A policeman says the beating death of anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko (BEE’-koh) was simply a police interrogation that got out of hand.
Major Harold Snyman is one of five South African policemen who admit beating Biko to death, and who are now seeking amnesty from a government commission.
He testified on Wednesday that it was not the officers’ intent to kill Biko.
People attending the hearing whistled and gasped when Snyman testified that Biko spent at least a day in an apparently semiconscious state, shackled to a grill.
Steve Biko’s widow and her lawyer say the former policemen aren’t telling the truth about how the black consciousness leader died in detention 20 years ago.
No one has ever been prosecuted for Steve Biko’s death in a prison cell in Pretoria on September 12th, 1977.
His death galvanised the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and provoked international outrage.
Biko’s family has retained the services of one of South Africa’s top human rights lawyers, George Bizos.
They want to stop the appeals for amnesty by the former officers.
In order to qualify for amnesty the five officers must give a full disclosure of the crime and must prove that they committed the killing for political reasons.
In opposing the amnesty application, Biko’s family wants the perpetrators charged in court and if found guilty given jail sentences.
After being tortured, Biko was driven naked and in chains in the back of a police van to Pretoria – some 750 miles (12-hundred kilometres) from New Brighton.
He was later found dead at Pretoria’s Central Prison. He was 30 years old.
The first of the five to give evidence was Harold Snyman, a major in the police force.
He’s already said there was an official cover up, but he’s sticking to the story that Biko fell during a scuffle and hit his head against a wall.
He maintained his story while under intense interrogation from the Biko’s lawyer, George Bizos.
SOUNDBITE: (Afrikaans with English translation)
”Your honour, we have said that during the scuffle he bumped his head against the wall.
SUPER CAPTION: Harold Snymans, Former Policeman
SOUNDBITE: (English)
”- Which was wrongful. That was in self-defence because this man had gone berserk on your story.”
SUPER CAPTION: George Bizos, Lawyer
SOUNDBITE: (Afrikaans with English translation)
”That is correct and that is the course of events as we have described it. There had been a scuffle. He had bumped his head against the wall.”
SUPER CAPTION: Harold Snymans, Former Policeman
Biko’s widow and his friend, Peter Jones – who was also assaulted with Biko – said they weren’t convinced about the truth of Harold Snyman’s statement.
SOUNDBITE: (English)
”From the onset everybody could hear what Snymans was saying. In fact, I think he is lying even more than he did in the inquest. So, it doesn’t change our attitude to the fact that we will oppose the amnesty.”
SUPER CAPTION: Ntsiki Biko, widow of Steve Biko
SOUNDBITE: (English)
”We’ve spent the entire first day, of course, hearing the first applicant, and I think you will all agree with me that it is very clear that the extent to which these people are prepared to continue lying. We are no closer to the truth. I don’t think with the other people that are going to come forward and still testify that we will get anywhere.”
SUPER CAPTION: Peter Jones, Friend of Steve Biko
Today, Biko’s grave is a memorial to one of South Africa’s great freedom fighters.
South Africa’s apartheid government labelled Biko a terrorist for declaring that blacks should take pride in their culture and fight to control their country.

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