Biko Killers May Get Amnesty

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PORT ELIZABETH: South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is unlikely to achieve the harmony suggested by its name. Five policemen are seeking amnesty for their role in the 1977 killing of anti-apartheid leader Steve Biko. And TIME correspondent Peter Hawthorne believes that Biko’s family are unlikely to be able to stop their bid for freedom from prosecution.

Despite Wednesday’s admission by one of the cops that Biko was effectively beaten to death, Hawthorne says the policemen are appealing on the basis that beating up apartheid’s foes was part of their job: “As bizarre as it may sound, they may succeed on that basis.” There are precedents of policemen being indemnified for killings on the grounds that they were committed in the line of duty, and Hawthorne believes “these guys may well be able to do the same thing.”

But as the Biko family's anger indicates, while those who suffered under apartheid are eager to learn the truth, they're not necessarily prepared to forgive the people who did the system's dirty work.