The inquest into the death of Steve Biko focused a light on a very dark side of South African society, the activity of the state security police.
As chilling as was the image that emerged, the inquest gave rise to a more fighting prospect: that South African whites have accepted such police activity as a necessary part of life.
"The inquest has given a much better idea of the horrors of detention without trial," said one observer said one observer, "but at the same time, it shows that nobody will do anything to stop it."
Marthinus J. Prins, Pretoria's chief magistrate, ruled that Biko's death was not caused by the act or ommission of anyone, despite testimony that the police kept Biko's head injury a secret from doctors for more than five days. In effect, prins told the attorney general that this case does not merit further attention.
An open verdict - one in which Prins said he could not reach a clear decision - would have thrown the ball into the attorney general's court. This type of verdict, possible under procedures here, would have left open the possibility that the police were guilty and it might have made them think twice about the treatment of political detainees in the future.
As it is, many people fear Prins' decision will be taken as a sign that the security police will now feel "untouchable."
Under such circumstances, these people fear greatly for the fate of South Africa's political detainees. There are 714, according to the South African Institute for Race Relations.
For a large sector ofthe white population, however, the fate of these detainees is of little concern and the police were properly vindicated by Prins.
"I don't see the worth of it," said one young Afrikaner during the inquest. "I don't see how they could find the police guilty. He hit his head in a scuffle with police." The man defended detention because the "security of the state is at stake."
Even if they doubt the scuffle story - and there is considerable evidence that in scuffle occured - these people, said one observer view Biko as the "kind of chap who would put a bomb in the Carlton shopping arcade and they think of themselves as the shoppers."
These whites see South Africa "as a nation at war" and last Wednesday they told the government that they approved of its hard line with political agitators when they gave the ruling National Party a lanslide victory in national elections.
Within the Afriakner community, the Biko inquest has been "unsettling for some. "It has destroyed that facade of respectability which is very calvinist," said an Afrikaner journalist. "They hate to see that no scuffle ocured - these peoagitators when they gave the ruling "unsettling" for some. "It has dethat dirty laundry (referring to the treatment of Biko by the police) held up in public. They liked to pretend that this sore of thing didn't happen. Now this inquest ruins this position."
For many who expected the verdict tional was handed down, the international attention on the police's "dirty laundry" was teh whole point of the exercise. Now there is apprehension that because of the embarrassment it caused the government, legislation will be introduced so that future inquest proceedings will not be allowed the publicity that surrounded the Biko inquest.
Some of the Black South Africans who chanted "power" outside the building where the inquest was held had their own reasons for wanting the treatment of Biko made public.
"They are not waiting for the verdict. They know what happened to Biko but they want all the facts because they know they are going to suffer the same as Biko," said one black pointing to some of his friends.
At some stage or another they know they will be arested and so they want to know what really happens in the hands of the security police."
As the Blacks sand deflant verses lamenting the loss of Biko and insulting the government, whites noted how this was a telling sign of how things have been inconceivable," said one.