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Black Is Beautiful: Remember Steve Biko
September 12, 2012
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"You can blow out a candle, but you can't blow out a fire" - Peter Gabriel, 'Biko'

On September 12, 1977, Stephen Biko, one of South Africa's most influential and prominent anti-Apartheid activists, died after being beaten by South African police during an interrogation.

Biko worked throughout his life to empower black people. In the mid-to-late 1960s, he founded the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), a grassroots South African anti-apartheid activist movement.

In February 1973, the apartheid regime "banned" Biko as a result of his political activities. The ban meant he was no longer allowed to speak to more than one person at a time or speak in public, had to stay in his home region, and could not write publicly or speak with the media.

Despite being constrained, Biko and the BCM played a significant role in organizing the protests that led to the Soweto Uprising of June 16, 1976, a major turning point in the liberation struggle in South Africa.

Excerpt from a German TV interview with Steve Biko

Following the Uprising, the authorities targeted Biko even further. On August 18, 1977, he was arrested at a police roadblock and interrogated by two police officers. The interrogation lasted 22 hours, during which time they chained him to a window grille for a full day and beat him severely, sending him into a coma.

On September 11, police drove him to Pretoria, naked and restrained, to a prison with hospital facilities. He died the next day of his injuries.

Authorities claimed that Biko had died from an extended hunger strike, but an autopsy found that the cause was a brain hemmhorage from the massive injuries to his head. After his death, liberal journalist Donald Woods (one of Biko's closest friends) and fellow journalist Helen Zille uncovered the truth about how Biko died.

In September last year, Helen Zille posted a speech by Allister Sparks about the Biko case on Facebook. Her message? "34 years after Steve Biko's death, we must never forget."

Woods wrote a book, 'Biko,' about his friend's life and death, which was adapted into the 1987 film 'Cry Freedom' starring Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline. Check out the trailer below:

Biko was famous for the slogan "black is beautiful," which he explained in his book 'I Write What I Like': "man, you are okay as you are, begin to look upon yourself as a human being."

To commemorate the 35th anniversary of Biko's death, photographer and writer Steve Bloom is hosting an exhibition in London, England of photographs he took in apartheid-era South Africa, in partnership with the Steve Biko Foundation.

Bloom's work led to his exile from his home country in September 1977, the same month Biko died. Check out a few of his photographs below:

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Biko's story has inspired artists and activists around the world, from A Tribe Called Quest and Peter Gabriel to visual artists like Willie Bester and Tony Ashton. Here are a couple of the songs written in tribute to Biko:

Peter Gabriel - 'Biko'

A Tribe Called Quest - 'Steve Biko (Stir It Up)'

Related stories on Strombo.com:

Songs For The Imprisoned

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