In South Africa, the Truth and Nothing But

Article excerpt

The truth shall make you free, so John quotes Jesus. Well, nowhere is that more true than right now in South Africa, where the men who worked in the police force and for the security services, during apartheid, are being offered amnesty for their confessions. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established by Nelson Mandela's government in order that apartheid's dark history could be told, ultimately - it was hoped - leading to healing and reconciliation for the country. But that high ideal is tougher to live with than it seems. The men who killed some of the most famous anti-Apartheid activists are now coming forward to tell their stories, and the families of the victims feel cheated.

Steve Biko died while in police custody in 1977. Medical records indicate that a massive brain hemorrhage was the cause of death, but a clear picture of what killed Biko has never fully emerged. Now, police officers who years ago had denied that Biko received any beatings at all are coming forward telling the commission a very different story - the whole truth in return for complete amnesty. Steve Biko's widow and his family find the situation unacceptable. Last year they went to court claiming that amnesty would prevent there ever being a criminal trial in his death. But the South African Supreme Court ruled in favor of the commission. At a news conference last week, commission Deputy Chairman Alex Boraine told reporters, "members of the former security branch acknowledge responsibility for assaults on Stephen Bantu Biko ... in September 1977 ... and the killing of Mr. Biko." But that knowledge is all the comfort his family will get.

The confessions in relation to Biko's death, along with others concerning the deaths of other well-known activists, such as Matthew Goniwe, Nomonde Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhalwuli - otherwise known as the Craddock Four - mark a huge victory for the Truth Commission, which is headed by Bishop Desmond Tutu. …