S. African officers confess to killing Biko
Policemen seek amnesty in deaths
January 28, 1997
of anti-apartheid activists
Web posted at: 9:00 a.m. EST (1400 GMT)
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa
(CNN) -- Former South African security officers have confessed to killing
anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, according to a statement released Tuesday
by the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
"Applications have been filed by a number of former security policemen
who have indicated they are applying for amnesty in respect of charges
of assault and culpable homicide," the statement said. "Members of the
former security branch acknowledge responsibility for assaults on Steve
Bantu Biko ... in September 1977 ... and the killing of Mr. Biko."
The commission said five former security officers filed applications
for amnesty after investigations implicated them in Biko's death.
The statement contained no further details, but called the findings
"a major breakthrough."
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been charged with investigating
crimes committed during South Africa's long apartheid era.
Biko's death 20 years ago while in police custody drew unprecedented
international attention onto South Africa's apartheid regime. The activist
was taken into custody in Port Elizabeth and driven naked in the back of
a police van to Pretoria for interrogation. He was found dead of brain
damage in his jail cell in Pretoria.
At the time, police said Biko fell and struck his head, but anti-apartheid
leaders have long held that he was murdered.
The charismatic Biko urged black South Africans to take pride in themselves
and their culture and to fight against the apartheid regime.
Family, friends and associates of Biko said they hoped the confessions
would put an end to nearly 20 years of waiting.
"I've always wanted to see them brought to justice," said Biko's widow,
Ntsiki, who launched an unsuccessful campaign last year to deny the commission
its ability to grant amnesty.
Newspaper editor Donald Woods, who befriended Biko and later wrote a
biography of the black consciousness leader, said that he hopes the news
"leads to other revelations."
"Too much has been hidden for too long," he said.
Peter Jones, who was arrested along with Biko, agreed, and said the
next step was to determine if the police acted on their own.
(213K/18 sec. AIFF or WAV
Biko's story formed the basis for the 1987 film "Cry Freedom."
Correspondent Mike Hanna and Reuters
contributed to this report.