On February 5, 1982, 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)
On February 5, 1982, 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)

Apartheid cop warned over lying at Neil Aggett inquest

By Siviwe Feketha Time of article published Feb 18, 2020

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Johannesburg - Former security branch officer Nick Deetlefs could soon be one of the first apartheid police officers to be pursued for criminal prosecution in relation to the death of anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett after he was accused of lying under oath.

Deetlefs, who is among a number of ex-security branch officers accused of torturing political detainees during interrogation at the former John Vorster Square police station, took the stand and testified at the re-opened inquest into the death of Aggett.

Aggett was found hanging in his cell at the station in 1982 after being tortured.

Deetlefs said told the inquest that he was aware that political detainees were being tortured and subjected to electric shocks on the 10th floor of the station where political detainees were interrogated, and where he worked for most of his career within the police branch.

Representing the Aggett family, advocate Howard Varney opened his cross-examination by warning Deetlefs the family would “vigorously pursue a prosecution” against him only if he misled the court and lied under oath during testimony.

“I have instructions from the Aggett family. They want to set out the approach that they are taking to the police witnesses who appear before this court. If you take this court into your confidence and testify honestly, my instruction from the family are that where you are honest and assist the court to get to the truth, they will not pursue a criminal prosecution against you,” Varney said.

Deetlefs, who is also among the security cops that interrogated Aggett, said that while he was aware of mistreatment of detainees, he had never tortured one, including Aggett. “I had never assaulted any detainee during interrogation. It was against my principles,” Deetlefs said.

When pressured by Varney to name the cops who had been responsible for torture, Deetlefs said he did not know but had heard frequent screams in interrogation. He also told the inquest that he had never seen the electric shocks being used, despite insisting that they were used regularly for torture.

“I heard from the security officers that it was done there on different occasions and on different detainees. I heard a report recently that Neil Aggett had been ‘shocked’ by officer Arthur Cronwright. Until today I have never known who did that but the fact remains it was done. It was a general thing,” Deetlefs said.

He said he used psychological methods in his interrogations and not force, including asking detainees about their backgrounds to make them relax. But Varney rejected Deetlefs’ evidence as contradictory and false.

“On the probability, what you have alleged before this court that the electric shock treatment was so common, it was happening all the time and a general thing in your words, we will be submitting that your evidence that you never witnessed this and that you simply cannot tell the court who was involved in this electric shock treatment, is false.”

Anti-apartheid activist and former deputy minister for international relations and co-operation Ebrahim Ebrahim, who attended Monday’s proceedings, accused Deetlefs of having tortured him and many other key activists and of telling lies to court.

“Key activists were tortured by him and he always boasted and said he dealt with so and so and broke so and so,” he said. 

Deetlefs returns to the stand on Tuesday.

Political Bureau


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