason to stick by our decision on the train.”

In a letter to SRC presidents written in February 1970, after Steve had been elected president of SASO, he wrote:

“In the NUSAS conference of 1967 the Blacks were made to stay at a church building in the Grahamstown location, each day being brought to the conference site by cars etc. On the other hand their White “brothers” were staying in residences around the conference site. This is perhaps the turning point in the history of Black support for NUSAS. So appalling were the conditions that it showed the Blacks just how valued they were in the organisation.”

The students were indeed fed and housed separately, in accordance with the Separate Amenities Act. The Black students were aggrieved, but when the NUSAS executive condemned the University for the Arrangements, the Black students were divided over whether to withdraw their participation.

When the conference opened the next day, Steve stood up to deliver his regional report, and he did so in isiXhosa, to drive home the point about Black students’ alienation from the NUSAS agenda. The President of the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) SRC, Robin Margo, proposed a motion to condemn the University Council, which the conference passed.

Steve then proposed that the conference be suspended, because the NUSAS organisers had known in advance that the students would be housed separately. After a long discussion, his motion was rejected.

The Black students felt disadvantaged by their small number, by the use of English as the medium of the conference, and by the distance between their concerns and those of the White students. Steve and his fellow Black students walked out.

Steve left the conference and went to Port Elizabeth , Eastern Cape to see Barney Pityana, who had just attended the launch of the University Christian Movement (UCM) in Rosettenville, in Johannesburg , Transvaal (now Gauteng ). A law student at Fort Hare University, Pityana was one of many students later expelled from that university, in 1969.

The UCM was led by Colin Collins and Basil Moore, both radical priests who introduced the ideas of Black Theology to South Africans. They forged links with the South African Council of Churches (SACC) , with the Christian Institute (CI) and with the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) .  The UCM would play an important role in facilitating the birth of SASO.

Steve travelled throughout the country to caucus for the creation of a Black-only student body. Pityana was initially opposed to the idea, but was swayed by Biko, after which he became a staunch supporter of the idea and Biko’s most important lieutenant.

Stutterheim, 1968

At the UCM conference in Stutterheim in July 1968, Steve and his Black comrades were faced with a situation similar to the one at the Rhodes conference a year earlier. The students had to leave the venue after 72 hours, travel to a Black township, and then return – all this so they would not break the law that prevented Blacks from being in a White area for more than 72 hours. The move irritated Biko, who felt it was hypocritical.

After the conference Steve, Pityana and others met at Biko’s home in Ginsberg, 35km from Stutterheim, to discuss the launch of a Black-only student body. Steve was tasked with the mobilisation of Black students from all the Black campuses.

They went to Fort Hare to attend a meeting of Black Christian student bodies where Basil Moore was to be the main speaker, but Moore was not allowed to speak, and Steve was asked to be the main speaker. The meeting was meant to see the establishment of a UCM branch at Fort Hare, which did take place, but more importantly, students there resolved to join in the formation of the South African Students Organisation (SASO).

At Fort Hare, students were polarised between those who wanted to re-establish the SRC and those opposed to the move, with Justice Moloto supporting the former and Pityana the latter. Moloto became the president of UCM, and was thus well-positioned to provide financial aid for SASO when it emerged.

Despite these developments, Steve was still open to NUSAS, hoping to form a pressure group within the national organisation rather than severing ties with it.

Meanwhile, Biko was living at the Alan Taylor Residence, where his close friends included Vuyelwa Mashalaba, Charles Sibisi, Chapman Palweni and Goolam ‘Gees’ Abram, an Indian medical student from Benoni, east of Johannesburg. Later the group was joined by Ben Ngubane and Ben Mgulwa.

Through Vuyelwa Mashalaba Biko met Mamphela Ramphele , who began her  second year medical studies at UNNE in 1968.

Wits University Congress 1968

For the NUSAS congress at Wits University in 1968, the president of the Wits SRC, John Kane Berman, ensured that problems regarding accommodation would not be repeated, and the Congress was largely uneventful, according to Biko. But when an Afrikaner student delivered his report in Afrikaans, Gees Abram delivered a report in Urdu, while Steve delivered his in isiXhosa. When, at the conclusion of the proceedings, the White students sang the South African anthem, Die Stem, the Black students sang Nkosi Sikelele iAfrika. Duncan Innes, a close friend of Biko, was elected president of NUSAS after Biko nominated him for the position.

When Innes was elected president of NUSAS, Biko congratulated him in a letter on 22 August 1968. Biko wrote: ‘I would like to convey to you congratulations from our local committee on your election as President and a declaration of support and full co-operation during your term of office.’

In November 1968, Steve again assured Innes that he was not in favour of disaffiliation from NUSAS, but his plan to properly establish SASO continued.

Steve sent out invitations to all the Black student bodies he had been in contact with, on 14 October 1968, asking them to attend the launch of SASO from 1-3 December that year. The students met at Marianhill in December 1968, and officially founded SASO. 

SASO’s founding Congress

SASO’s founding congress was held at Turfloop, Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo ) in July 1969, and Steve was elected the first president, with Petrus Machaka as deputy president.

Steve’s presidential address was titled ‘SASO – Its Role, its Significance and its Future’, and as the title suggests, he spelt out the reasons the organisation came into being, and what role it was meant to play. Steve spoke of the organisation being forged by those treading a middle path, between Black militants who rejected any links with NUSAS and White students who saw the organisation as rejecting the liberal stance towards multiracial interaction. At this stage, Steve emphasised that SASO was not aiming to replace NUSAS as a national student organisation, and that they accepted the role of NUSAS in that capacity. But he also said:

“What SASO objects to is the dichotomy between principle and practice so apparent among members of that organisation (NUSAS). While very few would like to criticise NUSAS policy and principles as they appear on paper, one tends to get worried at all the hypocrisy practised by the members of that organisation. This serves to make the non-White members feels unaccepted and insulted in many instances.”

Steve went on to talk about the fact that NUSAS was dominated by White students, both in terms of numbers and leadership, in a country where Blacks were in the majority – in 1969 there were 27,000 White students at universities, while Black university enrolment totalled 3,000.

Steve also feared there would be a swing to the right within NUSAS, and that the influence of Black students had to be brought to bear on the organisation. For these and other reasons SASO would not become an affiliate of NUSAS. Indeed, NUSAS had been undergoing stormy conflicts from the beginnings of apartheid: its leaders were far more radical than the rank and file members and in 1964, Jonty Driver delivered a speech that reflected the schism, and there was a reaction that saw more moderate students begin to edge out the radicals. Ultimately the BCM exerted a radicalising influence on NUSAS, with many later leaders drawing on the ideas of the Black militants.

Around this time Biko began to have a romantic relationship with Mamphela Ramphele, who was becoming increasingly conflicted as she was betrothed to Dick Mmabane, whom she had met while in high school.  With their two families already making wedding arrangements, Ramphele got married to Mmabane in December 1969. Biko was devastated.

The split from NUSAS, 1970

Steve did not attend the NUSAS conference at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 1969, as he was busy travelling to the Black campuses trying to caucus support for SASO. But the Black student leaders who did attend embarked on a walkout. Neville Curtis , far more radical than previous White Presidents, was elected President of NUSAS for the 1969-70 terms. Together with Horst Kleinschmidt , Paula Ensor and others, he engaged in radical activities that eventually resulted in all of them being banned. Sheila Lapinsky, Paul Pretorius, Clive Keegan, Chris Wood, and Philip le Roux were also banned.

Steve began a relationship with Paula Ensor, who fully supported the creation of SASO. Writing about Biko and SASO years later, she said:

“The withdrawal of SASO and the transformation of NUSAS were outward manifestations of Biko’s influence on White student politics. But his influence was also felt in more personal ways, especially by students based in Durban at that time, as I was - for a small group of White students, SASO represented the re-emergence of radical politics and needed to be actively supported.”

Steve attended the 1970 NUSAS congress in Eston, Natal, as an observer and as a delegate from SASO. Paul Pretorius proposed a motion that NUSAS recognise SASO “as the body best able to represent the views and needs of Black students in South Africa.” The motion also recommended closer ties between SASO and NUSAS, with ‘maximum contact and co-operation’, and confirmed that both organisations were committed to non-racialism even if they had different methods of achieving this state. The motion caused an uproar, with the Wits and UCT delegations threatening to walk out of the congress. While the president, Neville Curtis, tried to foster a compromise, the majority of the students rejected the proposition. At this point, Ensor embarked on a piece of anti-apartheid theatre that stunned the congress: she went across to Biko and sat on his lap, effectively announcing that she and Steve were involved in an illegal relationship under Apartheid law.

