Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.8, 492-496
Published Online August 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
Stephen Biko’s Philosophy and Its Pedagogical Implications in
South Africa
Vuyisile Msila
Department of Educati on Leadership and Management, College of Education , University of South Africa,
Pretoria, South Africa
Received May 30th, 2013; revised June 30th, 2013; accepted July 7th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Vuyisile Msila. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attri-
bution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
There are many approaches that need to inform education systems around the world. It also matters to
know whether policymakers have followed (for example), a socialist or an individualist approach in for-
mulating an education system. Furthermore, teachers and other role-players need to understand the para-
digm that undergirds their system of education. This article focuses on the ideas of Stephen Biko, a South
African political activist whose ideas proliferated in the 1970s. The article shows that certain values are
crucial in building education founded on sound social justice policies. Most importantly, it displays that
education is never a neutral act and that it will always be influenced by political debates and philosophies
in a country.
Keywords: Fundamental Pedagogics; Liberatory Education; Political Ideals; Social Justice; Values
Bantu Stephen Biko became known around the world after
his death at the hands of the apartheid police in 1977. He was
the Black Consciousness (BC) leader who stood for human
rights of the oppressed Black people in South Africa. The BC
that Biko stood for was defined as “an inward-looking process
to infuse people with pride and dignity” (Wilson, 2012: p. 14).
There are critics who argue that among others, Biko was in-
spired by the Black Power movement in America as well as
philosophers such as Frantz Fanon and Paulo Freire. Carmi-
chael and Hamilton (1967) defined the role of the Black Power
movement as a means of encouraging a new consciousness
among Black people which would make it possible for them to
proceed in the struggle for human rights. Wilson (2012: p. 14)
also postulates as she writes about Biko:
Young as he was, he realized that a new psychological
climate had to be created if the liberation of his country
was to come about. He expressed what he saw as bitter the
truth. Of prime importance was “to awaken the people as
to who they are by getting them to state their identity. He
thought that if you could do that, then there was no stop-
ping them from revolution,” explained his colleague Ma-
lusi Mpumlwana.
Biko’s philosophy emphasized a number of aspects as high-
lighted above. Among these were African humanism, affirma-
tion of Black identity; the psychological emancipation. His
philosophy underscored the idea of Black people living in
apartheid South Africa to be able to free themselves from phy-
sical and mental bondage. This article explores the implications
of Biko’s philosophy in education. Although Stephen Biko died
in 1977 after being tortured by apartheid police, his ideas lived
long after him. Arguably, some critics still maintain that they
are still relevant in today’s post-apartheid South Africa. Using
the findings I gathered from an earlier study (Msila, 2012) on
his biographical movie, Cry Freedom, in this article I specifi-
cally look at the pedagogical implications of his philosophy. I
do this by firstly exploring the ideas of Fanon and the Black
Power movement; exploring how these might have inspired
Biko. Then the article focuses on three aspects and how they
can be informed by Biko’s philosophy. These three are African
humanism; identity and culture as well as education and lan-
Objectives of the Study
This article, as it explores the pedagogical implications of
Biko’s philosophy also seeks to:
explore existing research on Biko’s philosophy and its im-
plications on education;
examine how this philosophy is linked to other similar phi-
losophies; and
investigate the extent in which politics can affect or impact
on education.
Theory: Fanon and Black Power
Gibson (2011, p. 1) points out that, “Perhaps the most impor-
tant recreation of Fanon’s philosophy of liberation on the Afri-
can continent was by Steve Biko, whose emphasis on the lib-
eration of the ‘mind’ of the oppressed became essential to the
new stage of revolt against apartheid in the 1970s”. Fanon
talked about the importance of freeing the mind of the colo-
nized. He stressed the importance of the African mind to shed
itself of colonial domination. Fanon was a revolutionary writer
who espoused the conditions of the oppressed. These people,
“the damned of the earth” need to constantly fight exploitation
and hunger as people try to change their lives (Fanon, 1967).
