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Biko said apartheid would ‘use’ Mandela? No, the quote is fake

This article is more than 5 years old

A quote circulating on social media suggests that anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko suspected Nelson Mandela would be “used” by the apartheid government. Biko, a founder of South Africa’s Black Consciousness movement, was killed in police custody in 1977.

The quote claims that when Biko was asked about Mandela’s imprisonment, he said: “Apartheid doesn’t keep you alive unless it’s going to use you later.”








In the Rivonia Trial of 1963 and 1964, Mandela faced the real possibility of a death sentence. Instead, he got life in prison.

But is there evidence that the quote is by Biko?

Quote not in Biko's writings

There is no date or source for the quote. There is also no indication of who asked Biko the question.

Thando Sipuye, a historian and programme officer at the Steve Biko Foundation, believes the quote is fake. The community development organisation runs a centre that educates the public about Biko’s life and his contribution to freedom and democracy.

Sipuye told Africa Check that the quote does not appear anywhere in Biko’s writings.


‘Mandela will always have a place of honour’

Biko only mentions Mandela once in I Write What I Like, a collection of his essays first published in 1978.

In his 1971 essay Fragmentation of the Black Resistance, Biko writes: “People like Mandela, [Robert] Sobukwe, [Ahmed] Kathrada, MD Naidoo and many others will always have a place of honour in our minds as the true leaders of the people.

“They may have been branded communists, saboteurs, or similar names – in fact they may have been convicted of similar offences in law courts but this does not subtract from the real essence of their worth.

“These were people who acted with a dedication unparalleled in modern times. Their concern with our plight as black people made them gain the natural support of the mass of black people. We may disagree with some things they did but know that they spoke the language of the people.”

Nkosinathi Biko, Biko’s son and a foundation board member, told Africa Check he believes the quote is fake.

“There's actually been no reference in Steve Biko’s work of any such. Even his own experiences don’t tell you that. So as far as we are concerned it’s not true.”


Biko couldn’t know Mandela would survive

Dr Ian Macqueen, a lecturer in the University of Pretoria’s historical and heritage studies department, told Africa Check he had never come across the quote.

Macqueen is the author of Black Consciousness and Progressive Movements under Apartheid. The book provides a “wide-ranging account of the movement and ideology of Black Consciousness in relation to other resistance movements in South Africa”.

Macqueen said the quote ran against Biko's sentiments about Mandela, as expressed in I Write What I Like.

“In addition, it attributes an unrealistic prescience of judgement to Biko, who had no way of knowing that Mandela would be released or even survive imprisonment."

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