When Steve Biko was found dead on a cold cement floor in a Pretoria prison, police claimed that he died from a hunger strike. The investigation that followed failed to produce concrete evidence and was officially closed on this day in 1978.
Bantu Stephen Biko was a South African anti-apartheid activist who was at the forefront of a grassroots anti-apartheid campaign known as the Black Consciousness Movement during the late 1960s and 1970s.
In 1977, Biko traveled to Cape Town, hoping to meet Unity Movement leader, Neville Alexander, and deal with growing dissent in the Western Cape branch of the BCM. Biko drove to the city with his friend, Peter Jones, on 17 August, but Alexander refused to meet with Biko, fearing that he was being monitored by the police.
On the drive back, Biko and Jones were stopped at a police roadblock near Grahamstown. Biko was arrested for having violated the order restricting him to King William’s Town.
The security services took Biko to the Walmer police station in Port Elizabeth, where he was held naked in a cell with his legs in shackles. On 6 September, he was transferred from Walmer to room 619 of the security police headquarters in the Sanlam Building in central Port Elizabeth, where he was interrogated for 22 hours, handcuffed and in shackles, and chained.
The details of exactly what happened have never emerged, but during the interrogation he was severely beaten by at least one of ten security police officers. He suffered three brain lesions that resulted in a massive brain haemorrhage on 6 September. His captors forced him to remain standing and shackled to the wall. The police later said that Biko had attacked one of them with a chair, forcing them to subdue him and place him in handcuffs and leg irons.
Biko was examined by a doctor, Ivor Lang, who stated that there was no evidence of injury on Biko. Biko died alone in a cell on 12 September, 1977 and was the 21st person to die in a South African prison in 12 months.
It was only in 1985 that the real circumstances surrounding Biko’s death were officially revealed and the people involved brought to book, including the police officers that assaulted him and the two doctors who treated him just before his death.
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