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Cape Town - More than 30 years after he died in detention, the family and friends of trade unionist and doctor Neil Aggett have called on President Jacob Zuma and Justice Minister Jeff Radebe to help bring them closure.
In an open letter to Zuma and Radebe, the Friends of Neil Aggett Support Group are calling for his “killers” to be prosecuted.
The group has called for the urgent establishment of a special unit to investigate a case of murder against Lieutenant Steven Whitehead and his superior at the time, Major Arthur Benoni Cronwright.
“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) found that intensive interrogation of Aggett and the treatment he received in prison were directly responsible for the mental and physical condition of Aggett, which led to him taking his own life,” its letter reads.
“Neither Whitehead nor Cronwright applied for amnesty at the TRC, nor have they offered any form of apology to Aggett’s family. We believe that this is a most grave form of injustice.”
Aggett, organiser for the Food and Canning Workers Union, was detained with 17 other trade unionists. He died on February 5, 1982.
Brian Sandberg, spokesman for the group, said there was concrete evidence against Whitehead and Cronwright. He said the records from the 1982 inquest and the TRC’s final reports in 1998 “indicate that he was brutally interrogated for 62 non-stop hours, which led to his taking his own life in his prison cells”. No one was prosecuted or investigated, he said.
“Human rights jurists Judge Chris Nicholson and advocate George Bizos publicly said they believed Aggett’s death was ‘induced suicide’, whereby those who caused it can be prosecuted,” he said.
Jill Burger, Aggett’s sister in the UK, said she had still not found peace.
“I, like so many others, cannot find peace or gain closure to his violent death and the brutality of the apartheid state. Cruel brutes such as Whitehead and Cronwright need to be dealt with by a legitimate South African judicial system,” she said. “These courts are the ultimate guardians of the democracy that my brother and so many South Africans died for.”
Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, said she supported the investigation as well as the “wider application of healing justice, by way of state criminal prosecutions”.
Sipho Kubeka, a former trade union organiser, detainee and a friend of Aggett, said: “I believe our government needs to bring closure to this horrific past, so we might all move forward together, as a matter of urgency, to build the kind of equitable, peaceable nation that we all fought for.”
Spokesman for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development Mthunzi Maga did not comment at the time of going to press.