Excerpts from the SAPA Coverage of the Biko Amnesty Trials
CAPE TOWN Sep 5th 1997
BIKO'S KILLERS STEP OUT OF SHADOWS FOR AMNESTY HEARING
Twenty years after an inquest magistrate
ruled that no one was to blame for black consciousness leader Steve Biko's
death in detention, five of the policemen who interrogated him are preparing
to go before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's amnesty committee.
For George Bizos, one of the country's foremost
lawyers, there will be a sense of deja vu about the policemen's amnesty
hearing in Port Elizabeth next week.
He has been retained by the Biko family to oppose
amnesty for the policemen.
In 1977, he and Sydney Kentridge, SC, represented
the family at the inquest, challenging the policemen's version of the events
leading up to the activist's death.
That they have now applied for amnesty is "cold
comfort", Bizos told Sapa.
"We said they were lying then and they now admit
it ... It shows how wrong the magistrate was."
However, returning to the case after an absence
of 20 years presented certain difficulties.
"You have to dig up information, but I have a fairly
good memory of what was said."
Bizos will challenge the policemen's claim that
they have made a full disclosure in their amnesty applications and that
Biko's death was politically motivated....
JOHANNESBURG, Sep 9th 1997
BIKO'S DEATH "AN INTERROGATION GONE WRONG", HIS SON SAYS
The death 20 years
ago in police custody of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko was an "interrogation
gone wrong," his son, Nkosinathi, claimed.
"I'm not sure there were any instructions from above
to kill my father," Biko, 26, said in an interview with AFP. "What happened
lies in the realm of the criminal. It went out of hand. It was an interrogation
Five of the policemen, including former colonel
Gideon Niewoudt - who is requesting amnesty for a total 10 murders and
is serving a 20-year jail term for four of them - have applied to South
Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission for amnesty for Biko's death.
The policemen are expected to claim when they appear
at the start of the hearing in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday that they did
not mean to kill Biko...
Nkosinathi Biko believes the five policemen will
not meet these requirements as two days after his father's death, then
police minister Jimmy Kruger announced Steve Biko had died of a hunger
"If there had been a calculated move to kill my
father, he would at least have given an explanation of his death that was
consistent with the nature of his injuries," he told British-based television
network WTN in a separate interview.
"In other words, they would have arranged, for instance,
that my father rolled down a flight of stairs, in which case it is possible
to get brain damage - which you don't get through starving to death," he
Biko, who was only six when his 31-year-old father
died manacled, naked and beaten on the concrete floor of a prison cell,
told AFP his family would prefer to see justice done rather than the men
receiving amnesty as he did not believe they were motivated by the desire
Rather, he said, he believed the applications were
sparked by the Biko family's decision to press numerous charges, including
murder, against them.
He also did not think that the family, which is
vigorously opposing the amnesty applications, would learn anything from
the policemen at the truth commission that was not made public at the 1978
"But we will expose them for what they are, a bunch
of people who took it upon themselves (to kill Steve Biko), at great cost
to South Africa."
Biko until earlier this year worked here in newspaper
marketing but in recent months has concentrated on making a documentary
film - to be launched later this week - on the life of his father.
Biko has no doubts his father would have reached
the very top in South African politics, if he was still alive.
"In terms of what his role was and what he was capable
of, I think he was material to hold the highest office in the country,"
PORT ELIZABETH, Sep 10th 1997
POLICEMAN TELLS TRUTH COMMISSION HOW HE BEAT BIKO
Convicted killer and former security policeman Gideon
Nieuwoudt has admitted to beating black consciousness leader Steve Biko
with a piece of hosepipe during a scuffle which apparently resulted in
Biko's death six days later.
In his application for amnesty submitted to the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission and made public on Wednesday, Nieuwoudt
said he went to the aid of colleagues after Biko became embroiled in a
"full-scale fight" with his security police interrogators.
The former police colonel said Biko refused to co-operate
with the interrogation team questioning him about his activities.
When Siebert pulled him off a chair, Biko lost his
temper and shoved the chair at the policeman and tried to punch him.
"A full-scale fight ensued in which blows were traded
and people were pushed around. Everything happened very fast. I saw the
situation was starting to get out of hand so I grabbed a piece of hosepipe.
"I hit him across the back several times to try
and subdue him and I eventually managed to get hold of him," Nieuwoudt
Beneke and Siebert helped him restrain Biko as they
pushed him into a corner of the room.
"During the struggle he landed against the wall.
His head hit the wall first, following which he collapsed to the floor.
"There was no intention to hit his head against
the wall. It was just necessary to bring him under control."
After banging his head, Biko continued to refuse
to answer questions, and regional security police chief Colonel Piet Goosen
ordered that he be handcuffed, standing up, to a security gate in the office.
"During the course of the day it became clear to
me that something was wrong with Biko. His speech became incoherent and
he started to slur his words. He seemed to be confused," Nieuwoudt said.
Biko also lost control of his bladder and soiled
his clothes. When district surgeon Dr Ivor Lang visited him the following
day, he instructed that his clothes and handcuffs be removed.
Biko was given a blanket to cover himself while
his clothes were washed....
Nieuwoudt is serving a jail sentence for murder.
PORT ELIZABETH, Sep 10th 1997
BRAIN-DAMAGED BIKO WAS MADE TO STAND FOR A DAY, TRC TOLD
Black consciousness leader Steve Biko was made to stand
manacled to a security gate for almost a whole day after sustaining fatal
brain injuries in a scuffle with police, his chief interrogator Major Harold
Snyman admitted for the first time on Wednesday.
Testifying before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's
amnesty committee, Snyman also admitted to being party to a cover-up to
hide the fact that police waited nearly 24 hours before seeking medical
treatment for the brain-damaged activist.
