Inquests: another way to truth and reconciliation

Former security branch police officer Nick Deetlefs testifies at the inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/Africa News Agency (ANA)

Former security branch police officer Nick Deetlefs testifies at the inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/Africa News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 23, 2020


The historic Ahmed Timol inquest was successful at overturning the apartheid magistrate’s false verdict of suicide and in setting a new legal precedence.

Neil Aggett’s inquest follows on this precedence while Dr Hoosen Haffajee’s inquest will follow this trend later this year in the Durban High Court.

The objective and significance of such inquests are to establish the truth for the sake of history and to administer collective therapy on the nation’s mind that is still struggling to overcome apartheid-era trauma.

There are three obstacles to truth and reconciliation, which is meant to be a profound constitutional obligation on all South Africans.

First, the ANC’s lack of political will. Second, the perpetrators’ evasion of law. Third, the structural arrangement at the National Prosecutions Authority (NPA), which has retained apartheid era bureaucrats to make decisions on crimes against humanity.

First, the 2015 case of TP Nkadimeng vs NDPP exposed gross political interference in the operations of the NPA, supported by advocate Vusi Pikoli and advocate Anton Ackerman SC. Cabinet ministers and SAPS commissioner instructed and cajoled NPA officials to stop work on the TRC cases.

Dr Neil Agget died while in detention at John Vorster Square. An inquest into his death is currently underway.

In 2004, a secret “Amnesty Task Team” was established that produced amendments to the NPA’s Prosecution Policy, which permitted backdoor amnesty plus the launch of President (Thabo) Mbeki’s Special Dispensation on Political Pardons. The impoverished victims and survivors had to resort to the expensive courts to stop these two initiatives. Pikoli had addressed a memo to Justice Minister Mabandla providing evidence that there had been improper interference in TRC cases and obstruction in taking the 300+ cases forward. The interference and obstruction “impinged upon his conscience and his oath of office”.

In 2003, Imtiaz Cajee approached the NPA to investigate the Timol death and no investigation took place. The NPA pretended it was investigated. Only after the NPA was threatened with litigation that the re-inquest was opened in 2017.

Human rights activists placed 20 more cases before the NPA and the Hawks. It was later discovered the investigators were former members of the secret police (SB) or associated with the SB. Although the two investigators were removed as investigators no progress has been made in any of the 20 cases.

On February 5, 2019, the 10 former TRC commissioners addressed a letter to President (Cyril) Ramaphosa. To date, there is neither an acknowledgment of receipt of, nor a response to, the letter, which states, “As recent(ly) as 2018 it is still business as usual with the TRC cases ultimately controlled by forces from the past.” This indicates “the captured state of our criminal justice system”.

Ahmed Timol was arrested at a police roadblock on 22 October 1971 and died five days later. He was the 22nd political detainee to die in detention since 1960. Picture:

The Final TRC Report (March 21, 2003) called for “a bold prosecution policy” to avoid any suggestion of South Africa contravening its obligations in terms of international law.

“Both the SAPS and the NPA colluded with political forces to ensure the deliberate suppression of the bulk of apartheid era cases,” the letter states.

Second, the perpetrators - instead of facing up to the truth use evasive legal action, funded by taxpayers to evade imprisonment.

Nokuthula Simelane was an ANC activist and undercover operative who went missing in 1983.

Third, the structural arrangement at NPA is not responsive to the fears, suspicions, distrust, and avoidance strategy of former victims and survivors. In the white-ant framework lurk insects from the Scorpions, Brixton Murder and Robbery Squad, SB, and terrorism trial prosecutors.

Ramaphosa in the ANC January 8, 2020 statement says, “We have begun the work of turning around institutions, such as the National Prosecuting Authority” and “additional funds have been allocated to the National Prosecuting Authority to enable it to fulfil its role more effectively”.

Significantly, the statement is silent on the untransformed criminal justice system, which continues to function as the judicial colony of medieval Rome, Holland, and England notwithstanding our Constitution with its 21-item Bill of Rights.

The inquests have historical, international, and legal significance. They are concentrated pains whose message must go out that political and religious fascism and racism must not be tolerated anywhere in the way that after the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, as observed by (Frantz) Fanon, no massacre in the world goes unreported, notwithstanding the 2012 Marikana Massacre.

* Haroon Aziz’s primary discipline is quantum physics and secondary disciplines are history and neuro-biography.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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