Tuesday, September 26, 2006


I found this in the backlog. This is an important event in the overall scheme of things. Biko was an incredible force in the dismantling of aparthide. His story is truly moving...........PEACE.........Scott

September 12, 1977

Steven Biko, leader of South Africa's "Black Consciousness Movement," dies of
severe head trauma on the stone floor of a prison cell in Pretoria. Six days
earlier, he had suffered a major blow to his skull during a police interrogation
in Port Elizabeth. Instead of receiving medical attention, he was chained
spread-eagled to a window grill for 24 hours. On September 11, he was dumped,
naked and shackled, on the floor of a police vehicle and driven 740 miles to
Pretoria Central Prison. He died the next day. In announcing his death, South
African authorities claimed Biko died after refusing food and water for a week
in a hunger strike.Steven Bantu Biko, born in 1946, was the most influential
anti-apartheid leader of the 1970s. As a medical student in 1968, he founded the
all-black South African Students' Organization with the aim of overcoming the
"psychological oppression of blacks by whites." Similar to the "Black Power"
movement in the United States, Biko's Black Consciousness Movement stressed
black identity, self-esteem, and self-reliance. In the 1970s, Black
Consciousness spread from the university communities to black communities
throughout South Africa.In 1972, Biko helped organize the Black People's
Convention, and in the next year he was banned from politics by South Africa's
white-minority government. As a "banned person," he was forbidden by law from
speaking in public or being quoted, leaving the area around King William's Town,
and being in the company of more than one person at a time. However, he
continued to oppose apartheid covertly and was arrested four times during the
next few years and held without trial for months at a time.On August 18, 1977,
he was arrested with another activist at a roadblock outside the small town of
Grahamstown on his way to a political meeting in Cape Town. Taken to a prison in
Port Elizabeth, he was stripped naked, manacled to a grate, and forced to lie on
a filthy blanket for 18 days. On September 6, he was brought to the Sanlam
Building, where police tortured prisoners as a means of interrogation. Five
security officers took Biko into room 619 for interrogation. When he emerged, he
was in a semiconscious state, having suffered severe head trauma that left him
with multiple brain lesions. His injuries were left unattended, and he was
chained, standing up, to a window grill for 24 hours.On September 7, two
government doctors finally examined Biko and found him hyperventilating,
frothing at the mouth, and unable to speak or stand. They pronounced him fit to
travel. On September 11, Biko, by then comatose, was thrown naked and chained
into the back of a police truck, which drove 10 hours to Pretoria in the north.
Dropped in a cell in Pretoria Central Prison, he succumbed to his injuries on
September 12. He was 30 years old.South African authorities attempted to
cover-up the circumstances of Biko's death, saying he starved himself on a
hunger strike. They later claimed he died of kidney failure. Finally, when the
findings of a postmortem were made public, they said he might have "hurt his
head when he fell out of bed." A judicial inquiry found no one responsible for
his death and most of the policemen who interrogated Biko were promoted.Steven
Biko was hailed as a martyr in the anti-apartheid struggle, and his death became
an international rallying point against South Africa's repressive government. In
November 1977, the United Nations voted a partial arms embargo against South
Africa. U.N. resolutions calling for sweeping economic and military sanctions
against South Africa were vetoed by the United States, Britain, and
France.Apartheid was abolished in South Africa in 1991, and in 1994 Nelson
Mandela was elected the country's first black head of government. The following
year, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to examine
apartheid-era crimes. In exchange for full confessions of politically motivated
crimes, the TRC promised amnesty for those who came forward. In 1997, the five
former security officers who interrogated Steven Biko on September 6, 1977,
applied for amnesty from the TRC.One of the former officers, Daniel Siebert,
said in his application to the TRC that he and two other officers ran Biko
headfirst into a far wall of the interrogation room. Several of the officers
spoke of Police Colonel Gideon Nieuwoudt striking Biko with a pipe. However,
when the men testified before the TRC shortly before the 20th anniversary of
Biko's death, they claimed, in conflicting accounts, that Biko had injured
himself in a scuffle. They said that the handcuffed Biko lunged at them during
the interrogation and struck his own head against the wall. They said they
didn't provide immediate medical attention to him because they thought he was
faking his injuries.In February 1999, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
denied the men amnesty, saying that the former officers' version of Mr. Biko's
death was "so improbable and contradictory that it has to be rejected as false."
With the exception of murder, there is a 20-year limit on prosecution of
criminal charges in South Africa. It is unlikely that the former officers will
face trial.

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