Steve Biko

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It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die.
The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.

Stephen Bantu Biko (18 December 194612 September 1977) was a noted anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s.


  • The basic tenet of black consciousness is that the black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity.
    • Statement as witness (3 May 1976)
  • Even today, we are still accused of racism. This is a mistake. We know that all interracial groups in South Africa are relationships in which whites are superior, blacks inferior. So as a prelude whites must be made to realize that they are only human, not superior. Same with blacks. They must be made to realize that they are also human, not inferior.
    • Statement quoted in the Boston Globe (25 October 1977)
  • You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can't care anyway.
    • On Death
  • It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die.
    • As quoted in The Last Defenders of the Laager: Ian D. Smith and F.W. de Klerk (1985), by Dickson A. Mungazi, p. 204; also in "The Mind of Black Africa" (1996) by Dickson A. Mungazi, p. 159, and under "Ideas" in The Penguin Dictionary of South Africa Quotations (2012) by Jennifer Crwys-Williams

I Write What I Like (1978)[edit]

Apartheid — both petty and grand — is obviously evil.
  • The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.
    • White Racism and Black Consciousness
  • Apartheid — both petty and grand — is obviously evil. Nothing can justify the arrogant assumption that a clique of foreigners has the right to decide on the lives of a majority.
    • We Blacks
  • The logic behind white domination is to prepare the black man for the subservient role in this country. Not so long ago this used to be freely said in parliament, even about the educational system of the black people. It is still said even today, although in a much more sophisticated language. To a large extent the evil-doers have succeeded in producing at the output end of their machine a kind of black man who is man only in form. This is the extent to which the process of dehumanization has advanced.
    • We Blacks
  • The system concedes nothing without demand, for it formulates its very method of operation on the basis that the ignorant will learn to know, the child will grow into an adult and therefore demands will begin to be made. It gears itself to resist demands in whatever way it sees fit.
    • The Quest for a True Humanity
  • In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift—a more human face.
    • White Racism and Black Consciousness
  • We must realise that prophetic cry of black students: "Black man you are on your own!"
    • The Quest for a True Humanity

Quotes about Steve Biko[edit]

  • On June 16, 1976, schoolchildren in Soweto, the sprawling black township outside Johannesburg, South Africa, revolted. They pred into the streets to protest a new apartheid law requiring that they be taught in Afrikaans, "the language of the oppressor," as Archbishop Desmond Tutu once called the mother tongue of white Afrikaners. The students' act of defiance that day would change the course of their nation's history. "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed," said Steve Biko, leader of South Africa's Black Consciousness Movement and an inspiration to student activists. A cornerstone of oppression in South Africa was "Bantu education," the name given to the separate and inferior schooling that South Africa's black majority was forced to endure under the system of official discrimination known as apartheid. Biko charged that the objective of Bantu education was "to prepare the black man for the subservient role in this country.'
    • Amy Goodman Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times (2008)
  • Much of Biko's energy is devoted to criticizing the liberal in both the condescending white and the idiotic black forms. The black liberal is idiotic because black people lack power in a white-controlled system. The white liberal, on the other hand, operates from the vantage point of having something—perhaps a great deal—to lose in the event of progressive social change. The white liberal's offer to help has an air of condescension because it masks a profound existential investment in the continuation of the racist system. Thus, the white liberal always insists on offering the theoretical or interpretive strategies against antiblack racism, but such strategies often act to preserve the need for white liberals as the most cherished members or overseers of values in their society. In Biko's words: "I am against the superior-inferior white-black stratification that makes the white man a perpetual teacher and the black a perpetual pupil (and a poor one at that.)"
  • Steve, with his brilliant mind that always saw to the heart of things, realized that until blacks asserted their humanity and their personhood, there was not the remotest chance for reconciliation in South Africa.... Steve knew and believed fervently that being pro-black was not the same thing as being anti-white. The black consciousness movement is not a "hate white movement" despite all you may have heard to the contrary. He had a far too profound respect for persons as persons to want them under ready-made, shop-soiled, second-hand categories...We weep with and pray for Ntsiki [Mrs. Biko] and all of Steve's family. We weep for ourselves. . . . Steve started something that is quite unstoppable. The powers of injustice, of oppression, of exploitation have done their worst and they have lost.... Many who support the present unjust system in this country know in their hearts that they are upholding a system that is evil and unjust and oppressive, and which is utterly abhorrent and displeasing to God. There is no doubt whatsoever that freedom is coming. Yes, it may be a costly struggle still. The darkest hour, they say, is before the dawn. We are experiencing the birth pangs of a new South Africa, a free South Africa, where all of us, black and white together will walk tall; where all of us, black and white together, will hold hands as we stride forth on the Freedom March to usher in the South Africa where people will matter because they are human beings made in the image of God. We thank and praise God for giving us such a magnificent gift in Steve Biko
    • Desmond Tutu speaking at his funeral, anthologized in Remembrances and Celebrations edited by Jill Werman Harris (2000)

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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