Visitors to Google’s home page today will likely be asking themselves who Steve Biko is and why he is featured in today’s Google Doodle. Apart from Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko was South Africa’s most prominent anti-apartheid activist. Today would have been his 70th birthday.
Google’s statement on the Doodle recalled Steve Biko’s important legacy of fighting for racial equality in South Africa.
“Black is beautiful. Steve Biko knew this fully well, and fought to spread this message across South Africa at the height of the apartheid movement in the 1960s and 1970s. On the 70th anniversary of Biko’s birth, we remember his courage and the important legacy he left behind. Thank you, Steve Biko, for dedicating your life to the pursuit of equality for all.”
As recounted by the Telegraph, Steve Biko founded the Black Consciousness Movement while he was studying in a non-European medical school. The movement was created to encourage pride in black identity. The years of apartheid were so damaging to South Africa’s black population that they had even begun regarding themselves as inferior to whites, a self-hatred that Biko fought by giving his followers the now-famous slogan “Black is beautiful.”
In 1973, Steve Biko was banned from participation in political activities. Nonetheless, he continued protesting the racist and separatist policies in South Africa. Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement drew attention in 1976 when they played a significant role in the Soweto Uprising when more than 20,000 students took to the streets in protest against apartheid. When the demonstration was over, at least 170 people had been gunned down by police.
Following the Soweto Uprising, Steve Biko was arrested at a police roadblock on terrorism charges. He had been arrested and detained on a number of occasions previously, and during Biko’s final and fateful arrest in August 1977, he was brought to the Port Elizabeth police station where he was held in solitary confinement, violently beaten, and interrogated for 20 days before being transferred to Pretoria more than 600 miles away.
During the long journey, Steve Biko was kept shackled and was repeatedly beaten. He died in custody shortly after arriving in Pretoria on September 12, 1977. He was 30-years-old. Steve Biko’s funeral was attended by more than 15,000 people including diplomats from the United States and Europe, and was presided over by Reverend Desmond Tutu.
Steve Biko was survived by his partner, Mamphela Ramphele, who was five months pregnant with their second child at the time of his death. Although she was banished from South Africa after her Biko’s death, Ramphele continued Biko’s battle against racial segregation in South Africa, and as reported by Forbes, is now South Africa’s wealthiest woman.
In the aftermath of the fall of apartheid, Steve Biko became a prominent cultural icon and was featured in a number of creations, including a film based on his life and starring Denzel Washington entitled Cry Freedom.
Steve Biko also featured in a number of popular songs, including one by hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest and one by pop star Peter Gabriel. In Gabriel’s 1987 song, “Biko”, he sings,”You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire.”
The officers involved in Biko’s death were never charged, however in 1979, Biko’s family was paid $78,000 by the South African government as compensation for his death. As reported in the New York Times in 1997, the five officers admitted to killing Biko during testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The officers admitted to repeatedly slamming Biko’s head into a wall, which resulted in a severe head injury, and to covering up his death. In 2003, a judge ruled that the statute of limitations had expired and that the officers would not be charged, causing global outrage.
Steve Biko, today’s featured Google Doodle image, was instrumental in changing how black South Africans were treated, yet many understand that there is still a long way to go in the struggle for racial equality. According to Reuters, black people make up 80 percent of South Africa’s 54 million population, yet most of the economy remains in the hands of white people, who account for about eight percent of the population.
As reported by the Mirror, today’s Google Doodle featuring Steve Biko will be available in Belarus, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States.
[Featured Image by Schalk van Zuydam/AP Images]