He said he had lied at the 1977 inquest into Biko's
death which cleared him and his interrogation team of any wrongdoing.
In recounting the events leading up to Biko's death
on Wednesday, he stuck closely to the basic story he told the inquest -
that the activist hit his head against a wall, causing severe brain injuries,
during a scuffle with police.
One of the key differences though was the time-factor.
Inquest magistrate Marthinus Prins was told Biko's interrogation began
on September 6 and continued on September 7, when the scuffle occurred
and Biko was injured.
Several hours later a district surgeon had been
called to examine him, his interrogators testified.
Snyman on Wednesday admitted this was a lie. The
scuffle occurred between 9am and 9.30am on September 6, almost 24 hours
before a doctor treated him on September 7.
Police also told the inquest Biko had been handcuffed
and had one leg chained to a security gate on the evening of September
6, before the incident in which he was injured.
That, said Snyman, was also not true. Biko was already
seriously ill, appearing dazed and confused, and slurring his words. He
was handcuffed, spread-eagled, to the gate.
His legs were also chained together so that he was
virtually suspended, not being able to move or sit down.
"I would agree that it was inhuman but we were acting
under instructions," the policeman conceded under cross-examination by
George Bizos, the Biko family's lawyer.
"Was it not a form of torture?" Bizos asked.
"That would be correct," Snyman replied.
However, he insisted that he done his duty by reporting
the activist's injuries to his superior, Colonel Piet Goosen, who had relieved
him and taken personal charge of the case.
Biko's widow Ntsiki told journalists afterwards
she believed she was no closer to learning the truth about what had really
caused her husband's death.
"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."
Bizos told the committee he would oppose amnesty
on the grounds that the applicants had not made a full disclosure or proved
a political motive.
"The new version, although substantially similar
to the one given to the inquest, has merely been modified in order to try
and explain away some of the concrete evidence which did not fit the false
version given to the inquest in 1977."
....In admitting to the cover-up after Biko's death,
Snyman said the security police had sought to avoid embarrassment to the
police and the government, as well as possible loss of foreign investment.
Policemen involved in the investigation into Biko's
activities had submitted statements "in which the true facts of this case
were adapted and concealed", he said.
"These statements did not reflect the true facts.
Later, at the inquest, I gave evidence and continued to give this version
as the truth."
The cover-up had been orchestrated by regional security
police chief Goosen, who has since died.
PORT ELIZABETH, Sep10th 1997
COP WITHHOLDING FULL DISCLOSURE ON BIKO'S DEATH: LAWYER
Lawyers for the family of Steve Biko would argue that
Major Harold Snyman, who led the police interrogation on the black consciousness
leader, was deliberately withholding the truth, the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission was told on Wednesday.
Advocate George Bizos (SC), for the Biko family,
said amnesty applicants sometimes failed to make a full disclosure in an
attempt to avoid "moral and other responsibility".
"We are going to suggest he (Snyman) is deliberately
withholding the truth."
Snyman testified in his evidence-in-chief that Biko
sustained a fatal head injury during a scuffle with security policemen
during the interrogation.
He said he was unable to explain how Biko acquired
numerous abrasions, but said it "must have been during the scuffle" or
from being shackled.
Bizos said "two prominent professors and a pathologist
of international repute" had found numerous abrasions on Biko's body, which
they estimated were inflicted over a period four to eight days prior to
He said a "tramline" scar 5cm long and 6mm wide
was found on Biko's back.
Despite an admission by convicted killer Gideon
Nieuwoudt - one of the four other policemen applying for amnesty in connection
with Biko's death - that he beat Biko with a piece of hosepipe during the
fatal scuffle, Snyman repeatedly denied seeing the hosepipe assault.
"I simply did not see it. It's use would have been
irregular... Irregularities did occur."
He further conceded that it was police policy to
use torture in 1977.
Bizos contended it was impossible that Snyman did
not see the hosepipe being used on Biko.
PORT ELIZABETH, Sep 11th 1997
DELIBERATE POLICE BEATING KILLED BIKO, SAYS LAWYER
Black consciousness leader Steve Biko died as a result
of a beating administered by security policemen, not while being restrained,
the Biko's family lawyer George Bizos suggested on Thursday.
....Bizos said at the amnesty hearing in Port Elizabeth
on Thursday: "I suggest that if you speak of a general scuffle now we will
submit you are not telling the truth. The reason (you are not telling the
truth) is we think you are converting a beating up into a scuffle."
Snyman said he could not recall details of the "scuffle"
as it had taken place 20 years ago, but he did recall that while trying
to restrain an "aggressive" Biko, three members of his team, Gidoen Nieuwoudt,
Daantjie Siebert and Johan Beneke had punched him a number of times.
Bizos: "Is this not a strange way to restrain a
person who is so heavily outnumbered? Punching must be the least effective
way of restraining him."
Snyman: "Yes, that is so. But Biko was a strong
man and force had to be applied to shackle him again."
Bizos submitted that with five security policemen
present in the interrogation room, there could have been a policeman holding
each arm and each leg with "one to spare".
"Punching must be the least effective if the intention
Snyman also said he was unable to recall if anyone
had attended to Biko's more obvious injuries, such as a bleeding lip.
"Would you have forgotten if any humane behaviour
was shown towards a man treated so inhumanely?" Bizos asked.
"I put it to you that someone who beats someone
else up is not likely to behave in a humane manner. But if the injuries
had been sustained accidentally, as you claim, you and your colleagues
would have done the decent thing. But because you hated who and what Biko
was and what he stood for, you did nothing."
Snyman denied that he hated Biko, but admitted that
things done to Biko in police custody had been inhumane.
© South African Press Association, 1996
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