South African police officers, who for 20 years maintained that they had never assaulted anti-apartheid leader Steve Biko while he was in police custody in 1977, admitted Wednesday that they beat him with rubber hoses and rammed his head into the wall of an interrogation room.
In their written applications for amnesty to the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the officers said Biko, who later died of his injuries, had been arrogant: He refused to answer questions and sat without permission while he was being interrogated. When one of the officers tried to haul him off the chair, he fought back.
“At this point, all three of us grabbed Biko and we took him to one corner of the room and ran with him into the wall,” one of the officers, Daniel Siebert, said in his application. “His head hit the wall first.”
Exactly what happened during Biko’s interrogation which left him suffering from a massive brain hemorrhage has been one of the apartheid era’s dirtiest and most enduring secrets.