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Biko's Legacy

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Steve Biko’s primary goal in his movement was to provide consciousness for blacks who had otherwise been disillusioned and anesthetized by their plight so that they would have a drive to change things. When asked in an interview in 1977 to what extent had the Black Consciousness Movement been a success, Biko replied, “We have been successful to the extent that we have diminished the element of fear in the minds of black people. ” This goal is an intangible one as it is manifested within the hearts and souls and minds of black South Africans everywhere, which makes determining whether or not, the movement was successful or not a challenge. There have, however, been manifestations of Biko’s vision and principals all over South Africa since the onset of the Black Consciousness Movement. Aside from this being mainly a movement of awareness, there was also not a clear or concise methodology to combat the problems that plagued blacks in South Africa. This is arguably a reason which it did not garner any palpable results until 1990, twelve years after Biko’s death. Moodly writes that, “In the 1970’s the Black Consciousness Movement was said to have been cocooned as an intellectual movement with little grassroots supports, lacking a solid base in the organized trade-union movement. Some critics said the movement was heavy on ‘moral purity’ and faced the danger of stagnating at the level of black solidarity, without translating it into the ‘political possible’ for ‘political action.’ ” This is precisely what Biko did not desire his movement to become because the essence of black consciousness is the inclusion and mobilization of the most oppressed and destitute of blacks.

One definitive organization emerging out of the Black Consiousness Movement was the Azanian People's Organization (AZAPO). They are still operating today, abiding by the tenants as outlined by Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement. From this group, more of a political policy emerged to ameliorate the problems that Biko engaged merely on a philosophical and intellectual level. “It [AZAPO] included a class analysis in its policy and directed attention towards the political incorporation and involvement of the black working class…AZAPO spokesman refute charges that they are merely an intellectual movement. ”

In the early 1990’s, AZAPO existed alongside another organization, seemingly comparable idealistically yet hostility emerged between them. That other group was the Pan African Congress (PAC). Patrick Laurence, a South African journalist, notes, “given the convergence between their ideological positions, including their insistence on black leadership and their commitment to socialism, AZAPO and PAC were strongly hostile to one another. ” Moodley suggests that this difference is rooted in a class difference that remains overlooked by many. The infrastructure and a majority of the membership of AZAPO are comprised of intellectuals and elite professionals within the community. “PAC represents a much more down-to-earth articulation of diverse grassroots sentiments. ”

Biko’s name lives on throughout his home country of South Africa, in addition to places where his words have touched and given hope to. One of these places is the Biko institute found in Salvador, Brazil. This institute provides education for the impoverished of Brazil who would otherwise be forced to attend public schools with no real chance of upward mobility. In Brazil, much disparity has existed and still exists today in terms of race as many blacks find themselves confined to low-paying jobs or unemployed while whites are doing just fine.

The statue of Biko above in East London affirms his world-wide impact
The statue of Biko above in East London affirms his world-wide impact

All these apparent failures by Biko to enact change within South Africa aside, he was one of the most revered opponents of the Apartheid, one of the most venerated men in South African history, as well as a man who provided something integral to his people. Even though Biko did not implement policy to necessarily change the conditions of Apartheid, he did provide for South Africans the emotional tools by which to enact that change. Without the resolve and self-love and in that sense, the efficacy of his movement was proven successful.

A friend and compatriot of Biko, N. Barney Pityana, writes the following about Biko:

It was not for nothing that the Provincial Synod of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (Anglican) discussed a motion moved by some black delegates calling for Steve Biko to be remembered in the Church’s liturgical calendar. That was accompanied by calls for him to be declared a martyr. Books and television documentaries have been written about him, and now a film inspired by his life is to be released. His name has been invoked in support or justification of a diversity of causes from the Black Consciousness espoused by the Azanian People’s Organization, the involvement in the progressive movement by former Black Consciousness activists like Aubrey Mokoena and the claims of the PAC [Pan African Congress] that we was one of ‘theirs’ to the realignment of progressive forces under the umbrella of ANC. What they prove is that no one thought or style or organization could contain him.


Biko, Steven. I Write What I Like. New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, Inc., 2000.

Pittanya, N. Barney. Bounds of Possibility. London, UK: Zed Books. 1991