Wednesday, September 11, 2019


“F0R WHEN BIKO THE MAN DIED, BIKO THE MARTYR WAS BORN” Steve Biko – 42 years since being murdered by the apartheid security police on Sept 12 1977 On September 12 (2019) it will be 42 years since South Africa’s black consciousness leader, Steven Bantu Biko, was murdered by the then apartheid security police. During this time I was working at the Daily News, situated at that time at 85 Field Street in the port city of Durban. Biko’s gruesome death evoked shock and anger and I followed the aftermath of his murder very intensely. These were some of my articles published in the Daily News since September 13 1977: Then when we started the Press Trust of SA Third World News Agency in 1980, I continued to follow up the developments following his cruel death. We wrote a number of articles which I want to re-publish here.
AUGUST 16 1982 FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MURDER OF STEVE BIKO On September 12 1977 the majority of South Africans and the world at large were shocked into silence and disbelief when one of the country’s brightest young black leaders met an untimely and gruesome death at the hands of Pretoria’s security police. The young leader in question was Steven Bantu Biko, the 30-year-old leader of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). He died of head wounds and brain damage 25 days after being detained along with a close friend, Peter Jones, at a road block in the Eastern Cape region of the country on August 18 1977. Biko became the 43rd South African political detainee to die under mysterious circumstances while under police custody. Today, five years later, Biko still haunts the consciences of white South Africans and the white minority government that was responsible for his brutal demise. Black South Africans, on the other hand, remember Biko as a martyr of the ongoing liberation struggle in South Africa. The Azanian Peoples Organisation (AZAPO), which replaced the Black Peoples Convention (BPC) and the South African Students Organisation (SASO) that were banned after Biko’s death, has organised a series of events to mark the 5th anniversary of his death. Among the activities include, “Biko Week”, which will be held from September 5 to 12, and a play on the life and death of the late black consciousness leader. At the time of his unfortunate death, Biko, who was the banned president of the BPC, was reportedly involved in moves inside the country to unify the forces of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in an attempt to co-ordinate the struggles against white minority rule. It is reported that he and Peter Jones were on this particular mission when they were stopped at a road block between King William’s Town and East London and detained under the country’s security laws. But what was reported to be merely an arrest for breaking his banning orders turned out to be one of the saddest events in the history of South Africa. He was held in solitary confinement with no proper washing facilities in a cell at the headquarters of the security police in Port Elizabeth. And later kept naked and hand-cuffed and leg-shackled to the iron bars of his cell. On September 11 1977 when he was found to be in a state of collapse in the cell, he was transported, lying naked in a land rover, to the Pretoria prison more than 1 200km away. This the authorities said was done out of compassion for Biko because the medical facilities in Pretoria were far better than those in Port Elizabeth. But the next day Steve Biko died a miserable and lonely death on a mat on a stone floor in the prison cell. Immediately after his death reverberated throughout South Africa and the world, the then South African Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger, made small talk of the tragedy when he told a cheering meeting of his ruling National Party in the Transvaal province that Biko had starved himself to death. JIMMY KRUGER : : “I am not sad, I am not glad, it leaves me cold”. He echoed the callousness and satisfaction of the authorities when he announced: “I am not sad, I am not glad, it leaves me cold”. Kruger’s callousness knew no bounds even when it transpired that Steve Biko died of brain injuries. The Minister’s response was typical: “A man can damage his brain in many ways.” He went onto imply suicide by saying: “I don’t know if they were self-inflicted. But I often think of banging my own head against a wall.” “ASSAULTING TEAM” Even the security police in charge of Steve Biko at the time of his death, a Colonel Goosen, tried to absolve himself and his men from any blame by saying that he had taken all measures to ensure the safekeeping of detainees, and to make sure that they did not escape or injure themselves. But in trying to find excuses he made a gigantic slip that really landed him in the soup. He said: “I am proud that during Biko’s interrogation, no assault charges had ever been laid against my ASSAULTING TEAM.” He later changed the phrase to “interrogating team”. But the truth of the matter was that Steve Biko died of at least five brain lesions caused by the