In his personal life, Biko had met Nontsikelelo ‘Ntsiki’ Mashalaba, a cousin of Vuyelwa, and they married in December 1970 in King William’s Town at the Magistrate’s Court. They held a celebration at his mother’s house. Their first child, a son, Nkosinathi, was born in 1971.

SASO Takes Off

In July 1970, at the 1st General Students Council of SASO, Barney Pityana was elected President, and Steve was elected Chair of SASO Publications. Biko began to publish articles using the pseudonym Frank Talk, under the heading ‘I Write What I like’, in the SASO newsletters. In the August/September newsletter, he published the piece ‘Black Souls in White Skins’. After painting a picture of a more or less homogeneous White community, he turns his attention to the ‘Black souls in White skins’, ‘that curious bunch of nonconformists who explain their participation in negative terms, that bunch of do-gooders that goes under all sorts of names, liberals, leftists etc.’. Steve goes on to set out a history of liberal involvement in Black politics, further honing his critique of South African liberalism.

By now the need to appease NUSAS was dispensed with, and the SASO leaders voted to withdraw from NUSAS, refusing to recognise the body as the national student body.

Mamphela Ramphele has described the years from 1969 to 1971 as “the trial period” marked by experimentation with community projects in and around Durban. The students embarked on a series of community-upliftment projects, assisting squatters near the Phoenix settlement, north of Durban, operating a clinic outside Wentworth, south Durban and launching literacy, health and agricultural programmes. These projects continued over the next few years, and helped not only to improve material conditions, but to instil a sense of self-empowerment and self determination, one of the central aims of the BCM.

At the 2nd General Student Council in July 1971 the students set out the aims of Black Consciousness. The students passed a resolution on Black Theology, and rejected the Christianity of the White electorate, which they saw as upholding the structures of oppression. By now SASO was also considering the launch of other bodies, such as national political movements and trade unions.

In the December 1971 holiday period, students conducted a survey in the Winterveldt area near Pretoria , to gather statistics and knowledge that would inform community development projects. They also helped at the Mabopane private clinic and studied gathering places such as bus and taxi ranks, and informal markets. In the north, Turfloop students helped at the nearby Monkwe clinic and developed important relations with the surrounding community.

Meanwhile, an event that was to project SASO onto the national stage occurred in April 1972 at Turfloop. Onkgopotse Abram Tiro was expelled after delivering a speech containing a scathing critique of Bantu education and racist practices at universities and in society in general. Students embarked on a solidarity strike, boycotting their classes, until many were expelled. When they were allowed to return to campus, SASO was suspended, and was only revived in 1974 by Pandelani Nefolovhodwe and his comrades, but they were forced to base themselves off-campus.

At the 3rd General Student Council in July 1972, SASO president Temba Sono delivered a speech that recommended better relations with Whites and with some homeland leaders, provoking outrage among the students. Steve introduced a motion of censure, arguing that the speech was ‘contradictory to SASO policy’ and to the spirit of the policy. Pityana proposed that Sono be expelled from the organisation.

The 3rd council also saw the question of armed struggle hotly debated, with some, led by Keith Mokoape, pushing for SASO to join the military struggle. They were told to ‘search for other grazing lands’ as SASO was determined to remain an above-ground organisation.

On the other hand, the council took strong positions against Apartheid institutions, particularly the Bantustan/homelands system, and Bantu education.

Black People’s Convention (BPC)

During the period from 1970, SASO’s leaders were beginning to consider the limitations of organisations confined to student membership, and the idea of a broader community formation took root, one which would result in the launch of the Black People’s Convention (BPC) . Members of six organisations met in Bloemfontein in April 1971 to discuss the issue, including leaders of the Interdenominational African Ministers’ Association (IDAMASA) and the Association for the Advancement of African People of South Africa (ASSECA). A steering committee was established at a subsequent meeting in August of the same year, with editor of The World and ASSECA President MT Moerane tasked with drawing up a constitution. After a report-back meeting at the Donaldson Community Centre in Orlando in December 1971, a second steering committee was established under the leadership of Drake Koka, which met in Lenasia, south of Soweto , on 13 January 1972.

Throughout these deliberations, there was debate about the nature and function of the proposed body: some saw it as a simple umbrella body that served a co-ordinating function, while others wanted BPC to act as a vanguard body, leading the people in a thoroughly political project, ultimately to take power. Steve was somewhere in between, and he was concerned that decisions were being made without consulting other members of the Black community, especially in Indian and Coloured communities. It was important to Steve to add substance to the non-racial nature of the ‘Black’ as defined by the BCM.

Biko approached Saths Cooper and Strini Moodley to join the second steering committee, which met again in Dube and later at Wentworth in May 1972. After a number of preparatory meetings, BPC was launched at its first national conference in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, in December 1972. With 1,400 delegates from 145 organisations present, the conference proposed to ‘unite all South African Blacks into a political movement, which would seek liberation and emancipation of Black people from both psychological and physical oppression’.

From its beginnings, Steve was active in the affairs of BPC. More formally, he was employed as BPC's full-time youth coordinator.

Black Community Programmes (BCP)

The Black Consciousness Movement, together with the Study Project on Christianity in Apartheid Society (Spro-cas), set up a branch for community activities, called Black Community Programmes (BCP), in January 1972. Bennie Khoapa, a social worker at the YMCA, was elected to drive the organisation. With funding from Rev. Beyers Naude’s Christian Institute, the BCP embarked on a series of projects, including community development programmes in King William’s Town, Winterveldt and other areas.

Biko, after quitting his medical studies in August 1972, was heavily involved in BCP activities. He described the rationale of the organisation thus:

“Essentially to answer [the] problem that the Black man is a defeated being who finds it very difficult to lift himself up by his boot strings. He is alienated; He is made to live all the time concerned with matters of existence, concerned with tomorrow. Now, we felt that we must attempt to defeat and break this kind of attitude and instil once more a sense of dignity within the Black man. So what we did was to design various types of programmes, present these to the Black community with an obvious illustration that these are done by the Black people for the sole purpose of uplifting the Black community. We believed that we teach people by example.”

Mamphela Ramphele, who was one of Biko’s main lieutenants in BCP, wrote:

“The Eastern Cape office was set up in response to Steve Biko’s banning and restriction to that area in 1973. Offices in the Transvaal and Natal followed in 1974 and 1975 respectively, but the Eastern Cape emerged as the dominant region in terms of projects and the calibre of staff it employed.”

Importantly, BCP became the publishing arm of the BCM, producing Black Review, annual reviews and other publications, such as Creativity in Development and Black Perspectives, as well as Black Viewpoint, through Ravan Press, an arm of Spro-cas.

Bannings: State reaction to BCM’s successes

The BCM was becoming a presence in the country and not only at tertiary institutions – it was visible in the media, at schools, at community theatres, and in events that broke the pattern of quiescence that followed the banning of the ANC and PAC. But the movement also began to suffer casualties, with Tiro perhaps the first of these when he was expelled from the Turfloop University.

Another setback came with the tragic death of Mthuli Shezi in December 1972, when he was pushed onto the path of an oncoming train after defending Black women who were being abused by a railway official. Although not an official response to BC, the incident demonstrates the challenges BC activists faced in trying to achieve normal relations in an abnormal society. What Shezi did was simply to halt one of countless incidences of everyday brutality that the Black population had become accustomed to, and which BC was trying to reverse.

BPC’s plans for myriad sectorial affiliates – unions, women’s organisations, school-based student representative councils, organisations dealing with theology, arts and culture, among others – presented a growing threat to the state’s determination to implement the homeland policy and ensure that Blacks were not allowed to become anything more than ‘temporary sojourners’ in the cities and White areas.

In March 1973, the state cracked down, banning Drake Koka and Bokwe Mafuna , who were engaged in union projects. Biko and Pityana were banned in the same month. In August 1973, Mosibudi Mangena was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly recruiting two policemen to join the armed struggle. Tiro followed the way of Shezi when he was killed in January 1974 by a parcel bomb after he went into exile in Botswana , reflecting a new ruthlessness on the part of the security agencies.

