steve bikoToday is the 33rd anniversary of the murder of Stephen Biko at the hands of apartheid police in South Africa. Although only 30 years old at the time of his death, Biko had become one of the leading intellectuals and activists of the anti-apartheid movement. A talented organiser, a sharp mind, a courageous heart and a passionate revolutionary, he is one of the most important martyrs of the struggle against apartheid.

This poem about Biko is written by Benjamin Zephaniah, without a doubt one of the best poets and writers alive today. Zephaniah is also a great activist and an inspiring personal example to us all. Brought up in the Handsworth ghetto, he left school at the age of 13, unable to read or write, and soon became involved with petty crime, doing a short prison stint for burglary. However, inspired by his love for all oppressed people and driven by a great personal desire to impact the world positively, he developed his abilities as a poet and a writer. Today he continues to be one of the greatest cultural representatives of working class and oppressed people everywhere.

Biko the Greatness

Wickedness tried to kill greatness
In a corner of South Africa
Where they believed there were
No mothers and fathers
Where they believed
One could not hear the cries of another
Wickedness tried to kill greatness

Wickedness tried to build a nation
Of white tyrants
In a corner of the planet
They arrogantly downpressed
They did no overstand
As they suffered the illusion of the God complex
But these words are not for wickedness

These words are for greatness
The greatness that inspired doctors and nurses
To become educated in the art of freedom getting
The greatness that inspired educators to become liberators
And a nation of children to become great themselves

South Africans in the valley of the shadow of death
Feared no wickedness
Because greatness was at their side
And greatness was in their hearts
When the wind of change went south
Greatness was its trustee, guided by truth

Now we who witnessed the greatness
Sing and dance to his legacy,
We who muse his intelligence
Spread the good news in Reggae, Soul, Marabi
And the theatre of liberation,
Knowing that nobody dies until they’re forgotten
We chant Biko today
Biko tomorrow
Biko forever.

Wickedness tried to kill greatness
Now wickedness is dead
And greatness lives
In Islington
As he lives in Cape Town

Interview with Steve Biko (PDF)

Interview with Benjamin Zephaniah, Part 1Part 2Part 3

Article by Zephaniah explaining why he rejected an OBE