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

Ismail Haffejee was in tears as he recounted how he had to wash his brother Hoosen Haffejee's brutalised body, after his death in custody.

Forty-four years on, Ismail Haffejee still weeps when he talks about the day he arrived home to the news that at just 26, his brother – dental graduate and political activist Hoosen Haffejee – had died in police detention.

“I’d never seen my father cry like that before,” an emotional Haffajee told Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Zaba Nkosi on Thursday, as the newly re-opened inquest into his brother’s death got into its third day.

Hoosen’s lifeless body was found hanging from the door of his cell at Durban’s Brighton Beach Police Station in the early hours of the morning of 3 August 1977. This just hours after he had been arrested by the infamous security branch police on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the state.

Some 50 injuries were discovered on his body. Regardless, magistrate Trevor Blunden found in the original inquest that Hoosen’s death “was not brought about by any act or omission amounting to an offence on the part of any person”.

The inquest has now been re-opened, though, giving the surviving family a glimmer of hope that justice might finally be served.

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Hoosen’s parents have both since died as has his eldest brother. But Haffejee – who was seven years older than Hoosen – took the stand yesterday and told the court how the family had had high hopes for him and had scrimped and saved to rally enough money to send him to dentistry school in India, after he was unable to get enrolled at any of the local universities.

His death shattered the entire family.

“To see my mother too, she was absolutely devastated,” Haffejee told the court yesterday, as the tears rolled down his cheeks.

Haffejee assisted with performing the traditional Islamic funeral rite of bathing his brother’s body after he died. He explained to the court yesterday how Hoosen had been covered in a traditional calico.

“When we removed that calico, we were shocked to see the condition of his body,” he said.

Asked by advocate Howard Varney SC – who is representing the family at the inquest – how he felt, Haffejee’s voice became breathy.

“I tried to think of how he must have suffered while he was being brutalised, it’s unimaginable,” He said. “I couldn’t take it”.

Asked how his brother’s death had impacted the family, Haffejee yesterday said: “The happiness was gone from our house”.

He said his brother would never have taken his own life and explained how it was a sin under Islam.

His parents had fought valiantly for justice, he said,

“But justice was denied. And my mother passed away as a broken hearted woman and my father, a broken hearted man”.

Earlier on Thursday, mechanical and aeronautical engineer Thivash Moodley took the stand. Moodley was tasked with compiling a report on Hoosen’s death for the National Prosecuting Authority, in 2018.

Photos taken at the time of his death and shown in court yesterday showed Hoosen slumped over on the floor, against the door of his cell – with a pair of trousers twisted tightly around his neck and tied to the bottom bar of the grille.

Moodley, though, said his research showed this would be the most difficult place on the door to try and hang oneself from – and the easiest to tie someone else to.

“There were several other places that could have been used – the higher parts of the door, three windows – it was weird a person would choose the lowest bar of the door which is probably the least likely height you would be able to strangle yourself from,” Moodley said,

“There’re two possibilities that exist: He did it himself with great difficulty, and chose the most difficult position to suffocate himself from; or someone else assisted with it and chose the easiest way”.

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Further, he said, their calculations showed that some 15kg of force would have had to be exerted on Hoosen’s neck to kill him but by their calculations, at that height only some 11kg of force would have been exerted had he done it himself.

Varney also yesterday put to Moodley damning evidence from two pathologists whom the state intends calling as witnesses.

He quoted from a report by Dr Shakira Holland, in which she found that Hoosen could have been rendered incapicated at the time of his death, as well as one by Dr Steve Naidoo, in which he made similar findings.

“The seriousness of the body surface injuries after they were inflicted were such that the deceased would have been in an intense state of distress and likely unable to remain upright,” the latter read.

It also stated there was a “significant possibility” he could as a result of his injuries have been “in a stunned stupor” – if not already unconsciousness,

“Had the deceased created himself the ligature and the method of ligature constriction of the neck, he would have been at the time of death almost undoubtedly in such significant pain and distress that this possibility is questionable and must be seriously challenged. If accepted, it was likely an impaled or driven suicide”.

The inquest continues on Monday.

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