Sep 2017 1st Edition

This month in history - Sep 2017

Steve Biko dies in police custody

Bantu Stephen Biko, pioneer of the Black Consciousness Movement, died in police custody on 12 September 1977 at the age of 30.

Biko worked tirelessly to end apartheid rule, becoming a leader in the South African Students’ Organisation and helping set up the Black People’s Convention. Due to his activism, the apartheid government issued him with a banning order in 1973, and he was detained on several occasions.

On 18 August 1977 Biko was arrested on the outskirts of Grahamstown. During his incarceration he was stripped and manacled.

Sometime during the night of 6 September Biko was badly beaten, sustaining a brain haemorrahage. Despite his injuries, he was kept chained to a grille. Doctors brought in to examined him glossed over his injuries.

On 11 September the police decided to transfer Biko to a prison hospital in Pretoria, a 12-hour 1 133km journey. He was transported at the back of a police Land Rover, naked and shackled.

Biko died alone on the floor of the cell some time during the night of 12 September.

Some 20 000 people attended his funeral, held on 25 September in the King William’s Town.

Biko was the 46th person to die in detention. His death drew worldwide condemnation of South Africa's detention practices and repressive laws.

Source: South African History Online –

Share this page