Durban - Despite the nod for a fresh inquest having taken two decades, the nephew of Ahmed Timol, Imtiaz Cajee, is confident that the reopened Dr Hoosen Mia Haffejee inquest will finally reveal the truth.
The Haffejee inquest was supposed to get off the ground on Monday under Judge ZP Nkosi of the Pietermaritzburg High Court, but most of the day was spent in the judge’s chamber where all parties held a meeting to iron out some issues.
According to Cajee, Haffejee was a 26-year-old dentist who was driving to work on August 2, 1977 when he was abducted and arrested by members of the Special Branch of the SAPS, including James Taylor and PL du Toit, and was taken to Brighton Beach police station.
Within 20 hours of his abduction, he was found dead and it was alleged that he hanged himself with his trousers from a grille door. He was the 45th detainee to have died in police detention.
The apartheid state then appointed magistrate Trevor Blunden to preside over his inquest proceedings in 1978. It was during this inquest that the two police officers, Taylor and Du Toit, testified and denied having tortured or killed Haffejee, claiming that injuries Haffejee sustained were due to the scuffle that had ensued when he refused to enter the car during his arrest. The State pathologist found the cause of death consistent with hanging.
However, the Haffejee family did not buy into that and commissioned its own pathologist, Dr David Hobson Biggs, who noted several factors that were inconsistent with hanging by suicide.
“The cause of death appeared to be suffocation, rather than the sudden arterial block one would expect from a self-induced hanging; Haffejee’s neck was twisted at a strange angle; he was found in a seated position, a position from which it is almost impossible to hang oneself; he was found hanging from the lower third of the cell door, which would be unlikely in the case of suicide; additionally, there were over 60 wounds on his body, including the removal of several pieces of skin,” read Biggs final report.
Despite the contradictory findings of the pathologists, the court ruled that Haffejee had committed suicide.
Additionally, it found that the injuries he’d sustained were “due to third-degree methods, were pure speculation unsupported by evidence”, and thus unrelated to his death. As a result, no one was deemed responsible for his death.
Speaking on Monday, Cajee said while it was lamentable that while many people died during apartheid, only three inquests have been held. Despite that he said he was hopeful that the truth which some apartheid officials tried to conceal would finally be known.
“It is indeed tragic that the opening of the inquest into the death of Dr Dr Hoosen Mia Haffejee is only the third of its kind in a democratic South Africa. This follows the reopening of the inquest of my beloved uncle, comrade Ahmed Timol, following the inquest into the death of trade unionist Dr Neil Aggett in 2021.
“The overwhelming evidence that would be presented by the Haffejee counsel before the Honourable Judge ZP Nkosi will clearly demonstrate that comrade Haffejee did not commit suicide but he was brutally killed in police detention. And more importantly, to reverse the 1978 findings of suicide to that of being murdered in police detention,” Cajee said.
The inquest will resume at 10am in the same court.