Steve Biko was unarguably one of the most significant and iconic figures in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle and black consciousness. Although at some point in the struggle things got physical and violent, people like Biko always returned to the arsenal of their unique ideologies to keep the movement alive and to continue to fuel the struggle both within the country and beyond. It is thanks to this that people keep returning to Steve Biko’s quotes on issues relating to black consciousness, education, freedom, and a lot of other things.
Before he was murdered in 1977 by the South African security forces while in detention following days of torture, the ideas of Biko and others like him were considered dangerous. Hence, they were not only banned from public speeches, but also from having discussions with more than a person at a time. What are some of the ideas considered dangerous?
Steve Biko Quotes on Black Consciousness
1. I would like to remind the black ministry, and indeed all black people, that God is not in the habit of coming down from heaven to solve people’s problems on earth.
2. 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.
3. The black man has become a shell, a shadow of man, completely defeated, drowning in his own misery, a slave, an ox bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity.
4. We must realise that prophetic cry of black students: Black man you are on your own!
5. As long as blacks are suffering from inferiority complex—a result of 300 years of deliberate oppression, denigration, and derision—they will be useless as co-architects of a normal society where man is nothing else but man for his own sake.
6. 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.
7. The myth of integration as propounded under the banner of the liberal ideology must be cracked because it makes people believe that something is being achieved when in reality the artificially integrated circles are a soporfic to the blacks while salving the consciences of the few guilt-stricken whites.
8. 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.
9. What Black Consciousness seeks to do is to produce real black people who do not regard themselves as appendages to white society.
10. 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.
Steve Biko quotes on black is beautiful
11. When you say ‘Black is beautiful’ you are saying, ‘Man you are okay as you are, begin to look upon yourself as a human being’.
12. Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.
Steve Biko Quotes on Change
13. Change the way people think and things will never be the same
14. It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realise that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality. The first step, therefore, is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth.
15. There’s no transformation process that could bear the desired outcomes without women throwing their weight behind that change initiative, and the same holds for the nation-building process.
Steve Biko quotes on Education
16. We are aware of the terrible role played by our education and religion in creating amongst us a false understanding of ourselves.
17. We believe it is the duty of the vanguard political movement which brings change to educate people’s outlook
18. A people without a positive history is like a vehicle without an engine.
19. In a government where democracy is allowed to work, one of the principles that are normally entrenched is a feedback system, a discussion in other words between those who formulate policy and those who must perceive, accept, or reject policy. In other words, there must be a system of education, political education.
20. The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.
Steve Biko Quotes – Political Activism
21. 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.
22. The essence of politics is to direct oneself to the group which wields power
23. Tradition has it that whenever a group of people has tasted the lovely fruits of wealth, security and prestige it begins to find it more comfortable to believe in the obvious lie and accept that it alone is entitled to privilege.
24. The revolutionary sees his task as liberation not only of the oppressed but also of the oppressor. Happiness can never truly exist in a state of tension.
25. It is better to die for an idea that will live than to live for an idea that will die.
26. No group, however benevolent, can ever hand power to the vanquished on a plate.
27. The wealth of the country must eventually be enjoyed by people of the country
28. 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.
Steve Biko quotes – Equality
29 In all we do we always place man first and hence all our action is usually joint community-oriented action rather than individualism.
30. So as a prelude whites must be made to realise that they are only human, not superior. Same with Blacks. They must be made to realise that they are also human, not inferior.
31. I’ve devoted my life to see equality for blacks, and at the same time, I’ve denied the needs of my family. Please understand that I take these actions, not out of selfishness or arrogance, but to preserve a South Africa worth living in for blacks and whites.
32. We have set out on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the distant horizon, we can see the glittering prize.
33. In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift – a more human face.
Steve Biko Quotes on Violence and Freedom
34. You and I are now in confrontation, but I see no Violence.
35. In a bid for change, we have to take off our coats, be prepared to lose our comfort and security, our jobs and positions of prestige, and our families… A struggle without casualties is no struggle.
36. I’m going to be me as I am, and you can beat me or jail me or even kill me, but I’m not going to be what you want me to be.
37. If one is free at heart, no man-made chains can bind one to servitude, but if one’s mind is so manipulated and controlled by the oppressor, then there will be nothing the oppressed can do to scare his powerful masters.
38. I would describe and I have described myself to people who ask as a freedom fighter.
39. Community is easily divided when their perception of the same thing is different
40. If you want to say something radical, you should dress conservatively.
Lesser-Known Facts About Biko’s Death
- Steve Bantu Biko’s death brought the number of people that died in South African prison in twelve months to 21.
- He was the forty-sixth political detainee that died during interrogation after the laws permitting imprisonment without trial was enacted in 1963.
- His shocking death attracted more global attention and even became symbolic of the abuses of the apartheid system.
- At first, the then police minister, Jimmy Kruger, claimed Biko died as a result of a hunger strike. But he later refuted the claim, he alleged Biko had plotted violence against the government.
- Biko was buried by the Anglican church on 25 September 1977 at King William’s Town’s Victoria Stadium.
- His funeral was attended by over 20,000 people, of which a vast majority were black, then a few hundred whites, including Biko’s friends, such as Russell and Woods, Helen Suzman, Alex Boraine, and Zach de Beer.
- The societal event was later described as “the first mass political funeral in the country”.
- The event pulled foreign diplomats from thirteen nations.
- Biko’s coffin had been decorated with the motifs of a clenched black fist, the African continent, and the statement “One Azania, One Nation”
- He was laid to rest in the cemetery at Ginsberg.