Biko family: Return postmortem by Monday or else

2014-12-05 14:33

Steve Biko’s family and his foundation have given the Steele family until Monday to do “the right thing” and return the postmortem reports of two slain anti-apartheid activists to their rightful owners.

“Our lawyers have given the Steeles until Monday to agree to immediately hand over the documents or we will proceed with court papers, and this time we will seek costs,” Steve Biko Foundation director Obenewa Amponsah said today.

The South Gauteng High Court on Wednesday halted the auction of Biko’s postmortem document, about an hour before it was to go under the hammer at Westgate Walding Auctioneers.

Bidding on the document was to start at R70 000. The court also ordered Westgate to stop the auction of the postmortem document of Ahmed Timol, another freedom fighter who died in police custody in 1972.

The court ruled that the auctioneers would retain ownership of the documents. The Biko and Timol families were given until the end of January to challenge the order.

On its website, Westgate says the Biko documents are from 1977 and contain certificates from pathologists, a certificate in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, and a 43-page postmortem report.

Years ago, the document was given to Maureen Steele for safekeeping. She was the personal secretary of Dr Jonathan Gluckman, the pathologist appointed by the Biko family.

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

Today, The Star quoted one of the siblings as saying the documents were never the property of the Biko family, and that comments by Biko’s son Nkosinathi to the media had damaged their reputation.

“We believe that Mr Biko owes us, the court and the public an apology about the false impression he created ... as well as the injury and defamation he has caused us,” Susan Steele said.

Nkosinathi had said the postmortem report of any deceased person was central to their dignity.

“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 said on Wednesday before the court case.

Biko today said Steele’s assertion that she was owed an apology “is an indication that she and her brother are yet to understand the gravity of the situation in which they find themselves”.

Steele has claimed that the document meant to be auctioned was a copy and not the original. However, Westgate’s website claims it is the original.

Amponsah urged the Steele family to do the right thing.

“It is unfortunate that the Steeles have opted to make statements of this nature instead of doing the right thing and simply returning the documents to the Biko and Timol families,” she said.

“The Timol family, the Biko family and the Steve Biko Foundation are of the view that the reaction of the Steeles is defensive, incorrect in law and inconsistent with their prior statements.”

It was not known to which prior statements she referred.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Steve Biko was a student leader. He later founded the Black Consciousness Movement. On August 18 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock and interrogated. He was tortured in prison and on September 12 1977, he died in a prison cell in Pretoria.

Timol died in police custody in 1972. He was alone with a policeman when he supposedly fell out of a window at the then John Vorster Square.

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