The leaders who replaced those banned in March 1973 were in turn banned in August of the same year. Those who replaced these leaders were themselves banned in October.

Nevertheless the BCM continued to exert a growing influence on the politics of the country, and some decisions brought further repression from the state. The Frelimo Rallies precipitated another huge confrontation between the state and the BCM (more on this below).

The growth, development and outlawing of the broader BCM, which cannot be dealt with in detail in this article, can be read here. Suffice to say that Steve continued on a path that saw his involvement in the movement grow and develop in many directions.

Steve Biko: personal life, politics and return to the Eastern Cape

Steve’s medical studies suffered as a result of his political activism, and he was excluded from the medical school during the course of 1972. Having given up the idea of becoming a doctor, Steve enrolled for various courses at the distance-learning university, Unisa, and in 1973 he began studying law and political science, subjects more relevant to his political involvement.

Throughout this early period, Steve had been based in Natal, and the BCM had offices in Beatrice Street in the town centre.

By 1971 Ramphele’s marriage had broken down, and she resumed her romantic relationship with Biko, who by now had a son, with his wife Ntsiki Mashalaba. The situation proved to be stressful for all concerned, and added to the pressures of their political activities.

The state banned Steve in March 1973 and confined him to the magisterial district of King William’s Town. He returned to Ginsberg, and moved for a while into his mother’s house in Leightonville, the address to which he was restricted by his banning order.

With Steve working for the Black Community Programmes, earning a stipend, the family relied on the income of Ntsiki, who had been the main breadwinner for some time. But with the move to Ginsberg, the Apartheid authorities ensured that Ntsiki would not easily find a job, and the family struggled to make ends meet.

Steve asked Malusi Mpumlwana, who had been his constant companion in Durban, to join him in King William’s Town to help set up an office for the BCM. Mpumlwana went, according to Lindy Wilson, “thinking he could spare a couple of weeks.  The weeks turned into months and years; in fact he never left.”

Steve met up with an old friend, Fikile Mlinda, and asked him to help in the establishment of a BPC branch in Ginsberg. They held their first meeting in St Andrews Church, where Anglican priest David Russell was based.

A core of strong comrades from all over the country attended the meeting, including Malusi Mpumlwana, Mapetla Mohapi , Peter Jones and Tom Manthata. Mlinda was soon arrested, evidence that the security agencies were keeping a close eye on Steve’s activities. But members of the local community were encouraged by the strong turnout, including the comrades from far-off regions.

The venue, the Anglican St Andrew’s Church, was provided by David Russell . Steve was drawn to Russell, who became his confidant. Russell had for some time been involved with people forcibly removed from Middelburg and Burgersdorp to Dimbaza , which was part of his parish. Russell had engaged in protests against the forced removals, in one instance going on a fast to draw attention to the hunger of the people moved to a barren area with no infrastructure. But Russell moved from the area in December 1973, depriving Steve of a close and trusted friend.

Steve was also in frequent contact with Father Aelred Stubbs, who had moved to Alice when he began serving at the Federal Seminary. Stubbs, an Anglican priest, came to South Africa to teach at St Peter’s in Rosettenville, Johannesburg. He also became a confidant, and Steve frequently wrote to him when Stubbs was moved back to Rosettenville in 1972.

Besides his BC comrades, Steve was lucky to have his family around him to provide a strong support system. His mother, Mamcete, and sisters Nobandile and Bukelwa all played a part in keeping not just Biko but his comrades in good health and spirits. The Biko family house was a gathering place for the movement, but also a place where they had meals, drank and enjoyed socialising.

Steve engaged in several projects in the area. BCP ran projects that created home industries, Njwaxa Home Industries being one of these. These were attempts, often successful, to create businesses and employment. Njwaxa manufactured leather goods and clothes, employing about 50 people in 1974. A further 70 people were employed by the Border Council of Churches, in collaboration with BCP.

Steve set up the Ginsberg Educational Fund, which provided bursaries for students, many of them going to Fort Hare University. The fund, run by Malusi and Thoko Mpumlwana, Nohle Mohapi and Charles Nqakula, grew to include recipients in other Eastern Cape areas.

Steve also helped revive the Ginsberg Creche to look after toddlers whose mothers needed to leave their homes to go out to work.

Zanempilo Clinic

The Zanempilo Health Clinic, in Zinyoka village, 10km outside King William’s Town, was established with the help of a donation from a South African citizen of German origin. Steve approached B ka T Tyamzashe, who asked Rev James Gawe to help. Steve and BCP were given permission to build the clinic on Gawe’s church land. Steve had a good relationship with Tyamzashe, who was a composer of choral music which Steve was drawn to.

Zanempilo, which opened its doors in January 1975, became the nerve centre of BCM activities. Activists would converge on the site from all over the country, and Ramphele writes that it became a “guesthouse for visitors from far and wide that came to see the project and consult with Steve over a range of issues. These visits increased as Steve’s stature grew both nationally and internationally.”

Steve Biko and Donald Woods

With the emergence of the BCM, several White commentators and institutions reacted to the development of what they saw as a separatist Black grouping that conformed to the wishes of Apartheid plans for an intensified segregation. Donald Woods , the editor of the East London based Daily Despatch, was one of these. Woods, an honorary president of NUSAS, published several pieces condemning SASO and the BCM for their rejection of Whites, arguing that the movement was doing exactly what Apartheid prescribed. Increasingly irritated at Woods’s disparaging comments and arguments for the kind of liberalism he was critical of, Steve sent Mamphela Ramphele to meet with Woods and set him straight on the true nature of the BCM.

The meeting is remembered differently by each of the two protagonists. Ramphele recounts that she explained what BC was all about and urged Woods to meet with Steve so the latter could explain the philosophy, strategy and practices of the BCM. Woods remembers a confident, feisty, woman whose straight talk and intelligence forced him into a reconsideration of BC.

Woods met Steve sometime after Zanempilo opened its doors. The two hit it off, and became firm friends, with Woods and his family becoming frequent visitors to Zanempilo. Woods gave Steve a regular column in the Daily Despatch, but the articles went out under the name of one of Steve’s closest friends, Mapetla Mohapi, since Steve was banned and not allowed to publish anything. Mohapi was later arrested and killed while in detention.

The Frelimo Rallies and the BPC/SASO Trial

With the first generation of BC leaders officially – but not effectively – prohibited from political activity, a second generation of leaders emerged, among them Muntu Myeza. Appointed SASO secretary general for 1974, Myeza came up with the idea of holding rallies to celebrate the transitional government of Frelimo, and the impending independence of Mozambique.

The students decided to hold rallies at Curries Fountain in Durban, and at Turfloop University in the north near Pietersburg (today’s Polokwane). The rallies were banned soon after they were announced, but Myeza and his colleagues were defiant, determined to hold the rallies nonetheless. Biko was cautious, arguing that they were putting the lives of supporters at risk. He was backed by Mapetla Mohapi and Malusi Mpumlwana, but the younger leaders ignored their advice, and the Curries Fountain rally went ahead, with Myeza addressing 5,000 people. At Turfloop, students clashed with the police.

The State’s response was swift: 200 BCM activists were raided by the security police, and 13 leaders were put on trial. After charges against four of the leaders were dropped for various reasons, the State proceeded to put the remaining nine on trial: Saths Cooper, Muntu Myeza, Strini Moodley, Patrick ‘Terror’ Lekota, Nchaupe Mokoape, Pandelani Nefolovhodwe, Nkwenkwe Nkomo, Kaborone Sedibe and Zithulele Cindi. The trial, officially named ‘the State vs Cooper and eight others,’ quickly became known as the SASO/BPC trial, and became a major political event in the history of resistance politics.

Steve was subpoenaed as a defence witness, and he appeared in the dock at the Pretoria Supreme Court from 3 May to 7 May, 1976 for an entire week. He was faced with a difficult task: he had to present Black Consciousness as a progressive anti-apartheid movement, but he had to take care not to provide the state with ammunition to find the defendants guilty of ‘terrorism’ or incitement to insurrection, which were the charges the state levelled against the accused. 

