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Zille recounts exposing cover-up around Steve Biko's death - "I was terrified"

12 September 2019 12:00 PM
Tags:
Police Brutality
Helen Zille
Steve Biko
Death
Journalism
Rand Daily Mail
anti-apartheid activist
Former journo and anti-apartheid activist Helen Zille recalls how she got to the bottom of Steve Biko's death in police detention.

Retired politician Helen Zille has remembered how she helped uncover the truth behind Steve Biko's death in 1977.

South Africans have been paying tribute to the anti-apartheid veteran and Black Consciousness Movement leader, who was killed 42 years ago today.

Also read: My father's memory lives on, says Biko's son

As a young activist and journalist for the Rand Daily Mail in the late 1970s, Zille was instrumental in exposing the cover-up around Biko's death.

When apartheid minister of justice Jimmy Kruger released a statement claiming that Biko had died while on hunger strike, she was assigned to the story.

I was a very young journalist and I remember a statement came 'on the wire', as we used to call it then.

Helen Zille, former DA leader and Western Cape premier

He [Steve Biko] had only been arrested the week before and it was frankly impossible for a grown man of his size and stature to have died within a week. We knew that there was something deeply suspicious about that.

Helen Zille, former DA leader and Western Cape premier

Zille says she was sent by her editor to Port Elizabeth, where she found various leads from sources including doctors, police and others who had made contact with Biko before his death.

I was absolutely terrified. I had to speak to everyone who had contact with Steve Biko in his last days.

Helen Zille, former DA leader and Western Cape premier

She learned that a pathology report, which police tried to bury, found that Biko's death was caused by brain injuries.

Zille knew for certain that Biko did not die of a hunger strike and she published her story in a bid to force police to open an inquest.

If he died of unnatural causes there would have to be an inquest, by law. When the inquest came, it was all on the table.

Helen Zille, former DA leader and Western Cape premier

Listen to her reflect on how she helped uncover the story and the role of journalism today:


12 September 2019 12:00 PM
Tags:
Police Brutality
Helen Zille
Steve Biko
Death
Journalism
Rand Daily Mail
anti-apartheid activist

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