Another apartheid-era death will be reinvestigated from Monday after former justice and correctional services minister Michael Masutha authorised the reopening of an inquest last year into the death of anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett.
The application was brought by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). The inquest will commence at 09:30 on Monday in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg before Judge Motsamai Makume and will proceed for five weeks
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 on February 5, 1982, after 70 days of detention without trial, under mysterious circumstances.
According to the police, Aggett, 28, hanged himself while he was held at the then-John Vorster Square police station.
5/2/1982 Trade unionist Dr Neil Aggett died in police detention, the 51st person to die during SAP detention.
5/2/1982 Trade unionist Dr Neil Aggett died in police detention, the 51st person to die during SAP detention. pic.twitter.com/4z2LgndJlg
— Alex Jay (@AlexJayZA) February 5, 2015
In 2016, the death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, a teacher, was also reinvestigated. Timol died in police custody 49 years ago.
Police ruled his death as a suicide in 1972. However, a private investigation launched by Timol’s family into his death uncovered new evidence. The family presented this evidence to the NPA and asked that the investigation be reopened.
According to the Timol Family Trust, the NPA agreed there was compelling evidence and said it would investigate.
Former security branch officer Joao Jan Rodrigues, 80, accused of killing Timol, has applied for a permanent stay of prosecution from the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg based on his age. The ruling has not been made yet.
In a statement in April last year, the Department of Justice and Correctional Services said “the inquest findings into the death of Aggett were met with condemnation both domestically and internationally due to the narrow approach adopted by the magistrate who excluded critical evidence depicting a pattern of sensory deprivation and torture”.
“As in the case of Dr Hoosen Haffejee and Ahmed Timol, the State is committed to ensuring that perpetrators of apartheid-era crimes who have not been granted amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC] are brought to book,” continued the statement.
The NPA has also requested the police initiate an investigation into the case when representations were received from former colleagues of Aggett. The police investigation revealed several new facts that raise important questions about the findings of the magistrate who conducted the first inquest.
“Perhaps they hoped that their crimes would be forgotten”
Last year, Masutha said the families of apartheid-era victims deserved to get answers on how their loved ones were murdered by the security police.
“Our democratic government has been magnanimous enough to give the perpetrators an opportunity to tell the truth and receive amnesty for the crimes they committed in the name of the evil apartheid regime,” he added.
The former minister said some of the perpetrators “chose to sit back and not say anything”.
“Perhaps they hoped that their crimes would be forgotten.”
Masutha said the government owed it to the families of activists like Aggett to get to the bottom of the circumstances under which they died as well as to ensure that their killers have their day in court.