This was the first time Steve spoke in public after being banned in March 1973.

According to Lindy Wilson:

“The prosecutor constantly led arguments in which he attempted to connect BC, and those charged, with the politics of the banned movements and their leaders. Biko was called at the very time that the BPC was embarking on its unifying role aimed at making contact with those banned organisations, and his genius lay in the way in which he kept many balls in the air at once, not compromising, not intimidating and yet maintaining the attention of the judge. Not everything he said was exactly the way it was.”

The country was gripped by the reports of Steve’s testimony, which some analysts have described as a ‘seminar on Black Consciousness’. Steve’s friend Ben Khoapa said to Aelred Stubbs: ‘Overnight, Steve became the toast of the Soweto shebeens. Here at last was the authentic voice of the people, not afraid to say openly what other Blacks think but are too frightened to say.’

The accused were all sentenced to terms ranging from five to six years on Robben Island – it is possible that they would have received harsher sentences were it not for Steve’s testimony.

Steve Biko’s Last Years: 1975-1977

Steve was still highly active in the everyday operations of BCP, and he was frequently consulted on issues relating to the larger BC movement, with activists making trips from the larger centres to confer with him. He kept abreast of developments throughout the country, and his appearance at the SASO/BPC trial brought him to the attention of the international community. He became a leader that foreign diplomats sought out to get a picture of the political situation in South Africa.

In August 1975, Steve’s elder sister Bukelwa died at the age of 33. A nurse at Fort Beaufort Mental Hospital, she came to Zanempilo complaining of chest pains and was sedated. But she returned home and died of a heart attack the next morning.

In 1975 Steve was arrested and detained for 137 days – but he was not charged or put on trial.

Meanwhile, the BPC held its fourth national conference in King William’s Town.

At the beginning of 1976, Biko’s banning order was tightened, and he could no longer operate as the director of BCP, a responsibility that was passed on to Ramphele. To testify at the SASO/BPC trial in May, special arrangements were made as he had been subpoenaed by the defence.

Following his testimony at the SASO/BPC trial, students in Soweto, who had throughout the year been protesting against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, organised a huge protest on June 16, 1976. Police, confronted by thousands of angry school pupils opened fire, killing hundreds of pupils. The Soweto youth uprising, and the police’s brutal response, sent shockwaves throughout the world, and the Apartheid regime was condemned even by its allies in the West.

A severe crackdown on BC activists followed the uprising. Mapetla Mohapi was arrested on 15 July 1976, and was killed three weeks later, a development that deeply disturbed Steve. Mpumlwana, Mxolisi Mvovo, Thenjiwe Mtintso and Thoko Mabanjwa were arrested in August. On 27 August 1976, at the height of the Soweto uprising , Steve was arrested and held in solitary confinement for 101 days. 

Soon after his release, Biko met American Senator Dick Clark in December 1976, one of a string of diplomats who wanted to get a sense of Black thinking at the time. The chair of the Senate Sub-committee on Africa, Clark was an influential contact, but some BC leaders, especially those based in Cape Town , disapproved of the meeting with an American diplomat.

Steve was also close to the Australian diplomat Bruce Haigh, who often consulted Steve on political matters in South Africa, using the latter’s insights to inform Australian policy towards South Africa.

Steve was thoroughly immersed in community activities, both formal and informal, simply helping whenever and however he could. When five boys were accused of burning down Forbes Grant School in 1977, he organised lawyers to defend them, but they lost the case and were sentenced to terms of five years on Robben Island. Among the lawyers Steve roped in was Griffiths Mxenge .

But there was play as well as work. Biko enjoyed socialising with friends and people from the area. He frequented local shebeens, such as Getty’s Place in the Tsolo section of Ginsberg, where he was on many occasions protected by the patrons when the security police came in search of him.

Steve was close to Sonwabo Yengo, who lived in Zaula Street, where they would have gumbas (parties). The group loved singing, and Steve in particular loved the song by Donny Hathaway, To be Young, Gifted and Black, but they also sang struggle songs and choral classics. His favourite freedom struggle song, according to Xolela Mangcu, contained the lyrics: ‘We are leaders of Africa. Rise up, leaders, and let us move forward.’

When Yengo last saw Steve, he was bruised and limping, and told his friend he had been beaten by White men – it is unclear if they were policemen or ordinary people. He said to Sonwabo: ‘These Whites are really beating me now, Tshawe. But I am fighting back. But they are going to kill me at the rate they are going.’

Attempts to forge unity between the various tendencies

Perhaps the most significant activities Steve was involved in at this time were attempts to forge some kind of working unity between the various liberation organisations, especially the ANC, the PAC and the Non European Unity Movement (NEUM) . Steve began his efforts sometime in the mid-1970s – Malusi Mpumlwana and Mapetla Mohapi were especially active in these attempts, and it later emerged that Mohapi had recruited people into the ANC, among them Brigitte Mabandla

According to Lindy Wilson, Mpumlwana and Mapetla were driving from Pretoria to Natal after Mapetla was released from detention in 1975 when they “debated the role that BPC might now play. An idea grew that it (BPC) should explore its potential as a catalyst for uniting the liberation movements. This idea emerged for several different reasons: the logic that BC’s evolving ideology should develop from psychological unity to political unity; the fact that, in spite of the bannings, SASO and BPC still had mobility and continued to operate nationally on the ground; the recognition that the ANC and PAC were the established political movements and that BPC would not act as a third force but would endeavour to create a national consciousness involving all existing historical political movements against the common enemy.”

The idea was shared with a select group of BC leaders: Thami Zani, Tom Manthata and Kenny Rachidi among them. Steve met with banned PAC leader Robert Sobukwe, and also with Griffiths Mxenge, who was at the time an underground ANC operative. Both were sympathetic to the idea, and agreed to speak to their counterparts.

But some BC leaders were already moving to the view that the ANC was paramount and that the BPC should act to realise the aims of the Freedom Charter. At a workshop in Mafikeng (then Mafeking) in May 1976, Diliza Mji, Norman Dubazana, Nkosazana Dlamini and Mafika Pascal Gwala argued against Steve’s vision of BPC playing a central role in unifying the movements.

There were plans for Steve to meet with ANC leader Oliver Tambo . Harry Nengwekhulu , who had left the country after he was banned in March 1973, was tasked with securing a meeting with the leader of the ANC in exile. The plan was for Steve to leave the country for the meeting, perhaps through an invitation from a Western government. But the logistics and security issues proved too difficult, and several planned meetings had to be cancelled. According to Mark Gevisser, in his biography of Thabo Mbeki, Steve was to meet with Mbeki as well, but the security situation was not conducive.

Barney Pityana was also set to meet with Tambo after he left South Africa in 1978. He was to be accompanied by Ben Khoapa to Lusaka for the meeting, which had been arranged by Craig Williamson , purportedly the chief of the International University Exchange Fund (IUEF). Pityana and Khoapa met in Lesotho , where they were told that they would meet with Tambo in Lesotho, flying via Bloemfontein.

Fortunately for them, however, they suspected a trap had been laid, and stayed away. Indeed, the next day the newspapers, informed by security police, published a story saying the two had been detained, when in fact they never boarded the plane and abandoned the mission. This episode revealed that Craig Williamson was indeed an Apartheid spy.

In 1977, Steve was made the honorary president of BPC. Mpumlwana recounts the role Steve was to play in forging a broad movement together with the exiled organisations:

“It is here that you begin the process of looking out to negotiate with other organisations. It is here that you begin to see the need of having some kind of central figure. That’s why we decided to make Steve the honorary president of the BPC. Before that he had no formal authority, it was all about charisma and the influence he had as an individual.”

The state was desperate to prevent relations between the BCM and the exiled organisations, and Steve was questioned about supposed contacts when he was detained. This partly explains why Biko was detained so often during the last two years of his life. In March 1977 Biko was arrested and once again released. Mpumlwana was also arrested in March, and held for four months. Mamphela Ramphele was also banished to Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo).

With so many comrades neutralised, the plan for unity talks faltered. Steve asked Peter Jones, a BPC activist based in the Western Cape , to travel to King William’s Town to help run the local BPC offices. It was a fateful move. Jones and Steve, in consultation with their colleagues, decided to meet Neville Alexander in Cape Town, a trip that would end with the pair being detained.