In his book, Black Skins, White Masks (1967) Fanon expli-
cates the sense of dependency, helplessness and inadequacy
that Black Africans experience in a “White world”. Fanon, a
qualified psychiatrist, uses psychoanalysis to explain the Black
behavior after the loss of culture. Amongst others, Fanon raises
an argument that it is because of language that people in former
colonized states experience marginalization, pathologization
and servitude. He says that language is an index of power im-
balance and cultural difference. Furthermore, Fanon (2001) states
that colonialism not only physically disarms the colonized sub-
ject, but it also rob her of a pre-colonial cultural heritage. Lan-
guage, like culture negatively transformed the colonized to as-
sume an iden tity of being The Other. As traditional culture dis-
sipated among the indigenes, the creation of otherness seeped
through. Black Africans became poorer and poorer and regard-
ed the colonizer as the provider. There developed a schism be-
tween the Black A frican and the Westerner:
The creation of otherness (also called othering) consists of
applying a principle that allows individuals to be classi-
fied into two hierarchical groups: them and us. The out-
group is only coherent as a group as a result of its opposi-
tion to the in-group and its lack of identity. This lack is
based on stereotypes that are largely stigmatizing and ob-
viously simplistic. The in-group constructs one or more
others, setting itself apart and giving itself an identity
(Staszak, 2008: p. 2).
The politics of colonialism and racism further entrenched this
otherness. The Black African was marginalized by the domi-
nant White society .
Similar to this philosophy is the philosophy of the Black
Power movement. In fact, Joseph (2003) refers to Fanon as a
man who was viewed as a future icon of the Black Power
movement in its early stages. The Black Power movement in
America espoused the politics of liberation of the Black people.
Like Fanon above, Carmichael and Hamilton (1967) postulate
that Black people needed to redefine themselves. These authors
also point out that the fundamental need for Black people was
to reclaim their history and identity from what they referred to
as cultural terrorism. Furthermore, Carmichael and Hamilton
(1967: p. 44) aver:
The concept of Black Power speaks to all the needs men-
tioned in this chapter. It is a call for Black people in this
country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a
sense of community. It is a call for Black people to begin
to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations
and to support these organizations. It is a call to reject the
racist institutions and values of this society.
The above clearly illustrates the envisaged propinquity be-
tween Black Power movement and Fanon’s philosophy. Both
philosophies support the call for the oppressed to fight for their
rights. The goal of both is the liberation of the marginalized and
oppressed people. The Black Power movement emphasized ra-
cial pride and political self-determination (Joseph, 2009). Fur-
thermore, Joseph argues that it called for a redefined Black
identity that connected Black Americans to a national and
global political project based on solidarity and a shared history
of racial oppression. “The Black Power movement, in its chal-
lenge of postwar racial liberalism, fundamentally transformed
struggles for racial justice through an uncompromising quest
for social, political, cultural, and economic transformation” (Jo-
seph, 2009: p. 753). Black Power expressed a concept that ne-
gated racial oppression and it advanced a self-sufficient econ-
The Black Power movement also instilled a sense of pride
among the oppressed. Children were taught to love their black-
ness (Van DeBurg, 1992). Later the Black Power movement
produced cultural products that imbued pride in blackness.
Thus it used all available forms of folk, literary and dramatic
expression based in a common ancestral past to promote a mes-
sage of self-actualization and cultural definition (Van DeBurg,
1992). Biko shared the ideals of these schools of thought that
came before him. The emancipation of the oppressed Black
people in South Africa was dependent upon the oppressed
fighting for their liberation. Biko asserted that Black people are
the only ones who could liberate themselves from political op-
pression (Wilson, 2012).
Education: The Context in Which Biko Wrote
Biko’s philosophy needs to be understood within the context
in which it was written. When he formulated his ideas on edu-
cation and various other political and societal challenges there
were a number of education systems in South Africa for differ-
ent racial groups. All these were guided by the apartheid phi-
losophy of Fundamental Pedagogics which in turn was based
on what was referred to by the White Afrikaner church as
Christian National Education (CNE). This was a philosophy
that purported to be propelled by Calvinism and Christian Na-
tionalism. Fundamental Pedagogics also regarded all children
as blank slates or tabula rasas. Du Plooy and Kilian (1983)
point out that man (sic) is educating his children with a view to
assisting them educatively “to become proper human beings on
their way to adulthood”. Education under Fundamental Peda-
gogics envisaged the role of the adult to be that an imparter of
knowledge upon the child. “There is only one way in which to
realize the child’s becoming an adult and that is with the help
and accompaniment of a responsible adult as his fellow man”
(Du Plooy & Kilian, 1983: p. 4).
