Nelson Mandela And Steven Biko Essay Research

Nelson Mandela And Steven Biko Essay, Research Paper

Nelson Mandela and Steven Biko are the two most important and influential people in South Africa’s long and harsh battle for racial justice. Mandela, born almost 30 years before Biko, spent a lifetime fighting for the freedom of blacks in South Africa, for 25 years, as a political prisoner. Through his struggles, he came to embody the struggle South African blacks were going through against government enforced discrimination. Through his courage of 25 years of imprisonment, he drew the world’s attention to the unfair and unjust policies that the South African government was enforcing. Steven Biko, while in his twenties became a hero to black South Africans. He called upon his fellow brothers to dissociate themselves from whites, and to form a political movement that would embody their beliefs, based on racial pride and dignity.

He believed that fellow black South Africans needed to realize and raise their racial consciousness, before significant changes would take place, in their homeland, The Republic of South Africa. Together, Nelson Mandela and Steven Biko formed an incredible tandem, a pair that overcame apartheid and changed Africa forever.

Nelson Dalibhunga Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 at Mvezo, a tiny village on the banks of the Mbashe River in the district of Umtata, the capital village of the Transkei(Meer 114). He was the son of Henry Gadla Mphakanyiswa, a Tembu tribal chief, and his third wife Nosekeni Fanny Mandela(114). During his childhood, like most other children his age, he and his siblings had certain duties consisting of herding cattle and sheep, and ploughing.

One night in 1927, Henry Mandela became very Ill. He had some sort of lung problem and was coughing profusely. At this point Nelson could tell that his father was not long for this world(Mandela 13). Henry Mandela died that night, and Nelson was taken by his mother to a destination unknown to him. Young Henry would start his journey to his new home shortly after the death. Mandela recalls arriving at this new place, saying, “this was the Great Place, Mqhekezweni, the provisional capital of Thembuland, the royal residence of Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, acting regent of the Thembu people(Mandela 14).”

Mandela then went to various secondary schools, the last being University of Fort Hare, where he was expelled for a protest. He then went to Johannesburg, where he joined the African National Conference(ANC) and in 1944 founded the ANC Youth League with Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo(Meer 114).

In 1948, the Afrikaner National Party came into power and began institutionalizing racism as apartheid(Meer 114). From his position as leader of the Youth League, Mandela helped to coordinate labor strikes and campaigns against the unjust laws that the government was enforcing. Mandela was quickly becoming the backbone of the movement against apartheid. Unfortunately, the strikes and rallies often turned violent, with protestors being hurt or dying. As a result the ANC was faced banning.

Forced to go underground, Mandela reached the conclusion that the power of the Nationalists would never be broken through mass civil action alone, and initiated “Umkhonto we Sizwe”(the Spear of the Nation) to organize sabotage against key state installations(Meer 115). The first blasts were in December 1961, and Mandela quickly left the coutry. When he returned in July 1962, he was quickly arrested and sentenced to 5 years, which turned into life imprisonment, when he was convicted of sabotage, and trying to overthrow the state using revolution(115). This sentencing began the long journey that was to last 27 years.

Mandela was sent to Robben Island, a maximum-security prison. There he endured years of physical labor with no contact to the outside world. No one even knew what condition he was in, but they still believed in their leader, they believed that one day he would come back and lead them again. In 1982, he was forced to switch prisons because he was having such a strong following at Robben Island, and they feared he was spurring feelings of revolution. Pressure built up on the government and in 1984, they offered Mandela freedom, provided that he settle in Transkei, the “black” homeland. He refused without thought, sticking with his convictions. Again in 1985, he was offered freedom if he would denounce violence as a political weapon, but again Mandela refused. The only way he was going to give in was if blacks received full rights, he didn’t stay in jail for 27 years to make a plea-bargain! Finally after 27 years in jail, the last Afrikaner president, F.W. de Klerk, unbanned the ANC,PAC, and the South African Communist Party, and released Mandela on Feb. 10, 1990(Meer 115).

Steven Bantu Biko was born December 18, 1946, in King William’s Town, along the eastern coast of South Africa, in eastern Cape Providence, South Africa. After graduating from Marianhill in Natal, he attended the University of Natal, where he studied medicine from 1966 to 1972 (Jones 182). He enjoyed medicine but was preoccupied with politics, specifically getting the attention of all his fellow black brothers and sisters to raise the level of their pride and consciousness of their black heritage and rich tradition.

After a short stint with the National Union of South African Students(NUSAS), Biko became disenchanted with the conservative nature of the organization and began to theorize what he thought of the situation. Leonard Thompson, author of A History of South Africa, quoted Biko as having written:

Black consciousness is in essence the realization by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their subjection- the

blackness of their skin- and to operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude It seeks to infuse the black community with a newfound pride in themselves, their efforts, their value systems, their culture, their religion, and their outlook on life. The interrelationship between the consciousness of self and the emancipatory programme is of paramount importance(Rosen 23).

Basically, Biko was trying to put together a movement that was centered on the pride of all black South Africans, a pride that was the blackness of their skin, something only they could realize and experience. Biko’s initiative to spur this feeling in blacks, a feeling that was their right, would leave a lasting impact on black South Africa and all blacks forever.