The Trip to see Neville Alexander

Soon after midnight on the morning of 17 August 1977, Steve and Jones set out for Cape Town. Steve wanted to meet with Neville Alexander and with his BC counterparts in the city. The latter, led by Johnny Issel, had been critical of Steve’s meeting with Dick Clark and of economic policies Steve had contemplated.

The pair arrived in Cape Town by 10am, and after resting at Jones’s home, Steve drove to meet Fikile Bam , who was a close comrade of Alexander. Jones meanwhile drove to see Alexander, who informed him that he could not meet with Biko. When Jones returned, Bam decided that the trio would go to Alexander’s house despite his decision. They drove there and parked in Alexander’s yard while Bam went into the house to convince Alexander to meet with Steve. 

Alexander was reluctant for several reasons: both he and Steve were banned and it would be a crippling blow to the movement if they were caught and convicted. Also, he was heeding the recommendations of Cape Town’s BC activists. He later recalled:

“Fiks tried every trick in the book to convince me to meet with Steve. But I would not budge. In order to put pressure on me he said Steve was sitting in the car in the backyard. But I was instructed by my guys not to meet Steve because of problems within the Black Consciousness Movement in Cape Town. I did not want to be caught in the crossfire.

Steve decided to immediately drive back to King William’s Town on the same evening – August 17.  Jones and Steve undertook the 12-hour journey and reached the outskirts of King William’s Town when they were stopped by a police roadblock. They were identified after a heavily disguised Steve, realising the hopelessness of denial, decided to announce that he was indeed the man the police were looking for.

Jones was taken to Algoa Police Station and Steve to Walmer Police Station, both in Port Elizabeth. Jones underwent severe torture over a prolonged period, and never saw Steve again.

The Death of Steve Biko

Steve was stripped and manacled for 20 days before he was transferred to the Sanlam Building in Port Elizabeth, where the Security Police were based. He was told to remain standing, but he defied his captors and sat down. Infuriated, a Captain Siebert manhandled him, but Steve fought back.

Steve was badly beaten, and between the night of 6 September and the morning of 7 September, he sustained a brain haemorrhage. Despite his injury, the police kept him shackled to a grille, still naked. When doctors examined him, they yielded to the security police by glossing over Steve’s injuries. Dr Ivor Lang could find nothing wrong with Steve on 7 September. When specialist Dr Benjamin Tucker examined Steve, he suggested that the badly injured detainee be taken to hospital, but he backed down when police objected.

Lang did not object when police said they were driving Steve to Pretoria, 700km away. This they did, on 11 September, in the back of a van, with Steve still naked, frothing at the mouth, and unable to speak. In Pretoria, a district surgeon examined Steve and tended to him, but it was too late.

Alone in his cell, Steve died some time on the night of 12 September 1977.

The reaction to Steve Biko’s death

Steve’s death was announced and there was outrage from many quarters. The government was at pains to contradict the obvious interpretation of the event – that the police had killed Steve.

On Wednesday, 14 September, a Rand Daily Mail report read:

“Mr Steve Biko, the 30-year-old black leader, widely regarded as the founder of the black consciousness movement in South Africa, died in detention on Monday (12th). Mr Biko, honorary president of the Black People’s Convention and the father of two small children, is the 20th person to die in Security Police custody in 18 months.”

The report quoted a statement by the Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger, in which the minister presented the government’s version of Steve’s death, saying that he had been on a hunger strike since 5 September, refusing food. Kruger acknowledged that a district surgeon had been called to examine Steve on 7 September ‘because Mr Biko appeared unwell’. The medic, Kruger continued, found nothing wrong with Biko.

Kruger continued his account, glossing over the serious injuries Steve sustained while in detention.  Later, addressing a National Party (NP) congress on 14 September, Kruger announced: “I am not glad and I am not sorry about Mr Biko. It leaves me cold. I can say nothing to you. Any person who dies; I should also be sorry if I die.” There was laughter at this last sentence. Kruger went on to justify the detention of Steve, saying that he had been found in possession of pamphlets inciting arson and violence. He proceeded to give a ridiculous and fictitious account of Steve’s detention and death.

According to Donald Woods: “The next day Kruger implied that Steve had died of a hunger strike, but I knew this couldn’t be true because he (Biko) had once said he would never take or endanger his own life in detention, and that if he were to die in jail, and it was claimed he had hanged or suffocated or starved himself or cut his wrists, I was to know it was a lie.”

Die Burger, an Afrikaans government-supporting newspaper, presented the government’s sentiments regarding the death of ‘the black power activist Steve Biko’: “Concern over detainees’ deaths becomes deep dismay when the hysterical propaganda against authorities is observed. A vehement campaign is in progress which surpasses all previous protests. The venomous suggestions are of such an extravagant nature that it fills an objective observer with trepidation: The purpose is to discredit the security police.”

Similarly, the state broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), took the government’s version as fact, and speculated that if Steve had committed suicide, this would have fitted the pattern of many recent detainee suicides. It went on: “To their critics the police point out that so far a court of law has never established that the police have been responsible for torturing and killing a single detainee.”

There was international outrage at Steve’s death, with many governments making statements and sending condolences.

Donald Woods published a moving portrait of his friend Biko, saying:

“In the three years that I grew to know him my conviction never wavered that this was the most important political leader in the entire country, and quite simply the greatest man I have ever had the privilege to know.” 

A post-mortem was carried out soon after Steve’s death was announced, but the Biko family’s pathologist was informed only after the autopsy had begun. Newspapers reported that Steve had sustained brain damage. Woods challenged Kruger about the hunger-strike claims, and “got a reliable tip-off that he (Kruger) had received the coroner’s report on Steve’s post-mortem, that it revealed that Steve had died of brain damage, and that although Kruger had had his report for more than a week he had not yet ordered an inquest or corrected his ‘hunger strike’ story.”

The funeral

A nation weeps. Mourners gather to pay their last respects as Steve Biko's body lies in state in his home before the funeral, attended by 20,000 mourners at King William's Town, November 1977. Photo: Bailey's African History Archives)

Steve Biko’s funeral, on 25 September 1977, was attended by about 20,000 people, although the mourners would have numbered many more if police had not turned many away at scores of roadblocks around King William’s Town. Police blocked all the routes into the town, and thousands were turned away by the heavily armed officials. Convoys in the major cities were stopped even before they set out for the funeral.

People from the Transvaal who managed to get through had to pass through seven roadblocks before arriving in King William’s Town. According to Hilda Bernstein : “One of the speakers, Dr Nthato Motlana , who flew from Johannesburg after he was blocked off when attempting to travel by road, said at the funeral that he had watched as black policemen hauled mourners off the buses in Soweto and assaulted them with truncheons. The physician said he had treated 30 of the mourners, some for fractured skulls, and said he had witnesses who would testify that a number of young women were raped.”

Yet, the authorities could not hide or dampen the significance of the occasion, which was attended by diplomats from 13 Western countries – from the United States of America, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Holland, Canada, Australia, Brazil and the Scandinavian countries. A small number of South Africans also attended, including Woods, his wife Wendy, and her brother Peter Bruce. Members of the Progressive Federal Party included Helen Suzman , Zac de Beer and Alex Boraine .

The funeral was marked by passionate denunciations of the apartheid regime, and became something of a political rally, lasting more than six hours. Mourners thrust their fists into the air and shouted ‘Power!’ when Steve’s coffin was lowered into the grave.

The Inquest

Calls for an inquest were made by many individuals and organisations, and the Minister of Justice eventually relented. The inquest began on 14 November, two months after Steve’s death, at the Old Synagogue in Pretoria. But already, in October, two attorney-generals, of the Transvaal and the Eastern Cape, announced that there would be no criminal proceedings related to the findings of the inquest.

The inquest sought, ostensibly, to determine how Steve had died, and was presided over by a magistrate, Marthinus Prins, with the Deputy Attorney-General Klaus von Lieres acting as prosecutor to lead the evidence.  But Hilda Bernstein, in her booklet No. 46 – Steve Biko, writes:

“This was no ordinary inquest. It was in essence a conspiracy to defeat the ends of justice; a conspiracy in which almost all the witnesses and most of the court officials joined. Their purpose was not to establish the cause of death but to conceal it; not to discover who might be responsible, but to hide them.”

