Former security branch police officer Martin Naude admits he “did wrong” during apartheid, but he’s adamant he had nothing to do with struggle activist Neil Aggett’s death in detention.
Naude – who spent several days interrogating Aggett after he was arrested – took the stand in the South Gauteng High Court on Monday, when the reopened inquest into Aggett’s death finally resumed following a lengthy postponement.
Asked by his counsel, advocate Stephanus Coetzee, if he had any involvement in the doctor-come-trade-unionist’s death, the now 71-year-old retiree was firm.
“Not in any way,” he said. In fact, he said, his interactions with Aggett had been “cordial” and “friendly” and they had enjoyed “a very good working relationship”.
In 2001, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) granted Naude amnesty for his involvement in a plot to plant a cache of weapons and ammunition in Krugersdorp and frame the ANC for it. This in a bid to drum up public support for a cross-border operation the state was planning at the time, with ANC operatives in Botswana its target.
Naude said if he had anything to do with Aggett’s death, he would have come clean at the TRC.
“I was sorry. I did wrong and I had to rectify it. That was why I participated,” he said. “If I was involved in any other atrocities, I would have applied for amnesty”.
Aggett was arrested on the morning of 27 November 1981. More than two months later, on 5 February 1982, he was found hanging in his cell at what was then John Vorster Square (now Johannesburg Central Police Station).
The inquest into his death at the time found no one was to blame. It was, however, reopened last year on the back of sustained pressure from Aggett’s family who maintain he was either murdered or tortured so severely that his suicide was “induced”.
Last March, proceedings came to a grinding halt after Judge Motsamai Makume – who is presiding over the case – was admitted to hospital. They were set to resume in June but then had to be postponed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. They eventually kicked off again on Monday, with Naude taking the stand.
At the time Aggett was arrested, Naude was based in East London. He was sent to Johannesburg specifically to interview Aggett and his then girlfriend, Dr Elizabeth Floyd, who had been arrested alongside him.
Naude yesterday testified to having spent a number of days with Aggett that December before going home for two weeks to spend Christmas with his family. When he returned – on 4 January 1982 – Naude said that Aggett had appeared uncharacteristically “tattered”.
“Taking into consideration the circumstances under which he was held there, he was always neat and tidy. He had pride in himself as a person irrespective of the circumstances,” Naude said.
But Naude said he discussed it with Aggett, who blamed it on a shaving mishap. It later emerged that Aggett was allegedly assaulted on this day.
Asked by his lawyer if Aggett had ever complained to Naude of any assaults or injuries, the latter answered in the negative.
“Could you see any injuries on him?” Coetzee asked. “Nothing,” Naude responded.
Asked by state advocate JJ Mlotshwa if he had supported apartheid, Naude became visibly uncomfortable.
“The fact is I was white and the National Party was at the stage, the government of the day,” he said,
“It is not an easy question to answer”.
Eventually Naude conceded that as a policeman during that time, he had enforced the apartheid government’s policies.
“I cannot run away from that,” he said.
The case continues today.