The STEELE siblings of South Africa – Clive and Susan – are literally hopping mad as a court order has stopped an auction sale that would have earned them at least R100,000.
The court order was sequel to an “urgent application” filed by late Steve Biko’s son, Nkosinathi, that the document that the Steeles had offered for auction was not theirs to sell.
The document is the autopsy report on Steve Biko which the duo had found among their mother’s papers after her death. Their mum, Maureen Steele had come by the Biko autopsy report when she worked as personal secretary to Dr. Jonathan Gluckman, who was nominated by the Biko family to be part of a team at the autopsy on Steve Biko after his death in police custody in September 1977.
The Steele brother and sister are demanding an apology from Nkosinathi for having acted “hastily” in applying to the Johannesburg High Court which ordered the auction sale should be halted.
But Junior Biko countered: “Ms. Susan Steele’s assertion that she is 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.”
The siblings, who insist that the document was merely a copy of the autopsy report, claim that defamatory statements had been made in the application.
The Steeles had gained possession of the document after their mother’s death in 2011.
She had been charged with its safekeeping and the Steve Biko Foundation (SBF) said that the siblings had “appropriated this material as their own”.
In a statement via their lawyer, Jeremy Clark, of Clarks Attorneys, the siblings said: “The urgent… application brought… is a case of mistaken identity, namely a mistake as to the identity of the document that we sent to auction.”
They said the Junior Biko had made the allegation in his founding affidavit that Gluckman had been appointed by the Biko family because they wanted an “independent report”, as the police had claimed that Biko had died as a result of an extended hunger strike.
And had also “maintained and claimed” that the report belonged to and was the property of the Biko family.
“Nothing could be further from the truth… The document that we have sent to auction is merely a file copy of an original autopsy report that has been in the public domain for over 37 years (and) formed the basis of exhaustive cross-examination of the ‘Biko doctors’… at the inquest into Mr. Biko’s death.”
The Steeles added: “We believe Mr. Biko owes us (and) the court an apology about the false impression he has created in this case.”
However, the court stopped the auction – which had already secured an opening bid of R100 000 – of the autopsy reports of slain activists Biko and Ahmed Timol.
At the time of Timol’s death, police said he committed suicide by plunging through a window from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square police station (now Johannesburg Central police station). His torture only came to light later.
The siblings said the report had also been generated by no fewer than four medical specialists apart from Gluckman.
Reacting to the Steeles’ statement, the Steve Biko Foundation, the Biko Family and the Timol Family said they were disappointed that they had not addressed the matter of returning the autopsies to the families.
Obenewa Amponsah, SBF director, said: “It is unfortunate the Steeles have opted to go this route instead of doing the right thing and returning the documents to the families.
“Our lawyers have given the Steeles a deadline to agree to immediately hand over the documents or we will proceed with court papers and we will seek costs.”
The Steeles said the report was by no means a “private or confidential report… (and) was never the property of the Biko family”.
The siblings said the sale of collectable documents and ephemera relating to famous figures was an “established and credible international practice”.
“The sale of our file copy… will almost certainly see it go into the hands of a serious collector who will be better placed to care for and cherish it.”