Bernstein quoted the impressions of the Past President of the British Law Society, Sir David Napley, who had been invited to observe the inquest by the Association of Law Societies of South Africa:

“I may be wrong but I came away with the clear impression that, on such occasions as he (Deputy Attorney-General Von Lieres) intervened, his questions were directed to preserve the position previously taken up. To this end on occasions he intervened to support the police and doctors, although they were already represented by other counsel.

Bernstein goes on to paint the scene: “The inquest was high drama. Never before at an inquest of someone who died in detention have there been television cameras and reporters from so many countries: every day a crowd of black spectators sang outside the Synagogue.”

Over the next few days the security policemen, doctors and pathologists presented their testimonies about the sequence leading up to the death of Biko. In his submission, Deputy Attorney-General Klaus von Lieres said:

“Our respectful submission is that you (the judge) will come to the conclusion that in this particular case there is no positive evidence that the deceased’s death was caused by an act or omission of any person.”

The judge repeated these words, almost verbatim, in his final ruling.

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.

Two years later a South African Medical and Dental Council (SAMDC) disciplinary committee found there was no prima facie case against the two doctors who had treated Biko shortly before his death. Dissatisfied doctors, seeking another inquiry into the role of the medical authorities who had treated Biko shortly before his death, presented a petition to the SAMDC in February 1982, but this was rejected on the grounds that no new evidence had come to light. Biko's death caught the attention of the international community, increasing the pressure on the South African government to abolish its detention policies and calling for an international probe on the cause of his death. Even close allies of South Africa, Britain and the United States of America, expressed deep concern about the death of Biko and added their support to those asking for an international probe.

It took eight years and intense pressure before the South African Medical and Dental Council (SAMDC) took disciplinary action. On 30 January, 1985, the Pretoria Supreme Court ordered the SAMDC to hold an inquiry into the conduct of the two doctors who treated Biko during the five days before he died. Judge President of the Transvaal, Justice W G Boshoff, said in a landmark judgment that there was prima facie evidence of improper or disgraceful conduct on the part of the "Biko" doctors in a professional respect.

The Aftermath

Soon after Steve’s death, the state banned 18 organisations on 17 October 1977, the majority of them allied to the BCM. These included, SASO, BPC, BCP and many others. The Christian Institute (CI), led by the Reverend Beyers Naude, was also banned, as was Reverend Naude himself. Scores of BC activists were banned, and Donald Woods was also served with a banning order.

The BCM launched the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO) in 1979, but the organisation was also banned soon thereafter. By the early 1980s the Black Consciousness Movement was in decline, eclipsed by the re-emergence of the Congress movement, most notably in the shape of the United Democratic Front. Steve’s dream of uniting the various liberation organisations never came to fruition; rather, the Congress Movement took the reins of the anti-apartheid struggle and eventually the ANC became the ruling party after the first democratic elections in 1994.

Steve is survived by his wife, Ntsiki, and their child, Nkosinathi. He also had a child, and Samora, with Mamphela Ramphele.

His son Nkosinathi launched the Steve Biko Foundation, which has become a non-profit organisation with a large presence in the Eastern Cape. In 2013, the institute celebrated the opening of a large community centre in Ginsberg, in King William’s Town. The foundation promotes debates on current issues and is growing into a valuable resource in Biko’s hometown.

Former Nelson Mandela paid tribute to Biko in 2002, saying:

“Living, he was the spark that lit a veld fire across South Africa. His message to the youth and students was simple and clear: Black is Beautiful! Be proud of your Blackness! And with that he inspired our youth to shed themselves of the sense of inferiority they were born into as a result of more than three hundred years of white rule.”

Arnold, Millard (editor) 1978: The Testimony of Steve Biko, Panther: Granada Publishing|Badat, Salim (2009): Black Man, You Are On Your Own, Steve Biko Foundation, Sue Publishers|Bernstein, Hilda (1978), No. 46 ”“ Steve Biko, London, International Defence and Aid Fund|Bizos, G. (1998). “Steve Biko” in No one to blame?: in pursuit of justice in South Africa|Gevisser, Mark (2007): The Dream Deferred, Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers (Pty) Ltd|Karis, Thomas & Gerhart, Gail, (1997): From Protest to Challenge, A Documentary History of African Politics in SA, 1882-1990, Volume Five, Nadir and Resurgence, 1964-1979|Mangcu, Xolela (2012): Biko, A Biography, Tafelberg|Mzamane, Mbulelo Vizikhungo; Maaba, Bavusile; and Biko, Nkosinathi, ‘The Black Consciousness Movement’, in The Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 2, 1970-1980, UNISA Press|Pityana, Ramphele, Mpumlwana & Wilson (Editors) (1991): Bounds of Possibility: The Legacy of Steve Biko & Black Consciousness, David Philip: Cape Town.|Woods, Donald (1980): Asking for Trouble, Autobiography of a Banned Journalist, London: Victor Gollancz Ltd|Bernstein, H. (unknown): No. 46-Steve Biko [online]. South African History Online|Mufson, S. (1990): Fighting Years: Black Resistance and the Struggle for a New South Africa, Boston: Beacon Press|Ndlovu S. M. (1978): The Soweto Uprisings: Counter-memories of June 1976|Woods Donald (1978): Biko, London: Penguin

Youth and the National Liberation Struggle 1894-1994 June 16th Soweto Riots and the Youth Struggle Steve Biko: The Early Years - Photo Gallery Video interview segment with Ahmed Kathrada (Part 1) Video interview segment with Ahmed Kathrada (Part 2) Video interview segment with Ahmed Kathrada (Part 3) Video interview segment with Ahmed Kathrada (Part 4)<

The grim legacy of Steve Biko's killer , Nosipiwo Manona and Nicki Gules, City Press, 2017-09-17

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This mexican scientist invented the 'mark of democracy' used across the world.

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In the week that Mexico goes to the polls, meet the Mexican scientist who invented the indelible liquid that's revolutionized the way many vote.

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'I need a hug': CNN hosts cut off Trump ally who refuses to have 'decent conversation'

Matthew Chapman

Matthew Chapman

News writer, matthew chapman is a video game designer who attended rensselaer polytechnic institute and lives in san marcos, texas. before joining raw story, he wrote for shareblue and alternet, specializing in election and policy coverage..

'I need a hug': CNN hosts cut off Trump ally who refuses to have 'decent conversation'

Tempers flared and a roundtable discussion on former President Donald Trump's criminal conviction devolved into chaos on CNN Friday evening, as visibly exasperated hosts Boris Sanchez and Brianna Keilar were forced to cut short a furious rant by former Trump White House spokesman Hogan Gidley , who was debating alongside former President Bill Clinton adviser Paul Begala.

"He hurts himself when he goes on these hysterical rants," said Begala. "Yes, he helps himself with his base, but his base is not the majority of the country, and there will be some MAGA people who feel some pity — look, in a way I do. He's an obese, flatulent old man with bad makeup and weird hair who had to sit in a courtroom and listen to a porn star testify about how bad he is in bed."

Gidley fired back later in the discussion, pushing a variety of conspiracy theories about the justice system going after Trump supporters.

ALSO READ: Trump just endorsed this Virginia congressional candidate whose social media isn’t so MAGA

"The American people are focused on issues out there," said Gidley. "A lot of people have spoken with are angry that they see a weaponized judicial system going after not just a former president, but average Americans for standing up for life, for example, you go to jail, go to, go to a school board meeting and stand up for the curriculum of your children, you go to jail. This is the type of issue that will mobilize a lot of voters out there regardless of political party. But I keep hearing the left saying Joe Biden should focus on the issues, and he probably will. The problem is he's focused on the wrong ones. Of course, he's going to talk about things like J6 and abortion and the threats to democracy. People care about that, but it's nowhere near the failed policies of his border issues, where people are pouring across by the tens of millions, where you can't pay for gas or for groceries, where we have wars breaking out all over the world, crime spiking in our major cities. These are all the effects of the failed policies of Joe Biden."

"Hogan I just like — let's, can we fact-check you on these border numbers, and Paul, you're, like, fat-shaming the former president," said Keilar finally. They also requested a "decent conversation."

Begala briefly tried to defend his words, and Gidley launched into a rant.