application of external force to his head. The inquest into his death, however, found that no one was responsible and cleared the security policemen of any blame. Five years later, while black South Africans again remember Biko, it is worth recounting the short life of the activist who was chiefly responsible for conscientizing and politicising the young people during the 1970s. Biko was born to humble parents in the small town of Ginsberg in the Eastern Cape region of the country where he completed his early schooling and his matriculation. He proceeded to Durban to do a doctor’s degree at the University of Natal Black Medical School where he soon became involved in the activities of the multi-racial National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). But his association with NUSAS led to disillusionment when he and his colleagues found that the black man could never gain liberation by joining the debating chambers of white-controlled organisations. It was against this background that Biko and his colleagues established the South African Students Organisation (SASO) and later the Black Peoples’ Convention (BPC) to cater for non-students operating outside the apartheid system. Biko set the two organisations on their course when he outlined the philosophy of black consciousness by saying that blacks had to shake off all forms of imperialism – cultural, economical and psychological – in order to win physical freedom. But his leadership was short lived. The Pretoria authorities, sensing that he was a force to be reckoned with, slapped him with a five-year banning order in 1974 and restricted him to his home district of King William’s Town. “F0R WHEN BIKO THE MAN DIED, BIKO THE MARTYR WAS BORN” However, in spite of the restrictions and security police harassment, he continued to harness the thinking of the young people and to be in the forefront of international spotlight. He was such a charismatic and vociferous opponent of apartheid and white minority rule that scores of diplomats and international personalities used to literally search him out in the backdrop of Ginsberg for his views and thoughts about the situation in South Africa. Therefore, when his death came suddenly and cruelly on September 12 1977, black South Africa and the world cried “murder” at the Pretoria authorities. To their shock and amazement an inquest into his death found that no one was responsible, and the security policemen, who were responsible for his detention, were cleared of all blame. Steve Biko, a young freedom fighter and leader who initiated a fresh “revolution” and who had outmanoeuvred an almost Nazi-system, is no more but his values and ideals still live on in new organisations and projects. And they will certainly not disappear. For when Biko the man died, Biko the martyr was born. Ends – Press Trust of SA Third World News Agency August 16 1982
Nearly eight years after the murder of Steve Biko, we published and distributed around the world the following article: March 26 1985 BIKO SAGA CONTINUES =====================
After eight years the shroud of secrecy surrounding the death in police custody of the South African black consciousness leader, Steve Biko, may at last be lifted. But the full facts may never become known. The dastardly manner in which he was treated by two district surgeons, Drs Ivor Lang and Benjamin Tucker, shortly before he died on September 12 1977, is finally to be investigated by the South African Medical and Dental Council (SAMDC). The Medical and Dental Council was forced to take this action by the Supreme Court of the Transvaal province of the country recently after the Council refused to investigate the conduct of the doctors over the past eight years. The Supreme Court found there was evidence to suggest “improper and disgraceful” conduct on the part of the two doctors after a court action was brought by six leading medical personalities. The six initiators of the court action were Professors Timothy Wilson, Frances Ames, Trevor Jenkins and Philip Tobias and Drs Yousuf Variava and Dumisani Mzamane. The Biko saga began when he was arrested at a roadblock near Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape on August 18 1977 and detained in Port Elizabeth under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act. From September 7 to 11 he was treated by Drs Lang and Tucker. He was then removed to Pretoria where he died on September 12. At the subsequent inquest, Mr M J Prins, the Chief Magistrate of Pretoria, found that Biko had died as a result of injuries sustained after a “scuffle” with members of the security police. More pertinently he found that evidence led at the inquest suggested improper or disgraceful conduct on the part of the district surgeons. Despite complaints lodged by the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and the Health Workers Association, the Medical and Dental Council continued to maintain that there was no evidence to merit a fully-fledged investigation. The evidence indicated that at various periods Biko was manacled to the bars of his cell; that he fell into semi-coma; that