Bernadette Wicks
Senior court reporter
2 minute read
1 Sep 2021
9:15 am

Activist Hoosen Haffejee’s ‘suicide’ in question

Bernadette Wicks

Forensic pathologist finds signs of homicidal death.

Dr Hoosen Haffejee. Picture: SAhistory.org

Evidence now appears to place Hoosen Haffejee in an interrogation with police officers from the infamous apartheid-era security branch at the time of the his supposed suicide.

The political activist was found dead in a cell at Brighton Beach police station in Durban on the morning of 3 August, 1977. He had been arrested on his way to work the day before on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the state.

A post-mortem put time of death at 3am-4am. Police records showed he was in his cell, lending credence to the picture painted of Haffejee having taken his own life.

But a forensic pathologist who took the stand in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Wednesday put his time of death closer to 11pm the previous night when Haffejee was under interrogation.

He was found tied to one of the bottom bars on his cell door by his trousers, which were twisted tightly around his neck.

There were about 50 injuries on his body but his death was effectively ruled a suicide. The inquest was reconvened last month after pressure from Haffejee’s family, who maintained he was murdered.

Yesterday, forensic pathologist Dr Shareeka Holland took the stand. Holland reviewed the evidence presented at the original inquest and found the extent of the rigor mortis which had set in by the time the body was examined pointed to an earlier time of death.

Holland said it would have been between 7pm and 11pm – and most likely at around 11pm.

ALSO READ: Tears flow at inquest, 44 years after Hoosen Haffejee’s death

“At that time, Dr Haffejee was in the hands of the security branch under interrogation. The evidence of the police is that he was booked into the charge office at around midnight and then into the cells shortly thereafter, which
suggests the police’s version is under very serious question.

Would you agree?” advocate Howard Varne asked Holland yesterday.

She answered in the affirmative, adding that the original cause of death that it was consistent with hanging was wrong.

Key to this was the ligature mark and the absence of a “rising apex” a “hallmark” of hanging.

She found the cause should have been “consistent with pressure to the neck” and that several factors pointed to a “homicidal” death.

bernadettew@citizen.co.za