Commission says policemen admit killing of Biko


SOUTH Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission yesterday announced that unidentified security policemen had admitted culpability for the death detention nearly 20 years ago of the charismatic black leader, Steve Biko.

The admission is contained in an application to the commission for amnesty by the policemen, who had earlier been named unofficially by a Port Elizabeth newspaper (to the dismay of the commission) as the police officers who interrogated Biko.

The announcement by the commission's deputy chairman, Dr Alex Boraine, was made more sensational by his disclosure that security policemen had similarly acknowledge responsibility for the abduction and murder in the 1980s of no less than three sets of activists affiliated to the United Democratic Front, a movement with close links to the then prohibited African National Congress.

The UDF victims were Siphiwe Mtimkulu and Topsy Madaka (April 1982), the Pebco Three - Sipho Hashe, Qaqawuli Godolozi and Champion GaleIa - (May 1985) and the Cradock Four - Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkonto and Sicelo Mhlawuli - (June 1985).

According to Dr Boraine's account yesterday, a common thread runs through these murders: the bodies of the victims were burnt after they had been drugged and shot (in the cases of Mtimkulu and Madaka and the Pebco Three) and stabbed and shot (in that of the Cradock Four).

Stabbing was employed by the police in the case of the Cradock Four in an attempt to lay the blame for the gruesome murders on the Azanian People's Organisation, which espoused the black consciousness philosophy propagated by Biko.

The death of Biko - he died in a Pretoria cell after been manacled and driven naked on a 700 mile journey from Port Elizabeth - aroused a national and international outcry, particularly after the then Minister of Justice, J T Kruger, told a National Party congress that the death of the young leader "left him cold".

The security policemen who gave evidence at the inquest into Biko's death included the leader the interrogation team, Major (now Colonel) Harold Synman. To a man they denied responsibility. They claimed that their prisoner went "beserk" and fatally injured himself when he banged his head against a wall during a brawl with them.

The verdict, delivered in Pretoria's Magistrate's Court by the Chief Magistrate, Mr M. J. Prins, brought a stunned reaction. It said that Biko, aged 30, had died of a head injury sustained during a scuffle with security police.