Lang and Tucker found evidence of brain damage but did not inform the police and that regardless of the instructions of a neuro-surgeon he was not kept under observation. Instead the doctors arranged for him to be moved back to his prison cell where he was found in a dazed condition and frothing at the mouth the next day. They thought he was faking but Tucker suggested Biko be admitted hospital. Biko was then bundled into the back of a police van and driven more than 1 200km to Pretoria. He was kept naked throughout the trip, given no food and forced to use the back of the van to urinate. The only medical attention he received was a vitamin injection when they reached Pretoria. He died six hours later on a dust-covered floor in the back yard of a police station. With the security police exonerated at the inquest and a thorough investigation of the conduct of the two doctors seemingly blocked by the Medical and Dental Council, it appeared that the Biko affair had run its course - despite the international uproar – and would be relegated to the files as just another death in detention. Biko’s treatment by the doctors and the Medical and Dental Council’s refusal to act decisively on the matter had certainly not improved the image of the profession in the eyes of the world. But ever since the Council first decided in April 1980 that there were no grounds to warrant an investigation, concerned members of the profession had been persistently trying to force the Council’s hand. Now, after eight years of struggle, justice is most likely to be realised. DR YOUSUF VARIAVA Dr Variava, one of the doctors who brought the case against the Medical and Dental Council, said he was very pleased but added that the South African political situation, however, still remained the same as when Biko died. “I am happy only from the medical ethics aspect of it but many people who handled Biko before he died until now have not been brought forward to a court of law. “Those people must surely be charged with murder,” he said. ISHMAEL MAKHABELA The president of the Azanian Peoples Organisation (AZAPO), an organisation which took over from Biko’s Black Peoples’ Convention(BPC), Ishmael Makhabela, said the political bias and sickening double-standards of the white-controlled Medical and Dental Council had now become obvious. “It is AZAPO’s contention that very little has changed in South Africa ever since our early leaders were dragged to Robben Island. We will only be satisfied when the Pretoria regime has been toppled,” he said. Mr Makhabela said under the rule of the minority regime some 50 political prisoners had died in police custody from “causes” as varied as “slipping on soap” and “falling down stairs”. “It’s clear that the surgeons, Lang and Tucker, had put the interests of the security police over and above those of Biko. “If Biko’s prominence as a leader and political thinker could not provoke anything other than the most cursory treatment from the district surgeons, one wonders what the common detainee and the common citizen can expect from the authorities.” “It is easy to understand the reluctance of an august body as the Medical and Dental Council to investigate the district surgeons. “Indeed, Biko’s intellectual and political stature within the country and the international outcry precipitated by his death would on all accounts have behoved a meticulous purging of the profession – especially considering the searing nature of the evidence led at the inquest.” TERROR LEKOTA Mr Terror Lekota, the publicity secretary of the United Democratic Front (UDF), said: “The Medical and Dental Council investigations will go a lot further than bringing the Biko killers to book. Hopefully, it will serve as a warning to doctors in South Africa to treat detainees as human beings.” - Ends – Press Trust of SA Independent Third World News Agency March 23 1985
STEVE BIKO DEATH PROBED AGAIN IN 1985 This is yet another article that we published and circulated to all parts of the world in July 1985 about the gruesome manner in which black consciousness leader, Steve Biko, died in police custody at the hands of the former apartheid regime on September 12 1977. July 8 1985 JUSTICE AT LAST FOR BIKO DOCTORS? INTRO: Ever since Black Consciousness leader, Steve Biko, died in police custody in September 1977, the South African Medical and Dental Council (SAMDC) has been reluctant to investigate the conduct of the district surgeons who treated him as he lay dying. Earlier this year, however, following an application by six prominent doctors, the Supreme Court sitting in Pretoria, ordered the Medical and Dental Council to hold an inquiry into the conduct of Drs Ivor Lang and Benjamin Tucker. This week a Disciplinary Committee of the Medical and Dental Council found the doctors guilty of improper and disgraceful conduct and then, merely, reprimanded them. Subry Govender writes that considering the gravity of the offences, the leniency with which the Biko doctors have been treated is being seen by South Africans as yet another example of “racial” justice….. JUSTICE FOR DOCTORS WH0 FAILED IN THEIR DUTIES WHEN TREATING BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS LEADER, STEVE BIKO The evidence led at the inquest hearing into the death of Steve Biko on September 12 1977 has shocked South Africans and the international community at large. It showed that by civilised standards Biko was treated barbarically before his death. He was kept manacled hand and foot and then transported naked in the back of a police van 1 200km from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria where he succumbed to his wounds. This week, and only after being ordered by the Pretoria Supreme Court, the South African Medical and Dental Council, finally held an inquiry into the conduct of the doctors who attended to Biko in the five days before he died. If anything, the evidence at the inquiry was even more horrific. The inquiry heard that when the doctors were first called in by the Security police to attend to Biko, they found him on a cell mat soaked with urine. His blanket and clothing were soaked and he was fettered hand and foot. The doctors examined him by the light of a torch and issued a certificate, declaring him to be without evidence of pathology. On a second occasion the doctors again found Biko to be soaked in urine, but could not make a diagnosis. They did ask, though, for Biko to be transferred to a provincial hospital. Three days later Dr Tucker was called in for a third time to examine Biko. According to Colonel Pieter Goosen, the security policeman in charge, Biko appeared to be in a semi-coma and was frothing at the mouth. He was lying on the floor on mats and the police officer could get no reaction from him. Despite the fact that Biko was obviously seriously ill, Dr Tucker could again make no diagnosis. He merely repeated that Biko be taken to a provincial hospital. BRAIN DAMAGE According to the evidence Biko had been exhibiting various symptoms consistent with possible brain damage. His gait was irregular, he was foaming at the mouth, was confused, hyperventilating and bed-wetting, and had swollen feet and lesions on the forehead and lips. A neuro-surgeon after finding blood in a lumber puncture tap had also recommended that both doctors closely observe the detainee. Despite all these signs, the doctors, according to Colonel Goosen, maintained that they could find nothing wrong with the patient and never mentioned the possibility of brain damage. Instead Dr Tucker agreed to Biko being transported 1 200km by road to Pretoria. Eight years later, Dr Tucker has now been found guilty on 10 counts of disgraceful conduct and three counts of improper conduct. The inquiry recommended that he be suspended from practice for three months, this itself suspended for two years. It recommended that Dr Lang, who was found guilty on eight counts of improper conduct, be cautioned and discharged. The leniency with which the two doctors have been treated has drawn sharp reaction from the black community. AZAPO PRESIDENT The president of the Azanian Peoples Organisation (AZAPO), which follows the black consciousness philosophy of Biko, Mr Ishmael Makhabela, said they viewed the lenient sentences in a very serious light. “These convictions are just a farcical action by the Medical and Dental Council to placate the international community and defuse the matter. “Steve Biko’s death will, however, continue to haunt those who murdered him and those who were accomplices to his death.” DR JOE PAHLA Dr Joe Pahla, the permanent organiser of the National Medical and Dental Association (NAMDA), which is an alternative medical organisation that was started after Biko’s death, said the campaign by the black community and others had been vindicated by the doctors being found guilty of shirking their medical responsibilities. “However, it was actually the system of detention without trial and other methods used by the security police that should be put on trial,” he said. MRS HELEN SUZMAN Veteran opposition leader in the white parliament, Mrs Helen Suzman, said that the recommended sentences were “superficial punishment, and astonishing in view of the offences of which the doctors have been found guilty”. “It is reprehensible that the council had to be forced to take action and further more that these doctors should get so lenient sentences for acts which brought South Africa into disgrace.” The leniency with which the doctors have been treated will rankle in the black community, especially as the statutory Medical and Dental Council had always contended that there were no grounds for an inquiry. The inquiry may not have lifted the shroud of secrecy surrounding Biko’s death, but it is bound to spawn calls to bring to justice all those who were actually responsible for the untimely death of the brilliant black consciousness leader. The Biko case will not be allowed to rest by the black people as long as his murderers are walking free in the corridors of power in the South African Government and in the security police establishment. Ends – July 8 1985 Press Trust of SA Independent Third World News Agency

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