Auctioneers retain ownership of Biko documents

2014-12-03 14:01
Steve Biko (File: AFP)

Steve Biko (File: AFP)

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Johannesburg - The South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday halted the auction of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko's original post mortem documents.

"Yes, I can confirm that. The court has ruled in favour of the Biko family and the sale will not go forward," Steve Biko Foundation spokesperson Thando Sipuye told Sapa.

Biko's family and the foundation filed an urgent application opposing the auction of Biko's post mortem report as well as that of another activist, Ahmed Timol.

The court ruled that auction house Westgate Walding Auctioneers would retain ownership of the documents, and that both the Biko and Timol families had until the end of January 2015 to legally challenge this.

"We are challenging this. We are trying to get the auctioneers to hand over the documents to the Biko family," said Sipuye.

On its website Westgate Walding says the Biko documents from 1977 contain certificates from pathologists, a certificate in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977, and the post mortem report.

The report consists of 43 pages. The photographs referred to in the text are not present, but the autopsy report on Biko’s brain has the "cyclostyled" signature of Dr Neville Sydney Proctor on each page. Proctor was an anatomical pathologist from the University of the Witwatersrand.

"It is unknown if another copy of this document exists. The history of the document is of interest," Westgate Walding says on its website.

It was given to Maureen Steele, Dr Jonathan Gluckman's personal secretary from June 1969 to February 1978. Gluckman was one of the pathologists appointed by the Biko family.

"Dr Gluckman was very concerned about the safety of such documents as his offices had been bugged and he had received numerous death threats. He therefore asked Mrs Steele to keep the copies of such documents," says Westgate Walding.


Sipuye said Steele recently died and the documents went to her children, who did not want them. It was unknown if the children gave them or sold them to Westgate Walding.

"It is the contention of the Biko family and the Steve Biko Foundation that this document is the property of the Biko family and should not be sold for private gain by third parties," said Sipuye.

Biko's son Nkosinathi Biko expressed anger at the attempt to auction the document.

"The autopsy report of any deceased person is central to the dignity of the deceased," he said.

"An action by an unrelated party that amounts to auctioning off national history for private commercial reasons fails the nation at the level of morality and decency, and certainly fails at honouring the memory of those who laid their lives down for that very nation."

He wanted the document to be preserved.

Bidding on Biko's autopsy document was meant to start at R70 000, and Timol's at R20 000.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Biko was a student leader and later founded the Black Consciousness Movement to mobilise the black population against the apartheid government.

On 18 August 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock and interrogated. He was tortured in prison and died in a prison cell in Pretoria on 12 September 1977.

Timol was an anti-apartheid activist and died in police custody in 1972. He was alone with a policeman when he supposedly fell to his death at the John Vorster Square police station in Johannesburg.

Read more on:    steve biko  |  johannesburg

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