Within this rather twisted view of education apartheid educa-
tion regarded Bantu Education for Blacks as a form of domina-
tion over the oppressed. Article 15 of the CNE document de-
We believe that the calling and task of White South Africa
with regard to the native is to Christianise him and help
him on culturally, and that this calling and task has al-
ready found its nearer focusing in the principles of trus-
teeship, no equality and segregation. We believe besides
that any system of teaching and education of natives must
be based on the same principle. In accordance with these
principles we believe that the teaching and education of
the native must be grounded in the life and worldview of
the Whites most especially those of the Boer nation as
senior White trustee of the native…
Apartheid education system abused religion while it enforced
divisions among ethnic groups in South Africa. It was a prac-
tice of maintaining that status quo and of preserving the master-
servant relationship between the Black Africans and the Whites.
It was intended to “entrench apartheid capitalism”, as was noted
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 493
at the conference on People’s Education in December 1985.
Kallaway (1988) points out that apartheid education not only
domesticated the people but indoctrinated them as well. Bantu
Education for Black South Africans had been a means of re-
stricting the development of the learner by distorting school
knowledge to ensure control over the intellect of the learners
and teachers, and propagating state propaganda (Kallaway,
The CNE principles on education for the Africans were de-
clared as a way of maintaining the Black South Africans in a
permanent state of political and economic subordination. The
education system had been an obvious instrument of control to
protect power and privilege. And not only had apartheid educa-
tion separated White children from Black children; it had also
divided White children into separate camps (Hartshorne, 1986).
The Black learners did not only feel the damaging effects of the
CNE. It was destructive to the White learner as well because
they learnt only a White view of society. Several government
reports spelt out the objectives of apartheid clearly.
The Eiselen Report was based on the Eiselen Commission
which was operational in the 1950s when the Bantu Education
system for Black Africans was introduced in South Africa. The
Commission claimed that Black African children’s intellect was
of a different nature to that of Whites, and that these learners
thus needed a special sort of education. Furthermore, the Eise-
len Report also pointed out that Black Africans should not imi-
tate English and other European cultures; they should stick to
education that inculcates the character of a unique (African)
people (Giliomee, 2009: p. 194). Bantu Education was based on
this premise. The teacher unions during this period were op-
posed to this system which emphasized racial difference and
white superiority. Arguably, the specter of apartheid education
still looms large. Many teachers were trained under this system.
Stephen Biko wrote many of his essays responding to this sys-
tem. Below, the focus is on how Biko’s philosophy responds to
educational challenges today. It does this by teasing the various
themes that Biko underscored in his writings on society and
Biko and Black Consciousness
Having unpacked Fanon and the Black power movement’s
beliefs, it is also crucial to briefly demonstrate what Biko’s BC
stood for. This is crucial in understanding how he perceived the
role of education in society. Biko had read Pau lo Frei re’s Peda -
gogy of the Oppressed and later concurred that teaching should
be a political act, “directly related to production, health, social
conditions, to the regular system of instruction, and to the over-
all plan for a society still to be realized in the future” (Wilson,
2012: p. 59). In his own words Biko states that, “Black Con-
sciousness therefore, takes cognizance of the deliberateness of
God’s plan in creating black people black. It seeks to infuse the
black community with a new-found pride in themselves, their
efforts, their value systems, their culture, their religion and their
outlook to life” (Biko, 1987: p. 49). He always perceived an
intense interrelationship between the consciousness of self and
emancipatory agenda. Therefore, Biko defined Black Consci-
ousness as an attitude of the mind and a way of life. Its phi-
losophy was to express “group pride and a determination of the
Black people to arise and attain the envisaged self” (Wilson,
Identity and Culture
The Black Consciousness that Biko stood for accentuated the
affirmation of Black culture and Black identity. Biko was
against racial integration, which emphasized an assimilationist
position. He did not approve of the disadvantaged people hav-
ing to accept a set of norms and code of behavior set up and
maintained by Western values. For Biko (1987: p. 24), true in-
tegration meant:
Free participation by all members of a society, catering
the full expression of the self in a freely changing society
as determined by the will of the people... For one cannot
escape the fact that the culture shared by the majority
group in any given society must ultimately determine the
broad direction taken by the joint culture of that society.
This need not cramp the style of those who feel differently
buit on the whole, a country in Africa, in which the ma-
jority of people are African must inevitably exhibit Afri-
can values and be truly African in style.
He also goes on to bewail the destruction of structures built
in the African society by colonialism and imperialism. He con-
tends that not only was the Native’s brain emptied but the his-
tory was deliberately distorted as well. As history was de-
stroyed, so wa s the culture:
No longer was reference made to African culture, it be-
came barbarism... Religious practices and customs were
referred to as superstition... No wonder the African child
learns to hate his heritage in his days at school. So ne-
gative is the image presented to him that he tends to find
solace only in close identification with the white society
(Biko, 1987: p. 29).
