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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 66
Paragraph Numbers 120
The case of Steve Biko18
Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko [CT05004/ELA] was detained on 18 August 1977 in Port Elizabeth and died in custody on 12 September 1977 in Pretoria.
Security police officers Major Harold Snyman [AM3918/96], Captain Daniel Petrus Siebert [AM3915/96], Warrant Officer Ruben Marx [AM3521/96], Warrant Officer Jacobus Johannes Oosthuizen Beneke [AM6367/96] and Sergeant Gideon Johannes Nieuwoudt [AM3920/96] alleged that Biko died of brain injuries sustained in a ‘scuffle’ with the police at the Sanlam Building, Port Elizabeth.
At the inquest, magistrate Marthinus Prins ruled that Biko’s death was caused by a head injury, probably sustained on 7 September during a scuffle with security police in Port Elizabeth – but that there was no proof that the death was brought about by an act or omission involving an offence by any person.
The police officers involved applied for amnesty for the incident and the amnesty hearings took place in Port Elizabeth twenty years after Biko’s death. The Biko family did not ask the Commission to make a finding on his death.
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE DEATH IN DETENTION OF MR STEPHEN BANTU BIKO ON 12 SEPTEMBER 1977 WAS A GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION. MAGISTRATE MARTHINUS PRINS FOUND THAT THE MEMBERS OF THE SAP WERE NOT IMPLICATED IN HIS DEATH. THE MAGISTRATE’S FINDING CONTRIBUTED TO THE CREATION OF A CULTURE OF IMPUNITY IN THE SAP.
DESPITE THE INQUEST FINDING WHICH FOUND NO PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS DEATH, THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT, IN VIEW OF THE FACT THAT BIKO DIED IN THE CUSTODY OF LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS, THE PROBABILITIES ARE THAT HE DIED AS A RESULT OF INJURIES SUSTAINED DURING HIS DETENTION.
IN VIEW OF OUTSTANDING AMNESTY APPLICATIONS IN RESPECT OF BIKO’S DEATH, THE COMMISSION IS UNABLE TO CONFIRM A PERPETRATOR FINDING AT THIS STAGE.18 See also chapter on Institutional Hearings: Health Sector in Volume 4.
The case of Mzukisi Nobadula
Mr Mzukisi Melvin Nobadula [EC0662/96] died in a Port Elizabeth prison in December 1977. He was detained and appeared in the Grahamstown Supreme Court on a case against PEBCO leader Mr Thozamile Botha and two others. He refuted a statement he had been forced to sign implicating Botha.
The accused were released, but Nobadula was redetained and held as an awaiting-trial prisoner, pending perjury charges arising out of the Botha case. His family was later informed that he had died in custody. Dr Lang conducted a post mortem and stated that the victim died of natural causes. However, it was found that the body had scars and burns on the back. Attorney John Jackson, who was representing Nobadula, had told the Port Elizabeth regional court that he had seen Nobadula days earlier when he appeared to be in perfect health. A senior police officer said in a statement the day after a post mortem examination that no signs of any criminal offence causing Mr Nobadula’s death in prison had been found, but that more tests would be made before an official report was issued by the police.
Jackson recounts that he learnt of the circumstances of Nobadula’s death from one of his cellmates: a prison warder had taken his asthma pills and spray away from him and that night, in the grossly overcrowded cell, he had an asthma attack. Despite calls for help from other prisoners, the warders refused to help and threatened beatings. Nobadula died, and no inquest was held19 .19 John Jackson (1980) p 224; IDAF Focus No.14, January 1978; contemporary newspaper accounts.
The case of Lungile Tabalaza
Mr Lungile Tabalaza [EC0002/96PLZ] was detained on 10 July 1978 in connection with arson attacks and the robbery and burning of a delivery van. He died the same day, in custody at the Sanlam Building, Port Elizabeth. Police claimed he had committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of the Sanlam Building — from an unbarred window in Sergeant Nel’s office. Major PR de Jongh, Lieutenant Verceuil, Sergeant PJ Nel and Constable Mene were involved with Tabalaza’s interrogation.
It was reported20 that Tabalaza died shortly after being transferred by uniform police to the custody of the Security Branch. Photographs of bodies, smuggled to London, suggest he may have suffered injuries before the fall, and may have been suspended by his feet.
At the start of the inquest in Port Elizabeth, the government pathologist acknowledged that several bruises and lacerations could have been sustained before he fell. Magistrate Willem Lubbe told the inquest that he had seen Tabalaza less than an hour before his death, but had refused to investigate allegations of assault made by Tabalaza. Lubbe said he was “shocked” and regretted that he had not investigated Tabalaza’s fears that he would be beaten if he did not make a statement when he was taken back to security police offices.
The inquest held in October 1978 found no one responsible for his death. Justice Minister Jimmy Kruger and others tried to lessen the embarrassment of Tabalaza’s death by portraying him as a “common criminal”. Mr Kruger claimed that the barring of windows, which he had ordered to prevent such deaths, had not yet been completed in Port Elizabeth. In response to the outcry following Tabalaza’s death, three Security Branch officers were transferred, including Colonel Goosen, the local Security Branch chief, who was posted to another district.
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE ACTIONS OF THE SAP AND THE NAMED POLICE OFFICERS INVOLVED IN THE KILLING OF DETAINEES AT THE SANLAM BUILDING IN PORT ELIZABETH CONSTITUTE GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS FOR WHICH THE SAP AND THE NAMED POLICE OFFICERS ARE HELD RESPONSIBLE.20 Focus 18, 1978.