The “Resistance and Resilience” of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko


Photo courtesy of photo Bureau

Professor of English Martin Klammer discusses Steve Biko's life and leadership during the Black Consciousness Movement.

Professor of English Martin Klammer gave a Paideia Texts & Issues Lecture titled “Steve Biko: Black Consciousness as Resistance to the Apartheid State” on Sept. 24 in the Center for Faith and Life Recital Hall.

Steve Biko was a founder of the grassroots Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa during the late 1960s. Biko and co-founders Mamphela Ramphele and Barney Pityana were joined by Black South African university students who worked to encourage other Black South Africans to be proud of their identities and to advocate against injustice during apartheid, a system of instituitonalized racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s.

Klammer discussed how members of the Luther community can learn from movements such as Black Consciousness and develop communities that foster growth by providing a refuge for marginalized individuals to express themselves freely.

“I wanted people to appreciate the courage, intelligence, and the community of spirit of the Black Consciousness Movement,” Klammer said. “A person is a person because of other people. For instance, student organizations such as BSU, Latines Unides, and PRIDE need a safe space where they can express their ideas and celebrate their identity. They aren’t segregating themselves, nor are they anti-straight or anti-white. Groups of people need safe spaces in order to formulate their own ideas so they can integrate their ideas.”

In 1977, Biko was interrogated for 22 hours and beaten to the point where he sustained five brain lesions and left shackled for two days. Days later, he was taken in the back of a police van from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria. During the drive, he died naked and unconscious in the back of the van, and his death caused widespread shock and outrage to the many South Africans who regarded Biko as a hero.

“How Steve Biko became a hero to so many is remarkable, given that the apartheid state did everything it could to silence him,” Klammer said. “He was restricted to living under banning orders in the small, remote town of King William’s Town. He was forbidden to make speeches, forbidden to speak with more than one person at a time, forbidden to be quoted . . . Yet, as his friend the journalist Donald Woods wrote, ‘In his short lifetime, he influenced the lives and ideals of millions of his countrymen, and his death convulsed our nation and reverberated far beyond its boundaries.”

The theme for this years Paideia Text & Lecture Series is “Resistance and Resilience,” and Paideia Program Director Kathy Reed hopes lectures such as Klammer’s can provide hope for those who attend.

“This is a time when we recognize that we have a need for these things, [and] there’s always a need for it, but it feels like there’s a call for resistance to things we know are wrong and the need for resilience to respond to difficulty and challenge,” Reed said. “In a way, we’re trying to offer some inspiration in this tough world we’re living in.”

Reed says the lectures are designed to be accessible for everyone, even if those who enter the lecture have little to no knowledge of the topic.

“You’re taking someone who knows a lot about a [topic] and you’re speaking to an audience who may not know a lot about it,” Reed said. “You need to give background information to bring people up to speed to help [them] understand the issues and lead onto a more in depth conversation. These lectures are meant to inform people more about the world around us. It’s a great opportunity, and you can learn a lot in these hours.”

Tala Nengola (‘23) believes Klammer’s lecture gave her great insight into the efforts of the Black Consciousness Movement and allowed to reflect on her parents’ own experiences with apartheid in Nambia.

“Institutions and systems will always be there, but you need to be able to stand against them without fear,” Nengola said. “Death is a real thing, but as long as you live your truth and fight for what you want, that’s more important than being passive. My parents talk about apartheid because they went through it. It affected racism in Namibia, and after independence it took awhile to integrate black students into white schools.”

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