Biko family lawyer Sir Sydney Kentridge has ripped into the Protection of State Information Bill.
Kentridge was delivering the 12th annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at UCT last night on the 34th anniversary of the black consciousness leader’s killing in security police detention.
Biko had famously declared: “I write what I like.”
Kentridge said of the bill: “No wrongdoer should be free from the threat of exposure.”
He said, if passed into law, it would also threaten the independence of the courts as the power of the judiciary hinged on respect from members of the public.
The protection of government secrets should not be extended beyond issues of national security as such a move would stifle investigative journalism.
Kentridge, assisted by advocates Ernie Wentzel and George Bizos, represented the Biko family during the inquest into the death of the black consciousness leader in 1977. He said they were well prepared for the inquest as they had read many affidavits from various police officers and medical doctors who had seen Biko.
He dismissed the announcement by the apartheid government subsequent to Biko’s death that he died from a hunger strike as a “clumsy fabrication”. He said Biko died from serious blows on his head which damaged his brain.
He described in gory detail the events which led to Biko’s death, from his detention in a Port Elizabeth prison to his death behind bars in Pretoria.
He said the cruelty of apartheid was demonstrated by the actions of the then minister of police, a major and a colonel. He said the major testified during the inquest that he was acting on the colonel’s instruction that the police should break Biko down so that they could obtain information from him.
He said, judging by Biko’s writings, which he said were still relevant more than 30 years after he wrote them, he was not a racist, but was fighting for the self-respect, self-reliance and the pride of black people and their culture.
“His message, as militant and as tough as it was, was free from racism,” he said.
He said the then Pretoria chief magistrate’s verdict on the Biko inquest said he had died of brain damage and that no one could be blamed for the incident. He said the verdict was met with a public outcry in South Africa and abroad.
He said the UN said Biko’s death was “tragic” and quoted Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi as having said: “Only a country as mad as ours would waste that talent.”
In the audience were the Biko family, Premier Helen Zille and Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe.
Meanwhile, members of the Socialist Party of Azania (Sopa), Pan Africanist Movement (PAM) and PAC gathered yesterday at the Pretoria Central prison cell in which Biko died to commemorate the anniversary of his death.
It was an emotional affair as they entered through the gates of what was the hospital section of the prison, singing struggle songs in remembrance of a man who struck fear in the apartheid government with his pro-black ideology and influence on the masses.
Sopa youth president, Thami Hukwe, said Biko’s ideas were still alive as many black people still experienced the hardships that he was advocating against.
The PAC’s Lehlohonolo Shale said Biko would not be happy to see the number of unemployed youth and the poverty.
“We need to ask ourselves how he would react to the looting of state resources that happens in our country by the very same people who have been voted into power by the masses. Biko had always been firm that people must benefit from the wealth of their land, but that has not happened,” said Shale.
PAM national organiser Thabo Manamela said the country’s land must return to its rightful owners.
He called for movements which aimed to achieve Biko’s vision to put their differences aside and work together on national issues. -Cape Times