Dr Neil Aggett was found hanged in his cell after being detained without trial and interrogated at John Vorster Square police station for 70 days. Picture: Wesley Fester/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Dr Neil Aggett was found hanged in his cell after being detained without trial and interrogated at John Vorster Square police station for 70 days. Picture: Wesley Fester/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Activist Keith Coleman says Neil Aggett was unresponsive before his death

By Siviwe Feketha Time of article published Feb 10, 2020

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Johannesburg - Anti-apartheid activist Keith Coleman has testified that late fellow activist Dr Neil Aggett was unresponsive when he greeted him shortly before he was found dead in custody.

Coleman was on Monday giving testimony at the reopened trial of Aggett, who died in 1982 while in detention at the then John Vorster Square police station, after days of torture.

Several activists who were also detained at the station around the same time have already testified how Aggett had been severely tortured by the apartheid security police during interrogations before his body was found hanging in his cell.

Coleman said he had first sneaked into Aggett’s cell but the activist did not respond when he greeted him and again when he greeted him while he passed him in the corridor of the shower.

Treasury deputy director general Ismail Momoniat had told the inquest that Aggett had been “finished” and rendered a “zombie” by the apartheid security police before his death was announced, adding that he had also greeted him without receiving any response as he appeared totally disorientated.

Coleman described Aggett as an impressive activist with high ethical standards.

“Neil was a person of great integrity, little ego and very committed. He was a person of stillness. He did not have to show off. He was a very gracious human being and he always engaged you in a way that made you feel properly engaged. It felt good to be around him,” Coleman said.

He said the security police had become more violent during the time of their arrest as they could not be able to directly link the activities of the anti-apartheid activists to the ANC or other banned organisations, which would have made it easy for them to be charged and imprisoned.

“They would try very hard to find a way of cracking down. Although there were obviously connections between the external ANC and the internal movement to particular individuals, a lot of what I am describing (is that there) were internal activists coming together and creating an internal movement that was not obviously illegal and this was very frustrating for the security police,” he said.

He said detention and immediate torture was frequent as police tried silence those who wanted to collapse the legitimacy of the apartheid government.

Political Bureau

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