"If we're going to have a conversation about the health of these two men, bring it," he said, as Sanchez and Keilar repeatedly tried to get a word in edgewise. "I would love to have a conversation about the physical and mental decline, it's something we're trying to say that is an issue for voters, guys, you may not want to admit it, I'm sorry, that's just the fact of the matter. People around him are concerned about his health. They have to walk around him in a weird circle to get to Marine One so no one sees is weird gait. His shoes—"

At this point, the hosts cut off the microphone and ended the segment. "It's been a conversation," said Sanchez. "I need a hug right now," remarked Keilar.

Watch the video below or at the link.

Stories Chosen For You

Should trump be allowed to run for office, 'stupid' trump attorney blanche pounded by michael cohen for botching felony trial.

Former Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pounced on the now convicted ex-president's current primary lawyer Todd Blanche on MSNBC Saturday morning, renewing his attack on Blanche as " the stupidest lawyer of all time (SLOAT) " and claiming he botched Trump's defense which led to a clean sweep of 34 felony convictions. Appearing on "The Weekend," Cohen picked apart Blanche's strategy while calling the former prosecutor "stupid" for letting his client dictate the direction the defense should take. After watching a clip of Blanche explaining how he might appeal the devastating verdict and attacking Cohen as a witness, the former Trump lawyer stated, "You know I have a name for Todd, it's called 'SLOAT —stupidest lawyer of all time.'"

ALSO READ: Donald Trump has unclaimed property and abandoned money in at least 16 states "Let me be very clear Todd, because I'm sure he's watching like everyone else," he continued. "He's the stupidest lawyer of all time. Why? You don't make the defense of a case like this 'Let's discredit one of the witnesses, let's discredit the narrator of the story.' There are 19 other people that were called by the district attorney, by prosecutors ... 19 people testified which all corroborated, again, the narrative of my story. What I had been saying again for six years, corroborated by 19 independent people, some of whom still work for Trump and remain loyal to him." Asked if Trump was "calling the shots," Cohen explained, "Guaranteed it was Donald Trump calling the shots. I saw him do it 2007 when I started working for him. He calls the shots, it's the wrong thing to do, you don't allow your client dictate to you the terms of your defense especially when you're talking about something as serious as this case." "It is again stupid, which is why I called him the SLOAT," he added. Watch below or at the link

'His legacy is just beyond trash': New Yorkers pile on Trump after crushing conviction

New York City denizens are reveling in Donald Trump's conviction on 34 felony counts in a Manhattan courtroom on Thursday, expressing sentiments from good riddance to glee at his downfall in interviews with the New York Times. Trump , once a titan in New York City real estate circles, could be headed to prison with Judge Juan Merchan setting a sentencing date for July 11, and one New Yorker claiming he and many others "would like to push him out of the headlines” According to the Times report from Maggie Haberman and Jesse McKinley, "... the city that helped make him rich and famous has become his battleground. And Mr. Trump keeps losing. His conviction this week was the third and heaviest blow the former president has been dealt in his erstwhile hometown this year — a series of challenges to his ego, his bottom line, and now, perhaps, his freedom."

ALSO READ: Why Trump’s strength is illusory Case in point, Robert Clark, 63, of Williamsburg, stated, "I woke up with a smile on my face,” the morning after the jury delivered their verdict. Retiree Mark Samuels, 70, added, "His legacy is just beyond trash. We’re in one of the most important cities on earth and he came and he fell. It’s his rise and fall.” The report adds, "Lennox Hannan, 63, a writer who lives in Williamsburg, said he was 'overjoyed' and compared Mr. Trump to a mafia boss, Richard Nixon and even more unsavory characters. He also said the verdict also swelled his pride as a New Yorker, saying 'the beginning of his downfall' had happened in the city." “It’s fitting the first justice he’s faced has been in New York City,” Hannan added. “It all comes back to New York City.” You can read more here .

Stormy Daniels helped sink Trump in court, but she's keeping mum

Stormy Daniels, the adult film actor and director, has never been shy in her public battles with Donald Trump .

But ever since her starring role in the New York trial that made him the first former US president to be a felon, she's not said a word.

It's a relationship that could come from the pages of a bad novel -- the playboy billionaire who wanted to be president and the porn actress who says they had a brief fling before she was sucked into illegal machinations intended to keep her quiet during an election.

A jury of 12 ordinary New Yorkers found Trump guilty on 34 counts of business fraud while attempting to cover up a hush money payment to Daniels on the eve of the tight 2016 election -- which the Republican went on to win against Hillary Clinton.

After years of exchanging insults with Trump over social media, including during his four years in the White House, Stormy Daniels -- whose real name is Stephanie Clifford -- suddenly found she was the one with the power.

Her testimony, including graphic descriptions of what she says was a 2006 bout of casual sex, was crucial in the prosecution case, which needed to show that Trump was afraid any leak of the story would doom his campaign.

In the aftermath, though, the 45-year-old has kept uncharacteristically quiet.

Her husband Barrett Blade told CNN that "she's still processing."

He suggested there could be more to her silence.

"You know, all the MAGA idiots are going to be coming after her," he said, referring to Trump's Make America Great Again movement.

In a bitterly divided country, those fears may not be far-fetched.

Daniels was wearing a bulletproof vest when she went to the New York courthouse, her lawyer Clark Brewster confirmed in an interview with a local ABC News channel.

"It's so vicious and threatening and so I think from the standpoint of just the fear of what somebody might do," he said of the atmosphere for Daniels.

"It was really fear."

Asked if this apprehension has increased in the wake of the Trump guilty verdict, Brewster said: "That would be a logical conclusion."

- 'Weight on her shoulders' -

Despite the emotional toll, Daniels feels "a little vindicated that you know, she was telling the truth," Blade said.

He said Daniels had not sought to face Trump across the courtroom in a case brought by Manhattan prosecutors.

The end of the trial is a relief -- "a big weight off her shoulders" -- Blade said.

The stress, though, is hardly over.

"It brings another weight upon her shoulders of what happens next," Blade said. "We take it day by day."

Daniels is a self-made woman who rose from a difficult childhood and through the challenging world of adult movies to become a successful businesswoman.

But in a recent documentary, she revealed that behind her outwardly tough, humorous persona on social media, she has been hurt by the constant insults from Trump and his supporters.

"Back in 2018 that was stuff like 'liar,' 'slut,' 'gold digger," she said in the film, "Stormy."

"This time around, it is very different. It is direct threats, it is, 'I'm going to come to your house and slit your throat,' 'your daughter should be euthanized.'"

By contrast, the other main prosecution witness in the trial, Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen, has been eagerly telling his story in the wake of the trial.

The disgraced lawyer, who testified that he was at the heart of the former president's scheme to silence Daniels, has appeared on MSNBC and other major media.

"It was emotionally draining," Cohen told ABC News, adding that he was glad to have gone through the ordeal.

"I want people to also remember, I take responsibility for what I did," he said. "I accepted it and in part went to prison for it."

biography of a person who helped build democracy

Justice delayed is not always justice denied

Trump’s felony convictions force republicans into telling even bigger lies, mass shooting survivor reaches cash settlement with former government employer.

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biography of a person who helped build democracy


  1. Learner Area: Biography of Nelson Mandela

    biography of a person who helped build democracy

  2. 7 ways Nelson Mandela changed South Africa

    biography of a person who helped build democracy

  3. Pin on Africa

    biography of a person who helped build democracy

  4. Who Really Helped To Build Democracy In South Africa? April 2024

    biography of a person who helped build democracy

  5. Three African leaders who gave up power by choice before their term

    biography of a person who helped build democracy

  6. Key Figures Who Helped Build Democracy in South Africa

    biography of a person who helped build democracy


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  1. 10 South African Freedom Fighters (Who Aren't Nelson Mandela) That

    South Africa's Freedom Day recognises the first democratic election that took place in the country after apartheid, on April 27, 1994. Continuing to carry out Nelson Mandela's legacy and live in a democracy has led the country on the path to achieving the United Nations' Global Goal 16 for peace, justice, and strong institutions.

  2. People who shaped and helped the growth of democracy

    Learn about the key figures in the history of democracy, from ancient Greece to modern times. See how they contributed to the development of democratic principles, such as liberty, equality and representation.