The participants reiterated the commitment Biko showed to-
wards culture and identity in the movie. They perceived him as
a man who saw culture and identity as conduits to pride and
affirmation of being a rightful citizen in South Africa. The par-
ticipants also saw Biko as magnifying the role of being “true
African”. However, Biko did not believe that African culture is
static. Many skeptics of Africanization usually pose questions
such as; what is culture? Whose culture?—In a very tongue in
cheek manner. It is true that as people enhance their nation
building endeavors they need to explain what they mean by
culture. Biko was appalled at the fact that Africans were not
expected to have any understanding of their own cultures. He
maintained that people needed to relate the past to the present
and demonstrate an historical evolution of the modern African.
Biko (1987: p. 70) contends:
We must reject the attempts by the powers that be to pro-
ject an arrested image of our culture... They have deli-
berately arrested our culture at the tribal stage to per-
petuate the myth that African people were near cannibals,
had no real ambitions in life, and were occupied with sex
and drink.
African cultures as envisaged in the Africanization process
need to be seen in light of this dynamism. It is also crucial that
people must not delude themselves by thinking that there is one
African culture in Africa or South Africa. Within Africa, there
are myriad cultures as there are languages and religions. How-
ever, culture here would refer to the basic inspiration and ethos
of belonging to Africa. It is that which connects the band of
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
Africans together including history and commitment of being
born in the Continent.
Dei (2012) argues that there is a need to reclaim local cul-
tural resource knowledge that herald issues of the past, culture,
ancestral knowledge, history, heritage and language. Further-
more Dei underscores the re-assertion of identities that recog-
nize the genuineness of African voice and human experience.
Dei (2012: p. 47) avers:
Reclaiming and affirming African past intellectual tradi-
tions, knowledge and contributions in world history is a
necessary exercise in our own decolonization. African
peoples have something to offer to the world. Besides our
humanism we have a gift of knowledge that helps to in-
form an understanding of humanity. Reflecting on the Af-
rican past, present and future as a continuum offers im-
portant lessons for Africans to design own futures.
These arguments support the identity and culture that Biko
talks about. The Black Power movement and Fanon cited in li-
terature above also concur with this reclaiming of the rightful
culture and identity. The qualities highlighted above are all
crucial in empowering the African people. Biko (1987) argued
that the African child in school learns to hate his heritage be-
cause at school the African image is presented so negatively
that the Black child tends to identify with the white society.
Furthermore, Dei (2012) opines that there needs to be a rede-
fined decolonized education to build spiritually and politically
sustainable communities of learning. He then refer to the latter
as schooling as community. In this way education according to
Dei translates into pedagogy of hope that empowers the learn-
Dei also points out that African people need education where
the African learners are at the center. He also points out that
such education should emphasize the centrality of culture to
pedagogy as it affirms identity. “African-centered education
works with principles of community, solidarity, social respon-
sibility, mutual independence, collective histories and spiritual
learning” (Dei, 2012: p. 51). Biko (1987) cites Fanon when he
emphasizes the need for a national consciousness. He says co-
lonialism has destroyed the essence of Black people. As a result,
“at the end of it all, the Blacks have nothing to lean on, nothing
to cheer them up at the present moment and very much afraid of
in the future” (Biko, 1987: p. 69). There is a special place of a
teacher who enhances the learners’ selves, collective ethnic and
cultural pride for a strong African identity and personality. Biko
maintained that these are all qualities that need to be empha-
sized in African classrooms in order for the learners to regain
self-worth and confidence in the world. This culture and iden-
tity is linked to ubuntu or African humanism that Biko espous-
African Humanism: Building Ubuntu
Biko’s BC was a perpetual quest for humanism. In South Af-
rican Nguni languages this is what is referred to as ubuntu.
Ubuntu is the actual meaning of life in African societies. One
lives for fellow brethren; a neighbor cannot starve if I have
victuals however, small. The latter is an inherent African value
and Biko (1987: p. 24) argued that, “In Africa, in which the
majority of the people are African must inevitably exhibit Af-
rican values and be truly African in style”. Furthermore, Biko
contends that Africans develop a sense of belonging to the
community within a short time of coming together. He says that
the oneness of community is at the heart of the Black African
cultures and the easiness in which the Africans communicate
with each other is not forced by any authority but is inherent in
the genes of the African people. The BC philosophy wanted the
Black people to value their own lifestyle, their outlook and
Boaduo (2012) extends Biko’s arguments in her discussions.
