‘We want the truth’

2018-05-09 18:35
Hoosen Haffejee's sister, Sarah, hopes the investigation will bring closure to the family.

Hoosen Haffejee's sister, Sarah, hopes the investigation will bring closure to the family. (Nhlanhla Nkosi)

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The family of Pietermaritzburg-born political activist Hoosen Haffejee, who died under mysterious circumstances in a Durban police cell 41 years ago, wants the fresh probe into his death to uncover new truths.

“As a family what we have been appealing for is the truth — it has not been forthcoming. We have been told that he committed suicide but I must make it clear that as a family we never once believed the suicide story — we knew it was a lie,” Haffejee’s sister, Sarah (73) told The Witness on Tuesday.

Sarah, who still lives in the same house where Haffejee was born in Church Street, Pietermaritzburg, was one of the people who was interviewed by members of the elite police unit, the Hawks, who recently reopened the inquest into Haffejee’s death.

“It was not easy to reopen that sad chapter where one had to take investigators through those painful moments when our brother was put through hell. It was very emotional to relive everything.

“Having said that, what really made us, as a family, co-operate with the investigators, was this hope that this time around the truth was likely to come out,” Sarah said.

At the time a dentist and political activist, Haffejee died in a cell at Durban’s Brighton Beach police station on August 3, 1977 within 20 hours of being detained by police for questioning.

Despite a pathologist having recorded about 60 wounds on Haffejee’s body, Durban inquest magistrate Trevor Blunden subsequently ruled that Haffejee had hanged himself and cleared the police of any wrongdoing.

“To the family that magistrate’s finding was like adding salt to a fresh wound. We were expecting closure and yet what we got were lies and lies. We are hoping that the current investigation will bring about closure,” Sarah said.

The investigation team will also be looking into seven other cases involving people who either died in police custody or disappeared during the apartheid era.

Apart from Haffejee’s death the team is also investigating the deaths of the following people: Neil Aggett, Babla Saloojee, Matthews Mabelane, Nico­demus Kgoathe, Solomon Modipane and Jacob Monnakgotla and Nokuthula Simelane.

The team was successful last year in overturning an apartheid-era judgment that had found that Ahmed Timol, who died in a Johannesburg prison in 1971, had committed suicide.

Judge Billy Mothle of the North Gauteng High Court last year ruled that Timol did not commit suicide, but was pushed to his death by apartheid security branch police officers.

Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed that the unit is investigating the circumstance surrounding the death of Haffejee and many other people who died under mysterious circumstances while under police custody in the apartheid era.

Haffejee matriculated at Woodlands High in 1965. He was 26 years old at the time of his death.

A keen hockey player, Haffejee studied dentistry at India’s Nagpur University, where he excelled at the sport.

“He was extremely good in hockey and was highly respected within the university’s sporting fraternity. There is currently an annual hockey tournament at the university in his honour,” Sarah said.

Advocate Shubnum Singh, who was the prosecutor in the Timol case, will assume a similar role in the Haffejee matter.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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