JOHANNESBURG 12 September 1999 Sapa-AFP


Twenty-two years after Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko died after being brutally beaten by apartheid police, his family have vowed to bring those responsible for the killing to justice. Biko's son Nkosinathi acknowledged, however, it will be difficult to bring a criminal prosecution. "It is not an easy case," he told public SABC television Sunday, the anniversary of his father's death. "It is a 22-year-old case, it is a case that involves finding certain documentation that has gone missing and collating evidence, finding witnesses. It is a long, drawn out process, but we will deal with this systematically as we have in the past 22 years." Five ex-policemen were earlier this year refused amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) for their role in the death in detention of the 32-year-old activist on September 12, 1977. The ex-policemen, one of whom has since died, claimed Biko had accidently bumped his head during a scuffle with police while he was being interrogated in a room at security police headquarters in the south coast city of Port Elizabeth. The TRC, which spent 30 months probing human rights abuses committed during the apartheid era, rejected the policemen's version of events and denied them amnesty. An inquest in 1978 found that Biko had suffered a massive blow to the head which caused him to lapse into a coma. Frothing at the mouth, he was then thrown naked and shackled into the back of a police Land Rover and transferred to a prison hospital in Pretoria, some 1,100 kilometres (690 miles away) on September 11, 1977. He died the next day on the floor of a prison cell, without regaining consciousness. The inquest found no one could be held responsible for Biko's death. One of the former policemen who admitted interrogating Biko, but who denied beating him, Gideon Nieuwoudt, is serving a life term for his role in the murders of other anti-apartheid activists and is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars. But legal experts have said it will be difficult for the state to prosecute the remaining three as Biko's death occurred outside the 20-year statute of limitations. Nkosinathi Biko, however, said Sunday he and his family were determined to bring prosecutions against the men who killed his father and finally expose the truth of what really took place in the interrogation room. "In the case of Steve Biko, we are no further than we were at the end of 1978 at the end of the inquest," he said. A fiery orator, Biko was particularly targetted by security police because of the leading role he played in founding the Black Consciousness movement, which militantly opposed the apartheid regime on grounds that it created unfair racial divisions to perpetuate economic inequality. He modelled his philosophy on contemporary American theorists of Black Power and an existentialist school of French-speaking African writers. Biko's death became a rallying-point for the anti-apartheid movement and spurred tens of thousands of young blacks into political activism. It also inspired British rock singer Peter Gabriel to pen the song "Biko" and British film director Richard Attenborough to make the movie "Cry Freedom," covering aspects of the Black Consciousness leader's life.
South African Press Association, 1999
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