The lawyer for the family of Steve Biko poked damaging holes today into police testimony that the black activist received his fatal injuries after going "berserk" when learning that friends had implicated him in a revoluntionary plot.
Lawyer Sydney Kentridge said during the second day of the inquest into Biko's death that the police accusations againt Biko were an attempt to "convict a man you could never convict in his lifetime . . . What we have here is a smear prepared after Mr. Biko's death. It is a disgrace."
The police version of the accident was given by Maj. Harold Snyman, head of a five-man daytime team that interrogated Biko. He testified that the black leader went "berserk" when police confronted him with written statements by Biko's friends that implicated Biko in the organization of a revoluntionary front aimed at the overthrow of the South African government.
The statements also accused Biko of involvement in the writing of "an extremely revolutionary and inciting" pamphlet distributed in the black townships of Port Elizabeth, Snyman said.
When told that his friends had betrayed him, Snyman said Biko "jumped up like a man possessed, grabbed the chair (on which he sat) and threw it at me."
During an ensuing scuffle with five policemen, Snyman said Biko fell against "the northern wall between the cabinet and (his) chair" and that "the back of his head" hit the wall.
When pressed by the magistrate, however, Snyman admitted he did not see Biko hit his head against the wall "becuase I was involved in the struggle." He said, he had deducted that Biko hit his head.
Kentridge then asked Snyman if it was possible that Biko did not bump his head against the wall. Snyman replied, "That is so."
Kentridge also pointed out that Snyman made no mention of Biko hitting his head in first three affadavits concerning the death.
One of Snyman's subordinates, Capt. D.P. Seibert, said he thought Biko had fallen against the western wall instead of the northern wall.
Seibert, upon close questioning by Kentridge, also said that no documents implicating Biko in subversive activities were shown to the black leader. Further testimony revealed that the statements from Biko's friends were dated between Sept. 20 and 30, well after Biko's death on Sept. 12.
Counsel for the police, P.R. Van Rooyen, said he would not introduce the statements against Biko because they were dated after Biko's death and were written statements, not yet sworn to.
Another of Snyman's subordinates Warrant Officer Ruben Marx, said that on Sept. 6, the day the scuffle with Biko was to have taken place, he heard a "loud bang" and went into the room where Biko and the other officers were struggling. After being subdued, Biko's feet were chained to an iron gill and he was handcuffed, but Marx said he did not see Biko bump his head against a wall.
Marx said the interrogation was temporarily suspended, and a doctor examined Biko about 9:30 a.m. but found nothing wrong. Snyman ordered the interrogation to continue, but Biko did not react to questions, Marx said.
When Biko died six days later Marx said he "guessed" it was a result of the scuffle. Kentridge asked him if he had reported this to the security police investigating Biko's death. Marx replied that he had not because "the question was not put to me."
The evidence that caused Biko to go "berserk," according to the police, came from Peter Jones, who was arrested with Biko Aug. 18, arrested with Biko Aug. 18, and from Patrick Titi, with whom Biko allegedly complied the revoluntionary pamphlet.
The police claimed that these men said Biko planned to set up a united revolutionary front that would include the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress and the Black People's Convention. The front would allegedly recruit people from South Africa to go abroad and receive military training and its purpose was said to be the overthrow of the South African government.
Snyman said that disclosure of this alleged activity would "shatter" Biko's image as a peaceful man.
He also said that police had been informed that Biko helped write a pamphelt calling on people in Port Elizabeth to stay away from work on Aug. 18 and wear black as a sign of mourning for those killed, imprisoned or exiled for opposing the government.
The pamphlet called upon blacks to burn the cars and shops of those who did not heed this appeal.
Snyman said Biko confessed to helping write this pamphlet, but Kentridge pointed out that this confession did not appear in any of the three affadavits signed by Snyman concerning Biko's death.