Aggett, Haffejee inquests: Justice minister asks for judges to be appointed

Aggett, Haffejee inquests: Justice minister asks for judges to be appointed

Trade Union Fawu members march along Commissioner Street in Johannesburg, 6 February 2013, to Johannesburg Central police station to demand an investigation into the 1982 death of apartheid activist Neil Aggett in police custody. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Both anti-apartheid activists died in mysterious circumstances in police custody, and inquests in their deaths will now be held, as in the case of Ahmed Timol.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has written to the judges president of the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal divisions of the high court to ask them to appoint judges for the inquests into the deaths in detention of anti-apartheid activists, Dr Neil Aggett and Hoosen Haffejee.

“The minister’s decision is in terms of Section 17A of the Inquest Act No 58 of 1959 and follows an application by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for the reopening of an inquest,” justice ministry spokesperson Chrispin Phiri said in a statement on Friday.

Earlier this year, former justice minister Michael Masutha announced that the ministry had authorised the NPA’s request.

Phiri said the department could confirm that the decision was still in effect.

“In light of the findings of Judge Billy Mothle in the inquest of Ahmed Timol, the sixth administration is committed to ensuring that the justice system addresses TRC matters expeditiously,” he said.

In 2016, the death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, a teacher, was also re-investigated.

Timol died in police custody 49 years ago.

Police ruled that his death was a suicide in 1972. However, a private investigation Timol’s family launched into his death uncovered new evidence.

The family presented this evidence to the NPA and asked that the investigation be reopened.

Former security branch officer Joao Jan Roderigues, 80, accused of killing Timol, has applied to the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg for a permanent stay of prosecution on the basis of his age. There hasn’t been a ruling yet.

Aggett was a medical doctor and trade unionist who worked mainly in overcrowded hospitals in historically black neighbourhoods, such as Soweto, Mthatha and Thembisa.

The security police detained him and his partner, Dr Elizabeth Floyd, in November 1981. He died under mysterious circumstances on February 5, 1982 after 70 days of detention without trial.

According to the police, Aggett, 28, hanged himself while he was at the John Vorster Square police station.

Special branch officers, Captain James Taylor and Captain PL du Toit, arrested Haffejee under the Terrorism Act in August 1977. It was suspected that he was a trained saboteur who was plotting to overthrow the government.

He was found hanging at Durban’s Brighton Beach police station on August 3, 1977. It was ruled in an inquest into his death that he died by suicide and that injuries to his back, knees, arms and head were not connected to his death.

“It is of paramount importance to society that justice is not seen as a mythical concept, but it must be seen to be done. Conceivably this principle becomes more pronounced where the families of apartheid era victims are concerned. As the ministry, we will be looking into TRC cases which fall under this category to ensure that justice fully manifests itself,” Lamola said.

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