|Let’s move our attention now to the Amnesty Committee hearings in Port Elizabeth. South Africans are known as a nation with a short memory, but the one hero that has never been forgotten is Steven Bantu Biko who died 20 years ago this week in a police cell. But while we remembered Biko some of the men whose actions caused his death, seem to be suffering from bad memory. His family and friends insist that the five policemen who applied for amnesty before the Amnesty Committee in Port Elizabeth this week are still lying.
|Full Transcript and References
|‘Any changes which are to come can only come as a result of a programme worked out by black people. And for black people to be able to work out a programme they need to defeat the one main element in politics which was working against them and this was a psychological feeling of inferiority.’
|In the two decades since Biko’s brutal death in detention his name has become synonymous with black consciousness, black pride; black dignity in South Africa. But the circumstances surrounding his death have always been associated with white police brutality, secrecy and lies. Biko was arrested on the 18th of August 1977 for breaking his banning order. He was held here at the Walmer police cells in Port Elizabeth until a team of security policemen took him to their interrogation chamber, the infamous Sanlam building, room 619. During questioning, the 6th of September Biko sustained serious head injuries. State doctors who examined him helped the police cover up the extent of his injuries. Instead of taking Biko to a local prison hospital he was driven half naked in the back of this police van to the Pretoria local prison more than a thousand kilometres away. This was to be his final journey. Hours later the young medical student was found dead in his cell. The news of Biko’s death ...more
|I literally didn’t believe it. I thought that not even this government’s that stupid and when it sank in it was a terrible shock and we all, all of his friends, apart from the tragedy of it there was a sense of anger, a lot of anger. // It’s a long time, but it’s like yesterday, because it’s not something that you forget. I was in Pietersburg hospital, admitted because I had a threatened miscarriage with my son Hlumelo, who’s his son and when I first was told that he had been detained I really wasn’t worried because he had been detained before and I knew he could look after himself. And so the death, or the announcement of the death, it really was a shock. Shock in the sense of, I didn’t think it was possible that he could have died. It was the most traumatic moment of my life. I don’t think there is anything that would ever affect me as much as that. It was a very deep friendship, a very intimate, peer relationship of two very committed people, with an ability to ...more
|There’s an air of anticipation in the Eastern Cape city as Biko’s killers come to ask for amnesty. A large crowd gathers for the public hearing at the community hall in New Brighton. The world’s media have come to witness whether or not the five security policemen, who lied at the 1977 inquest into Biko’s death, will finally come clean. As day one of the hearing gets underway Advocate George Bizos, representing the Biko family, says the Biko’s are strongly opposed to the amnesty applications. They believe that Harold Snyman, Daantjie Siebert, Johan Beneke, Gideon Niewoudt and Rubin Marx have not made a full disclosure. First to break his silence is Harold Snyman, the policeman who led Biko’s interrogation team in 1977. He maintains that Biko’s death had been accidental saying the rebellious detainee had been injured when a scuffle broke out and he bumped his head against a wall.
|The fight between the members and Mr. Biko at that time became a very violent struggle. Mr. Biko was on the one end and in the process of the shuffle he fell, and the others fell on top of him. He was then pushed towards the wall. // You were referring to the wall and where the people fell. Could you explain from there onwards what occurred? // An effort was then made to shackle Mr. Biko again. He was lying with his head partly against the wall and at that time it appeared as if he was completely confused. I would almost explain it like someone who had been knocked out in a boxing match; you could see that he was dazed. // We’ve already touched on the fact that you had violated the human rights of the deceased. Today, 20 years after the event, what would your personal feelings be? // Your honour it is my conviction in the depths of my heart that our actions were wrong. I can say in honesty that I feel remorse over these events. // Would there be anything else that you’d want to ...more
|Under cross-examination, Advocate Bizos asked Snyman why Biko had been spread eagled and chained to an iron grill after it was clear that he’d been injured? // It is possible that we acted in an inhumane manner. // Well that is one of the franker answers that you’ve given the Committee. Can we summarize that the putting up of his arms in the manner in which you did and using the leg irons in the manner in which you did was a form of torture. // That is correct your honour. That might be the case.
|The day’s proceedings end abruptly. The once feared security policeman who’s now a pensioner claims ill health and fatigue. // Your honour I am not a healthy person and I do not feel that I can continue. I am using medication. My age must be taken into account. I do not feel that I can continue any longer.
|Afterwards Biko’s widow held an impromptu media conference. // From the very onset everybody could hear what Snyman is saying. In fact, I think he’s lying even more than he did in the inquest. So, it doesn’t change our attitude to the fact that we’ll oppose the amnesty.
|On Thursday Advocate Bizos continues his relentless cross examination of Snyman and puts it to him that it was not Biko’s refusal to answer questions that led to him being injured or beaten up but simply his determination to remain seated after his white interrogators had ordered him to stand. // Was it your general view that a black man had to obey an order of a white man particularly a white man who was in the security police? // According to the state system or state order of that time it had been our thinking that that is the way that things should be done. // And your state of mind at that time and having regards to the words that you used in your application was that the late Mr. Biko was stubborn, ‘parmantig,’ [cheeky] and too big for his boots for a black man. // Your honour that was the case. // That he was a proud man and that your self-respect would have been insulted if he continued sitting on the chair. // Your honour we had to realize that he was a high profile ...more
|Next to tell his side of the story is 52 year old ex-brigadier Daantjie Siebert. It was he who drove the naked, dying Biko to Pretoria in the back of a Land Rover. // I made no effort to dress him. I also accept that this was inhumane. // Siebert will continue his testimony when this amnesty hearing resumes on the 8th of December. One of his fellow applicants, Gideon Niewoudt will appear before the Amnesty Committee later this month in connection with the Siphiwo Mtimkulu case and the Motherwell bombing.
|Full Transcript and References
|They haven’t given us anything new to believe that they’re anywhere towards revealing the truth, the whole truth.
|As advocate Bizos clearly said today, we knew that when you get taken by these people they can get anything out of you, because if they don’t get it from you voluntarily they’ll smash you up to get it and that is what they have done with all of us and that is what our, of course presumption is what happened to Steve; that Steve got smashed up and in the process of being smashed up he had a terrible blow from which he died.
|Friday was a more joyful day for the Biko family. Thousands of people packed the streets of East London to remember the life of Steve Biko. President Nelson Mandela said he’d never met Biko but regarded him as one of the greatest sons of South Africa. Singer Peter Gabriel also paid tribute to one of the world’s most famous political detainees.