Soundtrack to a protest movement: Apartheid x Biko

Throughout history, protest songs have inspired and celebrated social change. ONE’s agit8 project harnesses the power of protest songs to inspire a new generation to join the protest of our lifetime: extreme poverty.  

Listen to Peter Gabriel’s ‘Biko’ mashed up with a quick history of the anti-apartheid movement.

September ‘77 when Mo Farah was just a glint in his mother’s eye Port Elizabeth weather fine on the beaches for blacks and the nicer beaches for the whites It was business as usual in the separate schools, hospitals, buses and universities, there since 1948 In police room 619 they enforced the law that held that whites were superior to blacks Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko Steve Biko was a former student leader and an anti-apartheid activist Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko like other activists he was banned from speaking to more than one person at once Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja he was picked up at a road block, questioned for 22 hours and beaten into a coma The man is dead he died on 12 September 1977 The man is dead and the police were never charged

When I try to sleep at night only in dreams could black South Africans be free. In real life, long before Biko, their movements had been curtailed I can only dream in red the African National Congress youth wing’s resistance movement started in 1949. Churches and unions joined The outside world is black and white blacks had to carry pass books while whites didn’t. In one township in 1960, thousands protested at a police station, refusing to carry their pass books With only one colour dead police opened fire and 69 protestors died in what became known as the Sharpeville Massacre

You can blow out a candle Sharpeville didn’t deter protestors, it spurred them on But you can’t blow out a fire the massacre galvanised international support Once the flames begin to catch international sport, consumer, cultural and academic boycotts and trade embargoes

The wind will blow it higher when Geoff Boycott didn’t observe the boycott there were calls for a Boycott boycott Oh Biko, Biko, because Biko senior members of the ANC were imprisoned for their protests against apartheid Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja In Xhosa, Yihla Moja means “Come, spirit” The man is dead but the memory of Steve Biko and other victims of apartheid lived on

And the eyes of the world are ever so important: sustained international pressure and resistance from within led to 1990’s end of apartheid watching now they were when 20 million people voted in the first universal general election in 1994 watching now and they were when the ANC gained a majority and Nelson Mandela was elected President watching now South Africa’s challenges today are many. But apartheid is gone and new nation has been born.

Listen to more iconic protest songs re-imagined by artists like Bruce Springsteen, Ed Sheeran and Green Day on the agit8 platform.

‘Biko’ — Written by Peter Gabriel.  Published by Real World Music Ltd, EMI Music Publishing. Courtesy of


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