After anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett died in detention in 1982 at the infamous John Vorster Square, “the machinery of the apartheid state immediately swung into action to cover up the real circumstances of his death”, Webber Wentzel’s Howard Varney said on Monday.
Varney gave an opening address on behalf of the family at the reopening of the inquest into Aggett’s death in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.
“The former security branch of the South African Police was a thoroughly corrupt organisation.
“Wholescale fabrication of evidence and deception were the order of the day.
“They were masters of the cover-up,” Varney said.
The first inquest into Aggett’s death in 1982 found that he hanged himself 70 days into his detention.
But Varney said it was a cover-up.
He said there was no correlation between Aggett’s detention and the version the Security Branch placed before the court.
“To those former police officers, some of whom will appear under subpoena before this court, we say now is the time for honesty and truth,” Varney said.
“Those who persist with charade and cover must be held to account.”
He added that over the next few weeks his team would show the court how torture and abuse at the infamous John Vorster Square were commonplace.
“The TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] found that the pervasive and systematic torture inflicted upon detainees paired with the inhumane conditions of their detention, were sufficient to render suicides committed in detention as ‘induced suicides’ for which the Security Branch was accountable.
“The truth of Neil’s death, as a white detainee, would have been a public relations disaster for the State both locally and internationally,” Varney said.
He added the Aggett family is of the belief that he was killed “either directly or through unrelenting systematic torture, abuse and neglect which pushed him to take his own life”.
“The relevant Security Branch officers must be held responsible,” he added.
Varney said their intention was to demonstrate that “there are in fact people and institutions to blame” for Aggett’s death.
The family also wants the first inquest findings overturned.