Steve Biko: The Inquest

Steve Biko Foundation

“Cause of Death: No One To Blame” - Magistrate  Prins

On 14 September 1977, Minister of Justice Jimmy Kruger addressed a nationalist party congress where he denied any police involvement in Biko’s death and stated that Biko had died as a result of a hunger strike. Friends like Donald Woods and family worked together to make sure the truth about Steve’s death was revealed. Shortly after Biko’s death on 14 November 1977, the routine inquest into unnatural death began in the old synagogue in Pretoria, where Sydney Kentridge was the Biko family lawyer during the 13 day inquest. The post-mortem showed five major injuries to the brain, scalp, lip, rib abrasions and bruising. However Magistrate Prins sided with the regime. He gave a three minute ruling that attracted widespread international condemnation of the apartheid government. The judgement was that ‘no-one was to blame’. 

Mrs Ntsiki Biko at the Inquest
Steve Biko's Mother, Alice "Mamcete" Biko; his sister, Nobandile Biko and his wife, Ntsiki Biko in the wake of his death.
Evidence in the Inquest
Inquest by Sir David Napley of the UK
Black Consciousness Movement of Azania - A Tribute to Steve Biko

The death of Steve Biko was followed by promotions for the members of the Port Elizabeth security branch and others who were linked to his case. Craig Williamson was promoted to the rank of Major. After his cover was blown in 1980, he returned to South Africa and became a Deputy in the foreign section of the South African security police, under the leadership of Piet “Biko” Goosen. Williamson was later appointed to the President’s Council. 

The Old Synagogue in Pretoria - Site of the Inquest into Biko's Death and Other Political Trials

Biko became officially the 46th victim of torture and death under the State Security Laws. His death helped highlight the brutality of South African security laws to the international community and the general plight of South Africans. It led directly to the decision by Western countries to support the UN Security Council vote for a mandatory ban on arms sales to South Africa (Resolution 418 of 4 November 1977).  

Sir Sydney Kentridge Delivering the 12th Annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture, "Evil Under the Sun - the Death of Steve Biko"

"The amnesty hearings revealed that the trouble started, not because Biko was confronted by affidavits implicating him or because he had confessed to any wrongdoing, but because he insisted on sitting on a chair"

- George Bizos

"You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can't care anyway. And your method of death can itself be a politicising thing. So you die in the riots. For a hell of a lot of them, in fact, there's really nothing to lose - almost literally, given the kind of situations that they come from. So if you can overcome the personal fear for death, which is a highly irrational thing, you know, then you're on the way."

- Biko, extract from essay "On Death," I Write What I Like

Dikona Statement of 1977

On 19 October 1977, a day that became known as Black Wednesday, the apartheid government outlawed 18 organisations associated with the Black Consciousness Movement among them were nursing associations, teachers' groups and community associations, demonstrating the depth and breadth of the Movement.  Alongside institutions, prominent leaders of BPC and SASO were arrested and jailed that same day.  The media was not spared either with The World and Weekend World newspapers ordered to cease publication.

List of Banned Organisations
Room 619 After Biko's assault
Land Rover Used to Transport Biko
Courtroom where inquest took place

"I think Steve expected to die in the hands of the security police. I think all of us expected it. Steve was prepared to sacrifice his life for the black cause."

- Ntsiki Biko, widow of Steve Biko

Deaths in Detention
United Nations Resolution 418 of November 1977
Credits: Story

Steve Biko Foundation:
Nkosinathi Biko, CEO
Y. Obenewa Amponsah, Director International Partnerships
Donna Hirschson , Intern
S. Dibuseng Kolisang, Communications Officer
Ardon Bar-Hama, Photographer
Marie Human, Researcher

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.
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