‘Apartheid cops must tell of Neil Aggett’s death’
Johannesburg - Former anti-apartheid activist and academic Professor Firoz Cachalia has called for the apartheid security police who interrogated his fellow activist, Dr Neil Aggett, to be held fully responsible for his death in 1982.
Cachalia took the stand on Tuesday at the inquest inquiry into the death of Aggett. The inquest is under way until next month at the South Gauteng High Court in Joburg.
The medical doctor’s body was found hanging in his cell at the John Vorster Square police station after severe torture. A previous inquiry declared his death a suicide with no foul play on the part of the police.
“He died because of the treatment he got at the hands of the security police. They are responsible for his death,” Cachalia said.
Cachalia, Aggett and a number of other activists’ arrests came after one of ANC stalwart and former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan’s documents, named the “Close Comrades” list, was intercepted by the security police, leading to her being charged.
Cachalia recalled that he first met a distressed Aggett while they were both in detention at the police station the day before he died.
“He struck me as a very gentle person but he seemed to have taken a lot of strain and I worried about him, actually. I also knew what I was experiencing in detention and I was struck by the sense that he was in a lot of trouble,” Cachalia said.
He said one of the detainees, Jabu Ngwenya, had come down the corridor to his cell and told him Aggett was dead and quickly left – saying it did not surprise him as he could see Aggett was abused.
“You can see when someone is depressed and you can see when someone is full of fear, particularly when you have the same feelings.”
Cachalia said while it could have been plausible that Aggett had killed himself, given how he was visibly battling with torture, it was likely that he was killed by the security police as their techniques were deadly and included severe beatings and waterboarding.
“I certainly felt like I am dying. “I lost consciousness, so they take you to a point and then they stop.
“Physiologically, I don’t know… but experientially I can say that is possible. I don’t think they wanted to kill him because they wanted a trial so they killed him and covered it up,” he said.
The inquiry heard from the National Prosecuting Authority’s Jabulani Mlotshwa that a tie was among the items found in Aggett’s cell during an inventory inspection after his death, despite ties being prohibited as it was heard that detainees could hang themselves with ties. Cachalia said the discovery of the tie despite the rigour of the security was shocking.