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To mark the 65th anniversary of his birth

‘Steve Biko’s words had a profound effect on me. They helped shape my personal outlook and political beliefs,’ writes Roy Trivedy. ‘They also played a key role in helping me decide what I wanted to contribute in life.’

On 15 October 1977, a month after Steve Biko’s death in detention, The Times (a national newspaper in the UK) published a full one page spread titled ‘Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity’. The article reproduced some of Steve’s writing. It summarised the origins of the Black Consciousness movement, its historic role in the struggle against apartheid and the fight for liberation and freedom. It explained the economic basis of racism and the way in which social, political and cultural means were systematically used by the state to subjugate the Black majority in South Africa. The article also talked about the critical role of youth and the churches in the struggle for freedom and about international solidarity.

I was 17 at the time and studying Economics, Politics and Sociology as a sixth form student. I had come to the UK from Kenya, eight years before this, with my family; a family that had its origins in India but had spent the best part of three generations in East Africa with dual Kenyan-British nationality. In 1969, my parents had chosen to migrate to the UK and become naturalised British citizens. As a teenager I was aware of my Indian and African roots. I was also aware of the anti-colonial struggles in many parts of globe, the importance of fighting oppression wherever it occurred, of solidarity and for standing up for the values of justice and liberty.

I had seen television programmes previously about Steve Biko’s death but prior to reading the article, I had not been aware of the Black Consciousness movement, what it stood for and why it was important. I read and re-read the article several times over that day and have returned to it subsequently. The same article was later published in the book ‘Steve Biko - I write what I Like’, Heinemann 1978. The chapter on Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity states:

‘For the liberals, the thesis is apartheid, the antithesis is non-racialism and the synthesis is very feebly defined. They want to tell blacks that they see integration as the ideal solution. Black Consciousness defines the situation differently. The thesis is in strong white racism and therefore the antithesis must….be strong solidarity amongst blacks. Out of these two situations we can hope to reach some kind of balance, a new humanity where power politics will have no place..

Freedom is the ability to define oneself with one’s possibilities held back not by the power of other people over one but only by one’s relationship to God and to natural surroundings..’

Steve Biko’s words had a profound effect on me. They helped shape my personal outlook and political beliefs. They also played a key role in helping me decide what I wanted to contribute in life. At university I studied law and was active in the Ant-Apartheid Movement. Since 1981 I have worked in a variety of roles contributing to international development in various parts of the world including Malawi, India, Mozambique, Central Asia and Tanzania. In all of my roles for the past 30 years, I have also sought to work with Black and ethnic minority communities (including tribal communities).

I have been fortunate in working in east and southern Africa, India and the UK. Through my work and activities, I have sought to practice Steve Biko’s quest for a true humanity:

‘We have set out on a quest for a true humanity, and somewhere on a distant horizon we can see the glittering prize.’

Steve Biko was a brilliant thinker, a truly courageous freedom fighter and an inspirational leader. He played a key role in the fight against apartheid but his words also influenced many people, including myself, across the world. As we continue to strive in the quest for a true humanity, Steve Biko’s words are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them.


* Roy Trivedy is head of Civil Society Department and co-chair of the Black and Ethnic Minority Network, Department for International Development, UK.
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