An enduring influence, but nation divides over legacy of Steve Biko

Conflicting views emerge after security police seek amnesty for leader's killing

Two decades after his murder Steve Biko's influence endures. But the real nature of the black consciousness leader's legacy - and who carries his torch - still arouses bitter controversy.

As a new row erupted last night over the confirmation that five former security policeman had applied for amnesty in connection with Biko's death, very different Bikos seemed about to be resurrected by opposing camps.

Biko, a former student leader, founded the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) in 1969, and gave up medical training to devote himself to the struggle. The radical black pride philosophy came into its own in the mid-1970s, when the liberation movement appeared to be faltering and many ANC leaders were in jail or exile.

Biko's message inspired a generation and fired the confrontation between schoolchildren and the apartheid authorities in Soweto and other townships. The resulting violence shocked the world, as did Biko's death a few years later from brain injuries, after 21 days in police detention.

Although the ANC leadership was never comfortable with Biko's message, or the confrontations it sparked, the new radicalism changed the course of black liberation.

In Sir Richard Attenborough's 1987 film Cry Freedom, which told the story of the friendship between Biko and Donald Woods, then editor of the East London Daily Dispatch, Biko was presented as a figure resembling Martin Luther King.

But the portrayal divided his old associates. Some dismissed it as saccharine- sweet "Hollywoodisation". Woods, they argued, was a prominent member of the white liberal establishment, which was a prime target of Biko's anger.

Though Woods had to flee South Africa following Biko's death, after running anti-government editorials, these old political allies claim Biko could not help but see Woods as part of the problem.

Strini Moodley, a founder member of the BCM, insists Biko believed that whites could not help blacks. "In his last television interview [Biko] made it clear that black people must pull themselves up by their own bootstraps rather than rely on the assistance of whites," said Mr Moodley. "There was no accommodation for white people in the BCM and that is why Steve was murdered."

But Malusi and Thoko Mpumlwana, former political allies of Biko, distinguish between the early and late Biko. They argue that he softened his stance before he died. His early beliefs, they admit, were that blacks had to withdraw from "partnerships" with whites because such associations were unequal. But the Mpumlwanas say that the later Biko saw that growing black confidence made a partnership possible.

The ANC strengthened this view of a softer Biko at a recent hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), when it claimed that before his death Biko had been poised to meet Oliver Tambo, then president of the ANC. The ANC believes that the planned meeting, not his inability to accommodate whites, was connected with his death, because it held out a promise of greater black unity.

The two women in Biko's life, his wife Ntsiki and his lover Mamphela Ramphele (recently appointed vice-chancellor of Cape Town University), also have different views of the man and his teachings. Ms Ramphele insists he was never anti-white. But Biko's widow, Ntsiki, says the TRC will rob her of justice. Yesterday's confirmation of the amnesty application was another blow. Last year Mrs Biko complained the ANC did not mark the anniversary of her husband's death and that his grave was unattended and overgrown. "Many politicians in high places seem to have forgotten what they owe Steve," she said.

Ironically, she added that life would have been harder for her and her two sons, Nkosinathi and Samora, without the help of Biko's old white liberal friend, Donald Woods.

Biko on the philosophy of Black Consciousness

In his book I Write What I Like, Biko wrote:

Being black is not a matter of pigmentation - being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.

"Merely by describing yourself as black, you have started on a road towards emancipation. You have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being.

"The philosophy of Black Consciousness therefore expresses pride and determination by blacks. At the heart of this kind of thinking is the realisation by blacks that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.

"Once the oppressed has been so effectively manipulated and controlled by the oppressor to make him believe that he is a liability to the white man ... there will be nothing the oppressed can do that

will really scare the powerful masters."

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice