Long before it was fashionable to be ‘woke’ Bantu Stephen Biko was woke. His Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) still resonates (or perhaps is only now fully resonating) with black people in South Africa four decades after his murder.

Today marks the 41st anniversary of Biko’s death at the hands of apartheid police while in custody.

After being arrested and tortured by police in the Eastern Cape, Biko was bound and transported naked to what was then known as the Pretoria Central Prison. He sustained brain injuries which were never treated; and died alone and naked in his prison cell just three months shy of his 31st birthday.

Other than for his fearless struggle for the emancipation of black people, Biko is remembered for his brilliant mind.

READ MORE: Steve Biko paid the supreme price to liberate black people – Zuma

Here are five of his most iconic quotes:

  • “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”


  • “Being black is not a matter of pigmentation. Being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.”


  • “Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the black world for a long time. Its essence is the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression – the blackness of their skin – and to operate as a group to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.”


  • “It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realise that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality. The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth.”


  • “The basic tenet of black consciousness is that the black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity.”