South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid


The Death of Stephen Biko

In December 1998 and February 1999, the Amnesty Committee of the TRC denied amnesty to the five policemen on the grounds that they had not made full disclosure, had not admitted to committing the crime for which they sought amnesty, and had failed to prove that their actions had been politically motivated. The Biko family was pleased with the decision. Nkosinathi Biko, Steve Biko's oldest son, said on behalf of the family, "The decision is significant in that it is a departure from the inquest findings that nobody was to blame." ("Biko family welcomes TRC amnesty denials," Daily Dispatch, 18 Feb. 1999) For the most part, however, the family was disappointed in the amnesty hearings because they did not bring out the truth. The family's lawyer accused the policemen of not having "the courage to tell the whole truth, that they actually punched him to death." ("Biko family still waits for 'true facts,'" Daily Dispatch, 3 April 1998) Speaking of Nieuwoudt's testimony, Mrs. Ntsiki Biko, Biko's widow, remarked, "His testimony is nothing new. I think he is lying more than he did at the inquest. I have been saying this all along - they are going to lie even more so they get amnesty. I feel bad." ("Police 'still lying about Biko's death,'" Daily Dispatch, 1 April 1998)

Four years later, in 2003, the Minister of Justice determined that the state would not prosecute the policemen who applied for amnesty in Steve Biko's death because of the amount of time that had lapsed since 1977 and insufficient evidence (for example, the lack of an eyewitness).

The TRC process did not bring out the full truth about Biko's death; however, the testimonies of the policemen and Peter Jones, along with the forensic evidence, confirmed the state's guilt in Biko's death and served as a powerful example of the brutality and inhumanity with which apartheid's policemen treated political detainees.
 
AODL African Studies Center MSU Matrix NEH