Steve Biko Discusses How Words Create Hierarchy And Dehumanization

Billed as “Biko’s Last Public Statement And Political Testament”, Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness In South Africa is a transcription of Steve Biko’s May 2, 1976 testimony during a trial for nine BCM activist accused of subversion in South Africa. This testimony from Steve Biko represents his first time speaking publicly after three years of being silenced, banned, and restricted to South Africa’s King William’s Town district.

During his initial questioning, David Soggot, senior counsel for the defense of those BCM activist, asked Steve Biko about Black student activist breaking away from Whyte Liberal ran National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). Steve Biko had left that organization to found and head South African Students’ Organization (SASO) around 1968 in a response to Black students irreconcilable discomfort with Whyte liberal leadership.

While Soggot preceded with his establishing of historical context, he interrogated Steve Biko about specific language found unacceptable by Black students at a General Student Council assembly. That language was a label used to identify Blacks at that time, namely, “nonWhite”. In response to that line of questioning, Steve Biko states:

I think students in fact took a decision to the effect that they would no longer use the term Non-White, not allow it to be used as a description of them, because they saw it as a negation of their being. They were being stated as “non something,” which implied that the standard was something and they were not that particular standard. They felt that a positive view to life, which is commensurate with the build-up of one’s dignity and confidence, should be contained in a description which you accept, and they sought to replace the term Non-White with the term Black.

“Black Consciousness In South Africa,” Steve Biko, pg. 16