Why is Steve Biko's remarkable legacy often overlooked?

Matthew Graham is lecturer in history at the University of Dundee. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. CNN is showcasing the work of The Conversation, a collaboration between journalists and academics to provide news analysis and commentary. The content is produced solely by The Conversation.

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(CNN)While Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and Desmond Tutu are rightly venerated for their role in opposing and ending white minority rule in South Africa, another leader of the liberation years has been remarkably overlooked: Bantu Steven Biko, who led the enormously influential Black Consciousness Movement. Four decades after his death in police custody on September 12 1977, he deserves to be recognized as one of the towering heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Black Consciousness re-energized black opposition to apartheid and helped draw the world's attention to the brutality of South Africa's white minority rule. It began after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, when established liberation movements such as the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were banned by the South African government and forced into exile. With the organized opposition apparently moribund, the South African state presided over an economic boom for the white minority and created the conditions for apartheid's so-called golden age.
In 1969, with overt political activism and leadership largely dormant, Black Consciousness emerged from the South African Students' Organisation to fill the void. Biko advocated that black liberation would only follow once psychological liberation from the internalized acceptance of racial oppression was achieved, arguing that "the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed".