From The Citizen: As commemoration services began in South Africa on 12 September 2018 in honour of Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) icon Steve Bantu Biko, Peter Jones, one of the last people to see him alive, called on the government to reopen the inquest into the BCM founder’s death.
Revered as the visionary leader of the BCM, Biko died a horrific death 41 years ago from massive brain haemorrhages resulting from brain injury after he was beaten up by five policemen while in detention in September 1977.
Naked and chained in Pretoria Central Prison, Biko was given an intravenous drip by a newly qualified doctor who had no information about him except that he would not eat.
With Biko’s death leaving apartheid-era police minister Jimmy Kruger “cold”, the inquest found the circumstances of Biko’s death to be “inconclusive”, attributing it to “a prison accident”.
Evidence presented during the 15-day inquest pointed to murder. After Biko's detention in a Port Elizabeth police cell, he was chained to a grille at night and left lying on urine-soaked blankets. He was stripped naked and kept in leg irons for 48 hours in his cell, before a scuffle with security police, which caused the brain damage that killed him on September 12, 1977.
On 11 September 2018, the 68th birthday of the accountant who served the Black Peoples' Convention (BPC) Projects in King Williams Town and their Finance National Secretary, called on government to reopen the inquest into his comrade’s death. Peter Jones says,“It is unacceptable that the inquest into Steve’s death found nobody to blame for his murder.”
Jones was arrested with his friend Steve at a road block just outside Grahamstown on their return from a meeting planned between themselves and Neville Alexander in Cape Town. Sadly the meeting planned to build solidarity in action between the organisations, was cancelled and Biko and Jones returned by road to the Eastern Cape. They were held separately in Port Elizabeth. Jones in the Algoa Park Police Station.
Jones remembers how "the arrest, subsequent police intimidation and torture at the hands of the police was too much to bear. It was clear the police wanted to cut us down to size, even if it meant killing us. They would laugh at the discomfort they were putting me through. From my experience, I can understand the type of head injuries Steve suffered, looking at how I was interrogated. The mark on his head could have come from being pushed against a corner table while his hands were handcuffed. This was done with an excessive force which damaged his brain.” The police tactics failed because as Jones explains, “there was nothing illegal they could charge us with”.
Jones honours Biko for his remarkable life and for what he developed through his ideas. Black Consciousness was the basis of Steve's efforts to break down tribal and racial division among people by focusing on unity across the spectrum of black people. he explains. “Steve’s teachings are more relevant today than ever before to restore our pride and dignity as black people.”
Jones expresses deep disappointment when he explains that he finds it “agonising to see our people neglected by a government they voted into power", and to see how "from council to national government level, there is lack of service delivery..”
As Khulumani wrestles with the multiple failures of what Jones calls 'service delivery to the people who voted officials and public servants into power', the calls of the National Development Plan for the building of a capable state ring ever more urgent as cries of the people for a caring state.
One profoundly disappointing aspect of these failures is the calamity that is represented by our country's Archival Services. This is an area for activism for a service that can fulfill the need for effective archives in the service of the citizens of the country.