Apartheid-era security branch murder case finally gets reopened

Dentist and anti-apartheid activist Dr Hoosen Haffejee finally looks set to get justice, 44 years after his death in security police custody.

Fathima Haffejee spent decades of her life fighting for justice for her son, dentist and anti-apartheid activist Dr Hoosen Haffejee, whose body was found hanging from the grille of a police cell in August 1977.

Now, with the inquest into his death – for which it was originally found no-one could be held responsible – back before court, that justice finally looks to be within reach. But it’s too late for Fathima, who went to her grave in 2011 without ever getting the closure she so desperately needed.

The new inquest proceedings kicked off in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in KwaZulu-Natal yesterday. In his opening address, advocate Howard Varney SC – who is representing the Haffejee family – read an extract from an article published in The Post in 1997 in which Fathima was quoted as saying: “I know the truth about how my son died is going to come out one day.”

“That day has eventually arrived. We are confident that this reopened inquest will finally unearth the truth about what happened to Hoosen Haffejee,” Varney said. “The question is why the family had to wait for some 44 years for this day.”

Haffejee, who was 26 at the time, was picked up by the security branch police in Durban on 3 August 1977 while on his way to work. He was arrested under the Terrorism Act and on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the state.

Within 20 hours, he was dead. During a subsequent post-mortem, some 50 injuries were discovered on his body.

Regardless, magistrate Trevor Blunden found in the original inquest that Haffejee’s death “was not brought about by any act or omission amounting to an offence of any person”.

Varney yesterday said the original inquest finding made for “pitiful reading”. “We will be submitting that magistrate Blunden conducted himself in a manner that was predisposed to a particular result, namely the exoneration of the police,” Varney said.

During his address, Varney was at pains to point out that more than 20 years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had referred in the region of 300 apartheid-era cases to the National Prosecuting Authority for further investigations, only three had found their way back to court.

“South Africa has failed the Haffejee family and so many other families waiting for truth and justice,” he said.

And Imtiaz Cajee – the late Ahmed Timol’s nephew – yesterday agreed. He said while this was “a very significant moment for the Haffejee family”, that it was “absolutely tragic” so few of these cases had been pursued so far.

“And this is the plight of families all across the country, who are asking what it will take to get their cases reopened,” he said.

– bernadettew@citizen.co.za

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