Forty years since Steve Biko's murder sent shock waves through the country and around the world, the late pioneer of Black Consciousness' writing continues to resonate with new generations of South Africans.
Possibly some of Biko's most invoked phrases, "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed," as well, ""Black man, you are on your own," were written between 1969 and 1972, immortalised in I Write What I Like in 1978.
For many South Africans, Biko is not merely a bygone struggle hero of his time, but a prophetic (but not necessarily uncomplicated) political visionary through whom the present may be celebrated, contested, chastised and/or recreated.
Listen here to Millard W. Arnold read quotes from his edited collection of Biko quotes from No Fears Expressed: Quotes From Steve Biko.
As people, existing in a continuous struggle for truth, we have to examine and question old concepts, values and systems. Having found the right answers, we shall then work for consciousness among all people to make it possible for us to proceed toward putting these answers into effect. In this process, we have to evolve our own schemes, forms and strategies, to suit the needs and situations, always keeping in mind our fundamental beliefs and values.
-- IWWIL ('Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity)
2. On The African Contribution
We believe that in the long run the special contribution to the world by Africa will be in this field of human relationship. The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa giving the world a more human face.
-- IWWIL ('Some African Cultural Concepts')
3. On The Battle of Third World nations
We feel that Black people of the world in choosing to reject the legacy of colonialism and white domination and to build around themselves their own values, standards and outlook to life, have at least established a solid base for meaningful cooperation among themselves in the larger battle of the third world against the rich nations.
-- IWWIL ('White Racism and Black Consciousness)
4. On South Africa's economic order
There is no running away from the fact that now in South Africa there is such an ill-distribution of wealth that any form of political freedom that does not touch on the proper distribution of wealth will be meaningless. The whites have locked up within a small minority of themselves the greater proportion of the country's wealth. If we have a mere change of face of those in governing positions, what is likely to happen is that Black people will continue to be poor and you will see a few Blacks filtering through into the so-called bourgeoisie. Our society will be run almost as of yesterday. So for meaningful change to appear, there needs to be an attempt at reorganizing the whole economic pattern and economic policies within this particular country.
-- IWWIL ('Our Strategy For Liberation')
5. On Political Language:
We have a society here in South Africa which recognizes two languages in the main: English and Afrikaans as official languages . These are languages you have to use at school and university or in pursuit of any discipline where you are studying as a Black man. Unfortunately the books you read are in English. English is a second language to you. You have probably been taught in a vernacular, especially during these days of Bantu education up to standard six, you grapple with the language to JC and matric, and before you conquer it you must apply it now to learn disciplines at university. As a result, you never quite catch everything that's in a book. You certainly understand the paragraph. I mean, I'm talking about the average man now, I'm not talking about exceptional cases. You understand the paragraph but you are not quite adept at reproducing an argument that was in a particular book precisely because of your failure to understand certain words in the book. This makes you feel less articulate as a Black man generally, and this makes you more inward looking. You feel things rather than say things.
-- The Testimony of Steve Biko
6. Biko in brief:
To understand me correctly, you have to say that there were no fears expressed.
-- The Testimony of Steve Biko