There appeared to be systematic torture days before Neil Aggett died, court hears

2020-01-22 20:27
Anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett. (Media24, Beeld, file)

Anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett. (Media24, Beeld, file)

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Apartheid activist Neil Aggett seemed to have been severely punished through "systematic torture" days before his death in detention at the infamous John Vorster Square, according to close friend David Dison.

Dison was also the junior attorney for the Aggett family during the first inquest in 1982.

He was speaking at the reopened inquest in the High Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday, detailing the investigation the legal team had undertaken into Aggett's death as part of the first inquest.

"As we looked at the system at John Vorster Square, and as we began to take statements from all the detainees we could get access to, it appeared that there had been systematic torture, not just solitary confinement but continual interrogation of targeted people… Neil seemed to be getting it in the neck," Dison said.

EXPLAINED |  Who was Neil Aggett and why was he important?

He added, however, he could not consult with Aggett "in any way" and the legal team was able to gather this information from other detainees. 

"The general picture that we got was that Neil was getting heavily interrogated, and through piecing together … bits of evidence we worked out that he had a particularly long session of interrogation towards the end of Jan/beginning of February," Dison told the court.

Aggett died on February 5, 1982.

He was found hanging from a cloth, tied to the bars of his cell at John Vorster Square.

READ | I saw cops harass naked Neil Aggett days before his death, says anti-apartheid activist

Dison said the pathologist, giving evidence to the court at the first inquest, gave the impression this was self-inflicted but did not make a conclusion.

But, he added, the family "was adamant" that Aggett had been murdered.

"With the kind of evidence that we were picking up from detainees, there was a sense that Neil had been in a very poor state.

"So strategically, we took the position that this was a forced suicide, an induced suicide [but] we did not have the evidence we now seem to be getting and that we got at the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] years later that indicated there had been a massive cover-up."

READ | Apartheid state covered up 'real circumstances' of Dr Neil Aggett's death, inquest hears

Before he went to jail, Aggett expressed to Dison he had no fear of being detained, except under the Terrorism Act.

He was "apprehensive but calm … in his view there was nothing he needed to answer for", he said.

Dison described Aggett as a progressive person but did not get the sense he belonged to a certain political organisation.

He was an organiser for the Food and Canning Workers' Union and medical doctor and had a passion for workers' rights, he said.

Often, Aggett sacrificed his career as a doctor in the belief that workers were disadvantaged, Dison added.

Read more on:    neil aggett  |  apartheid  |  crime
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