There is now a glimmer of hope that siblings Sara Lall and Ishmail Haffejee can find closure after they were told last week that Minister of Justice Michael Masutha had signed the order recommending the inquest into their brother’s death be reopened.
Haffejee, a 26-year-old dentist at Durban’s St George V hospital and an anti-apartheid activist from Pietermaritzburg, died on August 3 in 1977 at the Brighton Police Station in Durban - 20 hours after being arrested by security police under the Terrorism Act. Captains James Taylor and Piet du Toit and several other operatives of the special branch arrested him on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the state.
Despite multiple injuries covering his back, knees, arms and head, magistrate Trevor Blunden - who presided over the inquest in 1978 - ruled that Haffejee had committed suicide.
The police claimed that he hanged himself with his trousers by tying them to the grille door in his cell - a claim the family does not believe.
Haffejee’s siblings have welcomed the State’s decision to reopen the inquest into their brother’s death.
In a statement issued this weekend, Lall said the reopening of the Timol inquest last year had given all the families of apartheid-era victims hope that they, too, would get answers on whether their loved ones were murdered by the security police.
“We are very grateful to Timol’s nephew, Imtiaz Cajee, for the support he has given us,” Lall said.
“Hoosen was the 45th political detainee to die in detention, and many more were to follow. While we are very pleased to hear that the National Prosecutions Authority (NPA) is to reopen the inquest into our brother’s death, the families of others, such as Nokuthula Simelane and Nicodemus Kgoathe, continue to live with their pain,” she said.
The decision to reopen the inquest came after the national director of public prosecutions presented to the minister of justice a memorandum based on new evidence.
If the police officers are found to be responsible for Haffejee’s death, the NPA can proceed with criminal charges.
NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku said the minister signed the documentation earlier in the month but only notified the family last week. A judge would be appointed to hear the matter.