  3. Oliver Tambo

    Oliver Tambo (born October 27, 1917, Bizana, Pondoland district, Transkei [now in Eastern Cape], South Africa—died April 24, 1993, Johannesburg) was the president of the South African black-nationalist African National Congress (ANC) between 1967 and 1991. He spent more than 30 years in exile (1960-90).. Tambo was born in a Transkei village of subsistence farmers.

  4. Biography of Nelson Mandela

    Biography of Nelson Mandela. Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Madiba clan in the village of Mvezo, in the Eastern Cape, on 18 July 1918. His mother was Nonqaphi Nosekeni and his father was Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, principal counsellor to the Acting King of the Thembu people, Jongintaba Dalindyebo. In 1930, when he was 12 years old ...

  5. Oliver Tambo

    Oliver Tambo was born on 27 October 1917 in the village of Nkantolo in Bizana; eastern Pondoland in what is now the Eastern Cape. The village Tambo was born in was made up mostly of farmers. His father, Mzimeni Tambo, was the son of a farmer and an assistant salesperson at a local trading store. Mzimeni had four wives and ten children, all of ...

  6. Nelson Mandela

    Nelson Mandela (born July 18, 1918, Mvezo, South Africa—died December 5, 2013, Johannesburg) was a Black nationalist and the first Black president of South Africa (1994-99). His negotiations in the early 1990s with South African Pres. F.W. de Klerk helped end the country's apartheid system of racial segregation and ushered in a peaceful ...

  7. Desmond Tutu

    Desmond Tutu (born October 7, 1931, Klerksdorp, South Africa—died December 26, 2021, Cape Town) was a South African Anglican cleric who in 1984 received the Nobel Prize for Peace for his role in the opposition to apartheid in South Africa. (Read Desmond Tutu's Britannica entry on the South African truth commission.) Tutu was born of Xhosa and Tswana parents and was educated in South ...

  8. Nelson Mandela

    Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (/ m æ n ˈ d ɛ l ə / man-DEH-lə; Xhosa: [xolíɬaɬa mandɛ̂ːla]; born Rolihlahla Mandela; 18 July 1918 - 5 December 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid activist, politician, and statesman who served as the first president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country's first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative ...

  9. Biographies of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela

    Callinicos's. book is an authoritative biography of Oliver Tambo, analogous to Anthony Sampson's 'authorised' biography of Nelson Mandela. Lodge's book on Nelson Mandela is an extensive biographical essay in which he is particularly intrigued by Mandela as 'one of the first of the media politicians' (p. ix).

  10. Oliver Tambo

    QUICK FACTS. Name: Oliver Tambo. Birth Year: 1917. Birth date: October 27, 1917. Birth City: Bizana. Birth Country: South Africa. Gender: Male. Best Known For: Oliver Tambo was the acting ...

  11. His Life and Legacy

    Oliver Reginald Tambo, leader of the African National Congress in exile for thirty years, died on 23 April 1993. Yet his legacy lives on. Comrade O.R. left us a significant and enduring heritage, one, which enhanced our new constitution, contributed to the inclusive and equitable policies of our democratically elected government, and affirmed ...

  12. Nelson Mandela

    Nelson Mandela (June 2, 2009). Nelson Mandela was elected the first Black president of South Africa in 1994, following the first multiracial election in South Africa's history. Mandela was imprisoned from 1962 to 1990 for his role in fighting apartheid policies established by the ruling white minority. Revered by his people as a national symbol ...

  13. Winnie Mandela's legacy

    Many will compare her with her ex-husband, Nelson Mandela. He will be cast as an angel, while she will be painted as the she-devil who almost took him down. Hers was a life marked as much by racism as sexism. That she was able to meet both head-on is a testament to her fierce spirit. Madikizela-Mandela had strong feminist instincts.

  14. Biography of Stephen Biko, Anti-Apartheid Activist

    Updated on December 05, 2020. Steve Biko (Born Bantu Stephen Biko; Dec. 18, 1946-Sept. 12, 1977) was one of South Africa's most significant political activists and a leading founder of South Africa's Black Consciousness Movement. His murder in police detention in 1977 led to his being hailed a martyr of the anti-apartheid struggle.

  15. Oliver Tambo

    Date of Death: 24 April 1993. Location of Death: Johannesburg. Gender: Male. Early years. Oliver Reginald Kaizana Tambo (more popularly known as Oliver Tambo or OR) was born in the village of Kantilla, Bizana, in the Mpondoland (eQawukeni), region of the Eastern Cape, on 27 October 1917. His mother, Julia, was the third wife of Mzimeni Tambo ...

  16. Nelson Mandela

    Learn about the life and achievements of Nelson Mandela, who fought against apartheid and brought democracy to South Africa. Read about his role in the ANC, MK, the Treason Trial, the Rivonia Trial and his imprisonment.

  17. Steve Biko

    Bantu Stephen Biko OMSG (18 December 1946 - 12 September 1977) was a South African anti-apartheid activist. Ideologically an African nationalist and African socialist, he was at the forefront of a grassroots anti-apartheid campaign known as the Black Consciousness Movement during the late 1960s and 1970s. His ideas were articulated in a series of articles published under the pseudonym Frank ...

  18. F.W. de Klerk

    F.W. de Klerk (born March 18, 1936, Johannesburg, South Africa—died November 11, 2021, Cape Town) was a politician who as president of South Africa (1989-94) brought the apartheid system of racial segregation to an end and negotiated a transition to majority rule in his country. He and Nelson Mandela jointly received the 1993 Nobel Prize ...

  19. Professor Fatima Meer

    Fatima Meer was born in Grey Street, Durban on 12 August 1928, the daughter of Moosa Meer and Rachel Farrel and the second born of their nine children. Her mother, Rachel, was an orphan of Jewish and Portuguese descent born in Kimberley, but she converted to Islam and took the name Amina.Fatima Meer's father, Moosa, was born in Surat, Gujarat and came from the small Sunni Bhora community.

  20. Democracy

    This began a period of formal negotiation leading to South Africa's first democratic elections in April 1994. Although the ANC, led by Mandela, won a sweeping victory in that election, it would manage the first five years of democracy-building through a Government of National Unity. The nature of the transition to democracy meant that there ...

  21. Charlotte Maxeke (Manye) (1874-1939)

    Charlotte Maxeke (maiden name Manye) was a South African woman who broke societal barriers throughout her life. She was born in South Africa on April 7, 1874 and in the early 1880s attended secondary school at Edwards Memorial School. Upon her graduation, with a missionary education in 1885, Manye moved to Kimberly, South Africa with her family ...

  22. This Mexican scientist invented the 'mark of democracy' used across the

    Some ninety million people will vote tomorrow in Mexico. After they cast their ballots, a poll worker will dab their finger with a chemical, and that spot on their finger will turn sepia. It has come to be known as the mark of democracy. NPR's Eyder Peralta spoke to the man who makes that so-called indelible ink. (SOUNDBITE OF MACHINE RUNNING)

  23. Stephen Bantu Biko

    Tylden, Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape) 12-September-1977. Introduction. Stephen (Steve) Bantu Biko was a popular voice of Black liberation in South Africa between the mid 1960s and his death in police detention in 1977. This was the period in which both the ANC and the PAC had been officially banned and the disenfranchised Black population ...

  24. This Mexican scientist invented the 'mark of democracy' used ...

    This Mexican scientist invented the 'mark of democracy' used across the world. June 1, 20248:05 AM ET. Eyder Peralta. In the week that Mexico goes to the polls, meet the Mexican scientist who ...

  25. Steve Biko

    Steve Biko (born December 18, 1946, King William's Town, South Africa—died September 12, 1977, Pretoria) was the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa.His death from injuries suffered while in police custody made him an international martyr for South African Black nationalism.. After being expelled from high school for political activism, Biko enrolled in and ...

  26. 'I need a hug': CNN hosts cut off Trump ally who refuses to have

    "A lot of people have spoken with are angry that they see a weaponized judicial system going after not just a former president, but average Americans for standing up for life, for example, you go ...

  27. Figures at a glance

    How many refugees are there around the world? At least 108.4 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes. Among them are nearly 35.3 million refugees, around 41 per cent of whom are under the age of 18.. There are also millions of stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and lack access to basic rights such as education, health care, employment and freedom ...