She contends that there is a need for South African education to
play a role of humanizing its citizens on principles based on
ubuntu. She also speaks of a need to re-educate the ethnic
groups that were injured by apartheid policies. This author
states that the dehumanization of South Africans affected all
racial groups. The White South Africans in the process of in-
doctrinating their children dehumanized their ethnic group. “In
the same way the Black racial groups who have been deliber-
ately de-humanized and excluded from any worthwhile partici-
pation in government including their various counterparts-In-
dians and Coloreds also need to be re-educated” (Boaduo, 2012:
p. 955).
Mthembu (1996) describes ubuntu as the key to all African
values and that it involves humanness, a good disposition to-
wards others, and a moral nature. Furthermore, Mthembu avers
that ubuntu describes the significance of group solidarity and
interdependence in African culture. Mbigi (2005: p. v) supports
this by pointing out that ubuntu is a metaphor that describes the
significance of group solidarity on survival issues that is so
vital to the survival of African communities. Schools tend to re-
flect the society in which they are built. Parts of ubuntu are ma-
nifested through certain aspects such as humanism that Biko
also explored. There are however, many challenges to ubuntu
way of life in the present society. If Biko were alive he would
disappointed by the levels of societal ills such as xenophobia,
crimes, declining morality among Black Africans. In fact, Ntuli
(1999: p. 184) states that the spirit of ubuntu has long disap-
peared and he states that that is the reason why we need an
African renaissance. Furthermore, Ntuli opines that in the face
of the present cultural and moral collapse in South Africa, there
is a need to strive for a rebirth. Yet, Dandala (1996: p. 70)
states that ubuntu requires a great deal of learning and sharing
and institutions can achieve this through the training of people
to practice greater interaction. Schools and the societies around
them need to learn the values of ubuntu.
Education and Languages
Biko (in Woods) maintained that there was a need for Black
people to use indigenous languages because they could express
themselves better in their mother tongue. He pointed out that
speaking another language makes many students to feel “a
sense of inadequacy”. Biko also stated that when students can-
not express themselves in a foreign language they tend to judge
themselves negatively. They tend to contend that their intelli-
gence is not as good as that of first language speakers of Eng-
lish for example. “You tend to feel that that guy is better equip-
ped than you mentally” (Woods, 1991: p. 169). The idea of us-
ing indigenous languages in schools has never been so relevant
in the education discourse. Many critics cite the non-use of in-
digenous languages in schools as among the crucial reasons as
to why Black learners do not fare well in their studies in South
Africa. Furthermore, Biko declared that this difficulty of coping
with a foreign language in schools led to an inferiority com-
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plex. Language created Blacks who had an inferiority complex.
Biko also writes about how Black people became less articulate,
inward looking because of the lack of linguistic skills. In a for-
eign language, “you feel things rather than say them... English
is completely foreign and therefore people find it difficult to
move beyond a certain point in their comprehension of the lan-
guage” (Biko, 1987: p. 123).
Like Biko, Fanon argued more about language implications.
He points out that being colonized by a language has deep im-
plications for one’s consciousness. Fanon (1967) also contend-
ed that the use of foreign languages by Black people alienated
the people from their natural selves creating a disjuncture be-
tween the Black man’s consciousness and his body. Further-
more, he identifies the use of language as a tool for liberation
for the colonized (1967). Clearly, Biko and Fanon perceived
language as an aspect of culture and identity that should not be
destroyed. The Black Power movement also emphasized that
for Black people to understand themselves, they should not be
alienated from their culture and identity (McCormack, 1984).
Arguably, the ideals of democracy, equality and social justice
should be pivotal in teacher education programs. Without these
aspects post-apartheid education will not achieve what it is
supposed to achieve. The South African education is built upon
the democratic constitution of the Republic. Values embraced
by philosophers such as Biko will be crucial in realizing some
of the ideals of the post-apartheid education system. Biko used
liberation theories to emancipate the individuals from the con-
straints enforced by society. Existing research on Biko also
shows the implications of Biko’s philosophy on the society in
general. This article has also revealed how his theory shares
similar notions to Frantz Fanon’s as well as the Black Power
movements. There are others that are relevant such as Paulo
Freire’s pedagogy which is not discussed in this article. The
article has also illustrated how political debates cannot be
separated from pedagogic arguments. Education is intertwined
with society and although Biko was mainly commenting on
society and politics, his philosophy has huge implications for
education. Finally, through Biko’s philosophy one can see that
education is always based on values and it is through values
that individuals will find liberating or restricting.
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