Another apartheid-era inquest to be opened by police

Another apartheid-era death will be reinvestigated, after Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha authorised the reopening of an inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett.

The application was brought by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

Aggett was a medical doctor and trade unionist who worked mainly in overcrowded hospitals in historically black neighbourhoods, such as Soweto, Mthatha and Thembisa.

The security police detained him and his partner, Dr Elizabeth Floyd, in November 1981. He died February 5, 1982, after 70 days of detention without trial, under mysterious circumstances.

According to the police, Aggett, 28, hanged himself while he was held at the John Vorster Square police station.

READ: Timol murder accused says he should benefit from amnesty for pre-1994 crimes

In 2016, the death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, a teacher, was also reinvestigated. Timol died in police custody 49 years ago.

Police ruled his death as a suicide in 1972. However, a private investigation launched by Timol's family into his death uncovered new evidence. The family presented this evidence to the NPA and asked that the investigation be reopened.

According to the Timol Family Trust, the NPA agreed that there was compelling evidence and said it would investigate.

Former security branch officer Joao Jan Rodrigues, 80, accused of killing Timol, has applied for a permanent stay of prosecution from the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg, based on his age. The ruling has not been made yet. 

In a statement on Friday, Masutha's department said that "the inquest findings into the death of Aggett were met with condemnation both domestically and internationally due to the narrow approach adopted by the magistrate who excluded critical evidence depicting a pattern of sensory deprivation and torture".

"As in the case of Dr Hoosen Haffejee and Ahmed Timol, the State is committed to ensuring that perpetrators of apartheid era crimes who have not been granted amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) are brought to book," continued the statement.

ALSO READ: Chief Albert Luthuli's youngest daughter dies

The NPA had also requested the police initiate an investigation into the matter when representations were received from former colleagues of Aggett. The police investigation revealed several new facts which raise important questions about the findings of the magistrate who conducted the first inquest.

Masutha said the families of apartheid era victims deserve to get answers on how their loved ones were murdered by the security police.

"Our democratic government has been magnanimous enough to give the perpetrators an opportunity to tell the truth and receive amnesty for the crimes they committed in the name of the evil apartheid regime," said Masutha.

The minister said that some of the perpetrators "chose to sit back and not say anything".

"Perhaps they hoped that their crimes would be forgotten."

He said that government owes it to the families of activists like Aggett to get to the bottom of the circumstances under which they died, as well as to ensure that their killers have their day in court.

The family of activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner the late Chief Albert Luthuli is also pushing ahead with their own investigation, saying they were repeatedly fed lies about his murder.

They are seeking closure and the probe into his death may lead to the reopening of his inquest.

On paper, the former ANC president died in 1967 after he was hit by a train on a railway bridge. The bridge was close to the home he had been confined to by the apartheid regime in Groutville, KwaZulu-Natal.

ALSO READ: Timol murder accused says he should benefit from amnesty for pre-1994 crimes

The family does not believe the report of the circumstances behind his death.

Meanwhile, the family of Black Consciousness Movement founder and anti-apartheid activist and author Steve Biko, are also keeping an eye on the Timol case, and may also consider asking that Biko's inquest be reopened.

Biko died in a prison cell in Pretoria in 1977.

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