The South African government has paid the family of late black consciousness leader, Steve Biko, $76,700 in compensation for his death Sept. 12, 1977 while he was in the custody of the police.
The state said it made the payment to the family without admission of liability" for the black activist's death. Under the settlement, concluded in the Pretoria supreme court on Friday, the state also agrees to pay the legal costs of the family which had originally made a civil claim of $106,008 against the government.
The out-of-court settlement is the largest amount ever awarded a family by the Pretoria government for a death in police detention, legal authorities here said. It appears to be an attempt to stave off any future legal proceedings that would attract the kind of international publicity that accompanied the official inquest into Biko's death in November, 1977.
That inquest concluded that no one was responsible for the death of Biko, who died from head injuries three weeks after being arrested by police at a roadblock.
Biko's widow, Nontsikelelo, said today she regarded the payment as an admission of responsibility for the death of her husband.
Although minister of police, Louis Le Grange, told a local newspaper that the settlement meant "the file on the Biko case has now been finally closed, Mrs. Biko rebutted this by saying, "As far as we are concerned it is only the beginning. The black people of South Africa will not rest until such time as we get to know how Steve Biko came to meet his untimely death."
Mrs. Biko said she reluctantly accepted the out-of-court setttlement on the advice of her lawyers since she had hoped to establish the exact cause of her husband's death through the civil prodeedings.
"The fact that they are paying does not mean that we are satisfied. We still want to know exactly what happened," she said.
Biko gave notice that she is considering pressing the state to initiate criminal prosecution on a charge of murder against the members of the security police who held Biko as a way to establish exactly how Biko died and who was responsible for his injuries. If the attorney general declines to prosecute, which is likely, she has the option then of initiating a private prosecution of the policemen, but this would be very costly.
The sum of $35,400 awarded to Biko will be donated to a community project in memory of her husband and of "the great struggle Steve was engaged in towards liberation of the black people," she said.
Under the terms of the settlement, her two sons, Nkosinathi, 8 and Samora, 3, received $15,340 and $10,620 respectively and Biko's mother, Nokuzola, was awarded $15,340.
At the time of his death, Biko was the honorary president of the now-banned Black People's Convention which espoused black consciousness ideals. He was also banned from any political activity.
The inquest took place against an international outcry against the actions of the security police, in whose custody more than 20 other blacks had died in the preceding 18 months.
Testimony at the inquest revealed the brutal treatment of Biko by the police who kept him naked and chained to an iron grill for hours depite his ill health. He died after being transported 750 miles to another jail cell as he lay naked and unconscious in the back of a Land Rover.
Police denied they hit Biko during his interrogation and said he received his head injury in a scuffle.