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The Biko Inquest: South Africa Indicts Itself


TWO MONTHS AGO, Steven Biko, leader of South Africa's Black Consciousness movement, died in prison as a result of brain damage following beatings by the South African police.

Last week, the South African magistrate in charge of the inquest into Biko's death found that no one connected with the case was guilty of any illegal act or omission. No one, the magistrate ruled, was responsible for Biko's death.

The ruling follows testimony from witness after witness showing that Biko's death could have been prevented at several different points. After the beating, doctors warned he had suffered brain damage. Nevertheless, he was driven, naked, 700 miles to Pretoria; somewhere on that trip he died.

But in fact, the ruling may be more accurate than the magistrate intended. It may well be that no single person can be held guilty of the murder of Steve Biko; an indictment of the entire apartheid system is far more appropriate. Biko would not be dead if he had not been jailed for political activity, and he would not have been engaged in "illegal" political activity if his country's entire legal, economic and social system were not founded on racism and exploitation of 19 million blacks by 4.5 million whites. His death--like the deaths of so many other brave South Africans who have fought apartheid--is the natural result of the country's systematic oppression.

South Africa has refused to admit the truth about Biko's murder; but the lie is so blatant and so horrible that it has forced Western nations to take a stand against apartheid. The United States has expressed its outrage, as have other Western states. The inquest into Biko's death, and the circumstances surrounding it, have underlined once more the corruption of the South African regime. The entire system has been indicted once again.

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