Magazine article The Nation

Mrs. Biko's Dilemma

Magazine article The Nation

Mrs. Biko's Dilemma

Article excerpt

There is a tragic eloquence to the silence of Steve Biko's family following the recent application for amnesty by five of those who took part in the 1977 murder of the well-known South African activist. Finally, with a spate of amnesty applications coming before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (T.R.C.) from former security policemen in the Eastern Cape, South Africans are learning the truth not only about Biko's fate but about that of eight other very prominent antiapartheid activists who disappeared in the 1980s.

The families of Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata and Siphiwe Mthimkulu have expressed both their relief and their rage in the last couple of weeks. The Bikos, though, have said only that they intend to contest the amnesty applications before the T.R.C. Last year, Biko's widow, Ntsiki, went to the Constitutional Court (the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court) in an attempt to prevent the T.R.C. from beginning its work. The amnesty procedure of the commission, she said, was denying her constitutional right to justice by indemnifying her husband's murderers against standing trial.

On its own terms, her logic is irrefutable. But the Court accepted the South African government's argument that only an offer of amnesty would draw apartheid murderers out of the woodwork. With the T.R.C., Mrs. Biko might not get justice but at least she would get truth. Without the T.R.C., she would get neither--as evidenced by the fact that three separate inquests had failed, previously, to identify Biko's killers.

With January's amnesty applications, the work of the T.R.C. has been vindicated. Ntsiki Biko--along with all of us--now at least knows more of the story. (The man identified by a police source in a Nation story as the officer who led in beating Biko after his arrest--see June Goodwin and Ben Schiff, "Exhuming Truth in South Africa," November 13, 1995--is not among the amnesty applicants. …

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