Later, in 1969, Biko founded and became the first president of the South African Students Organization, an organization much like NUSAS that used Biko’s Philosophy of Black Consciousness as its main mission statement. Biko started arguing that even white liberals that had said that they were supporters of the black movement against apartheid, would never think about jumping into the shoes of a black man for a day, to actually be in the movement. These white liberal supporters were in a sense insulted, but were able to see the wisdom in what Biko was doing, by realizing that Biko was pleading for his fellow black brothers and sisters to feel confident in themselves, confident that they didn’t need any type of white support, confident that they could do it on their own. Word of Biko’s call for self-confidence spread like wildfire and months he was gaining a huge following. Blacks everywhere started to gain that feeling that Biko had, the feeling that blacks shouldn’t have to be second best in South Africa. They were there own people, there was no reason for them to have to conform to the Dutch whites or anyone for that matter. Biko traveled around, spreading his word about Black Consciousness, and the movement grew even larger, and gained more followers.

This non-violent revolution grew so large that in 1973, the South African government, out of pure fear, tried to stop Biko and his movement by putting him on house arrest, for merely no reason. He was forbidden from speaking to more than one person at a time, denied the right to travel outside the King William’s township, and could not be quoted in the press(Rosen 23). This was ridiculous, why should he be isolated like this? He was solely trying to spur a sense of much deserved nationalism that every society and culture should have, a nationalism that maybe was even more deserved, considering that the whites came in and disrupted their way of life. Even though he was in a sense trapped in his house, his words spread by pamphlets he made, or from his supporters who continued to spread his words about the movement of Black Consciousness. It soon appeared that even the government couldn’t hold Steven Biko down. Their plan to isolate him turned out to backfire. They had hoped that the house arrest would shut off Biko to the rest of South Africa and the world, causing his movement to sputter, but instead, Steven Biko’s word of Black Consciousness spread even more, making him famous all over South Africa, and eventually to the rest of the world.

In one of Biko’s writings, he even called for the United State’s attention to this matter, saying that the US needed to build up their own “consciousness that lives of whole population groups are being brutalized by the system out here and that there is a complete exclusion of blacks from the political process, and what it means(Rosen 23).” Essentially, he was calling for two things. First, he was calling out to all African Americans, calling them to realize what was going on in the world. In addition to blacks, he was calling the United States government to realize how the South African government was treating blacks, and how the political system was corrupt in its ways. In response, the United States, trying to protect Steven Biko, said that the only way that United States-South Africa relations would improve was if the Prime Minister would first meet with Biko, to discuss the situation maturely, stating both their point of views to reach a happy medium.

The South African government proved to be more concerned about Black Consciousness and the local scene, rather than the pressure other countries like the United States were attempting to put on them. Years later in 1976, there was a protest by thousands of black school students in Soweto, who were protesting a government order that said that half their subject be taught in Afrikaans, the Dutch-derived language of the South African whites. This was a ridiculous situation that the government would try to make them learn in a language foreign to them, a language they didn’t want to learn, for obvious reason. The children thought that this new government order would put them at a disadvantage because most of the rest of the world was learning in English. Instead of settling the protest peacefully, a 13 yr old girl was killed while demonstrating, causing a riot all over the country. When the dust settled, almost 600 people were killed, many of them students(Rosen 24). Again violence was implemented in a peaceful demonstration where it wasn’t needed.

On August 18, 1977, Steven Biko was arrested at a police roadblock under South Africa’s Terrorism Act, claiming he was on his way to Cape Town to spur violence against the whites, a charge that was questionable to say the least. He was taken to police headquarters, where he was stripped of his clothes, chained to a grill, and interrogated for 22 hours. That is where the speculation begins on what happened to Steven Bantu Biko. Three days later, drifting in and out of consciousness, he was tossed into a police car and driven almost 800 miles to the town of Pretoria(Rosen 24).

On September 13, seven days later, Steven Bantu Biko, leader of Black Consciousness, and the source of inspiration for hundreds of thousands of blacks, was announced to be dead, a victim of starvation. Immediately skeptics were quick to jump at that cause of death, for Biko was a big, healthy man. It was found later that Biko had suffered severe head injuries and brain hemorrhaging. To this day, the black South Africans still resent the way Steven Biko was treated by the government and police of South Africa. Even though, he was not on the Earth for long, Biko gave South Africa all he had, and made a lasting impression that will never fade.

Nelson Mandela and Steven Biko are widely regarded as the two most important figures in the struggle for South Africa. The achievements these two men have made for the struggle for South Africa surpass what anyone had ever dreamed. Nelson Mandela was a lawyer, political activist, and leader of the African National Congress, 1944-. He became president of the Congress Youth League, 1944, and helped draft ANC’s Freedom Charter, 1955. He became head of Umkonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), an underground paramilitary wing of the ANC, 1961. After being released from prison, Feb. 11, 1990, he was elected ANC president, 1991, and later was elected president of South Africa, April 27, 1994.

Steven Biko was the Founder of the Black Consciousness movement and founder and first president of South African Student’s Organization, 1969. Biko also established the Zimele Trust Fund(to help Political prisoners and their families), 1975. There’s no doubt that this man, his time cut short by a grisly murder, would have strived to achieve more for his native South Africa.

More important than achievements, these two men set an example, and persuaded others to follow. Without their courage and dedication, the struggle for South Africa may have never been attempted or achieved. These two men stood as leaders of the country of South Africa, their country. The people looked up to them with highest esteem, which was much deserved. Even though it was difficult, they fought through the toughest adversity and persecution, Mandela, a political prisoner for 27 years, and Biko, tortured and killed at an age so young. The achievements of these men will always be remembered by South Africa and the world. Without Nelson Mandela and Steven Biko, the struggle for South Africa may never have been achieved.


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