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S. African officers confess to killing Biko

biko

Policemen seek amnesty in deaths
of anti-apartheid activists

January 28, 1997
Web posted at: 9:00 a.m. EST (1400 GMT)

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (CNN) -- Former South African security officers have confessed to killing anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, according to a statement released Tuesday by the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"Applications have been filed by a number of former security policemen who have indicated they are applying for amnesty in respect of charges of assault and culpable homicide," the statement said. "Members of the former security branch acknowledge responsibility for assaults on Steve Bantu Biko ... in September 1977 ... and the killing of Mr. Biko."

The commission said five former security officers filed applications for amnesty after investigations implicated them in Biko's death. Security policemen have also applied for amnesty in connection with the cases of nine other anti-apartheid activists, including a group killed in 1985 and others from the Eastern Cape province.

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The statement contained no further details, but called the findings "a major breakthrough."

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been charged with investigating crimes committed during South Africa's long apartheid era.

Biko's death 20 years ago while in police custody drew unprecedented international attention onto South Africa's apartheid regime. The activist was taken into custody in Port Elizabeth and driven naked in the back of a police van to Pretoria for interrogation. He was found dead of brain damage in his jail cell in Pretoria.

At the time, police said Biko fell and struck his head, but anti-apartheid leaders have long held that he was murdered.

In some of the other activists' deaths, inquests determined that security officers were responsible, but failed to determine if they were acting on orders.

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The charismatic Biko urged black South Africans to take pride in themselves and their culture and to fight against the apartheid regime.

Family, friends and associates of Biko said they hoped the confessions would put an end to nearly 20 years of waiting.

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"I've always wanted to see them brought to justice," said Biko's widow, Ntsiki, who launched an unsuccessful campaign last year to deny the commission its ability to grant amnesty.

Newspaper editor Donald Woods, who befriended Biko and later wrote a biography of the black consciousness leader, said that he hopes the news "leads to other revelations."

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"Too much has been hidden for too long," he said.

Peter Jones, who was arrested along with Biko, agreed, and said the next step was to determine if the police acted on their own. icon (213K/18 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Biko's story formed the basis for the 1987 film "Cry Freedom."


Correspondent Mike Hanna and Reuters contributed to this report.

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