A radical opponent of the Apartheid regime, his death was a blow to the anti-Apartheid movement as he had become the voice of the anti-Apartheid movement in the 1960s when the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress had been banned.
In August 1977 Biko was arrested together with his associate Peter Jones for being outside his district after hours and because the police had ”reason to believe” he was distributing inflammatory pamphlets. Biko had also violated his banning order as he had travelled to Cape Town from the Eastern Cape, his home area. They were arrested under Section 6 of the 1967 Terrorism Act that allowed indefinite detention without trial for the purposes of interrogation in solitary confinement. He was held, naked and with little food, in a Port Elizabeth police station from August 19 to September 6 1977.
Sometime before the morning of September 7, he suffered a head injury that would eventually be cited as the cause of his death five days later. Bikos’ was the 45th known death connected with detention by the security police since 1963.
In February 1999, Steve Biko’s family welcomed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s decision not to grant amnesty to the policemen involved in the death of Biko. The committee dismissed the application by the four former Port Elizabeth security policemen for amnesty for Biko’s death in custody. The TRC committee found that the policemen, did not qualify for amnesty because their actions in Biko’s death could not be associated with a political objective. The committee was also not satisfied that the men made a full disclosure of the facts.
The panel also officially declared the next of kin of Mr Biko as victims (of gross human rights violations) in relation to his killing and therefore entitled to appropriate reparation. The committee concluded that the attack on Biko appeared to have been actuated by ill-will or spite towards him. However in 2008, AZAPO (Azanian Peoples Organisation) accused the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of not doing enough to uncover the truth behind Biko’s death. The organisation believes South Africa set a bad example to the world by not bringing perpetrators to book.
On the 40th anniversary of his death in September 2017, there were renewed calls for the inquest to be re-opened in the light of the Ahmed Timol Inquest of July 2017 which was seen by some as a precedent that needed to be followed.
- Hoffenberg. ‘The Steve Biko Inquest.’ The British Medical Journal . Vol. 1, No. 6105 (Jan. 14, 1978)