JOHANNESBURG -- Steve Biko, 30, one of the founders of the black South African Students Organization, died after a one-week hunger strike while in police custody, Police Commissioner Gen. Gert Prinsloo said today.
Police and Justice Minister Jimmy Kruger said Biko, a former medical student, died Sept. 12 in the Pretoria prison hospital. Government surgeons and specialists who examined him before his death could find nothing wrong with him.
When news of Biko's death was broadcast by Radio South Africa, about 400 blacks and whites gathered for a spontaneous memorial service at the Dikonia Hall in Braamfontein, near the center of Johannesburg.
Biko, married and the father of two children, was called the father of the black consciousness movement that led students to demand better conditions for blacks even before anti-government violence flared throughout the country last year.
According to figures compiled by the South African Institute of Race Relations, Biko was the 20th person to die in police custody since March 1976.
In 1976 he was detained for 101 days. He had been held since Aug. 22, but had not been brought to court to face any charges. It was not clear under which security regulations he was detained.
Last month, two political detainees -- a black man and an Indian dentist -- were found hanged within a two-week period in the Brighton Beach police cells near Durban.