Biko's death: A Sequence of events whilst in detention 18 August-12 September 1977

August 18, Biko is arrested
Steve Biko was travelling in a car with a friend Peter Jones, an executive member of the BPC. The car was stopped outside the King William's Town at a roadblock, by Lieut. Oosthuizen of the Security Police. The two men were taken to Grahamstown; the next day they were taken to Walmer Jail, Port Elizabeth and held under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act, in the custody of the Security Police under the command of Colonel Goosen.
He is kept naked in a cell for 20 days
For the next twenty days Biko was kept at Walmer Police Station, naked, manacled, and not allowed out of his cell even for air or exercise. His daily ration of food was soup, magewu,* bread, jam and coffee.
According to the sergeant in command, the soup and magewu were refused, and Biko ate little bread.
September 2, Magistrate's visit
On 1 September a magistrate made a formal visit to Biko in his cell. Biko complained that he had not even been permitted to wash himself. He asked the magistrate for water and soap to wash himself and a washcloth and comb. He asked: "Is it compulsory that I have to be naked?
I have been naked since I came here". The magistrate made no reply.
September 6, interrogation room 619 Sanlam building in Port Elizabeth
On the morning of 6 September, Biko was taken from the Walmer Street prison by security police, and brought to Room 619, Sanlam Building, for interrogation. The police state that they were with him from 10.30 a.m. until 6 p.m. From 6 p.m. he was in the care of the 'night squad' (led by Lt. Wilken) naked, handcuffed and with one leg chained to a grille.
Room 619 at 7 A.M. on 7 September
Major Harold Snyman, head of the interrogation team of five, arrived at 7 a.m. and according to his statement, removed Biko's leg-irons and handcuffs. At this time, or very close to it, Biko received the blows that caused brain damage and resulted in his death five days later. The police were unable to continue their interrogation. Biko was again handcuffed and chained to the grille.
7.30 A.M. 7 September, Biko already has brain damage
Colonel Goosen was informed that there had been an "incident". At 7.30 he arrived at Room 619 and spoke to Biko, who, he said, seemed incoherent and talked in a slurred manner. There was a visible swelling on his upper lip.
9.30 A.M. Dr. Lang dives medical check-up
The district surgeon Dr. Lang was called in. He examined Biko in the presence of Col. Goosen. At the Colonel's request he made out a certificate that there was no evidence of any abnormality or pathology on Biko.
Night of 7 September.  Biko lies on mat, chained and in leg-irons
The Security Police attempted once more to interrogate Biko, but he was totally unresponsive. For the rest of that day, and for that night, Biko lay on a mat on the office floor, manacled and chained by his leg as before.
September 8, Dr. Lang comes and brings Dr. Tucker
Dr. Lang returned. Col. Goosen told him that Biko had not urinated during the past 24 hours, and had refused all offers of food. Lang re-examined Biko, and then requested that the chief district surgeon. Dr. B. J. Tucker, examine Biko with him. Although the trousers Biko had been wearing (for the interrogation) and the blankets were now soaked with urine. Dr. Lang noticed no change and Dr. Tucker did not question Biko. It was decided to transfer him to the prison hospital.
Evening of 8 September, Biko is taken to prison hospital
A specialist physician Dr. Hersch, was consulted; it was agreed that a lumbar puncture should be performed. Biko was transferred to the prison hospital.
Night of September 8, prison hospital
A warder stated that during the night of 8 September he twice found Biko lying in a bath, the first time clothed in a bath filled with water, the second time the bath was empty.
September 9
The lumbar puncture was performed early in the morning.
September 10
Hersch informed Lang that the lumbar puncture showed the cerebrospinal fluid to be bloodstained. It was decided to consult a neuro-surgeon, Mr. Keeley, by telephone; Keeley gave the opinion that there was no evidence of brain damage, but Biko should be kept under observation. He saw no reason why Biko should not be transferred back from hospital to the Security Police, provided he was kept under observation.
September 11, Biko is taken back to a cell
In the morning the Security Police took Biko from the hospital, and bed, back to a cell at Walmer Police Station. He was left on a mat on the cement floor of the cell, naked under the blankets.
He is found collapsed
A few hours later a warder found Biko lying on the floor with foam at his mouth, and glassy-eyed. He informed Major Fischer, who phoned Col. Goosen.
He is driven naked through the night to Pretoria
Dr. Tucker examined Biko at 3.20 p.m. and saw no objection to Goosen sending Biko on a journey of 740 miles by road to Pretoria. Naked and manacled, he was left lying on the floor of a Land-Rover, with nothing except a container of water.
September  11-12, Pretoria prison
He was carried into the prison hospital and left on the floor of a cell, without any medical records, 11 hours after leaving Port Elizabeth.
September  12 ,Dr. Van Zyl gives intravenous drip
Several hours later, a newly-qualified doctor, with no medical information about him other than that he was refusing to eat, ordered an intravenous drip.
Biko dies
Some time that night Biko died, unattended.

References

  • Bernstein, H. (unknown), No. 46-Steve Biko [online]. South African History Online
  • Mufson, S. (1990), Fighting Years: Black Resistance and the Struggle for a New South Africa, Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Ndlovu S. M. (1978), The Soweto Uprisings: Counter-memories of June 1976.
  • Woods Donald, Biko, New York: Paddington Press.