“I now believe he was killed at the hands of the security police and hanged thereafter,” Dr Elizabeth Floyd stated matter-of-factly during the inquest into former anti-apartheid activist Neil Aggett’s death on Thursday.
Floyd was Aggett’s partner at the time and was detained at the same time.
Having now had almost four decades to reflect on Aggett’s tragic death in detention at the infamous John Vorster Square police station in Johannesburg in 1982, Floyd detailed the discrepancies between what she saw and what the apartheid security police said.
Aggett was found hanging in his cell 70 days into his detention. The first inquest in 1982 found he had committed suicide.
But Floyd told the court that when she saw Aggett’s body after he died, “there were no marks of any kind on his neck” and no swelling either.
She added at the reopened inquest in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg, Aggett had been positioned in a very strange way, with his chin higher than his nose.
As a medical practitioner, Floyd said this was not the way to position a body and as a result of the slanted angle of his head, his skull had slipped a few centimetres back.
Floyd was given the task of collecting Aggett’s personal belongings – his clothes, books and shoes – after his death.
As the officer handed Floyd Aggett’s slippers, Floyd said he told her Aggett had died in these slippers.
But having looked at a picture of Aggett hanging from his cell door, which had been published around the time of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the Sunday Times, she noticed he was not in fact wearing those shoes.
He was wearing a tan, double-sole shoe and Floyd had not seen them before. “They were new,” she said.
Later she found out those were shoes a union worker would wear because they usually walked long distances.
The police officer also gave her a kikoi belonging to Aggett, saying he used it to hang himself. But the picture depicted a lighter, thinner cloth around Aggett’s neck.
Floyd explained that when she received it, the kikoi was in pieces, cut smoothly as if by a dressmaker.
Had they cut Aggett down from this cloth, she explained, it would have been “jagged” and uneven.
After witnessing these discrepancies in the evidence, Floyd is of the belief that Aggett was killed in detention and his body hanged up on the cell door.