Durban - A former university friend of late apartheid activist Dr Hoosen Haffejee on Wednesday told an inquest into his death that students and staff at the Government Dental College and Hospital Nagpur in India, described him as a man with a great heart and mind who fought the good fight.
Dr Vinay Hazarey, one of India’s most renowned dental surgeons, told Judge ZP Nkosi of the Pietermaritzburg High Court that his recollections of Haffejee were of his courage and bravery, which he had shown in his various leadership roles while at the Dental College and Hospital Nagpur.
He said he had witnessed Haffejee’s courage first hand during a student strike, which resulted from dental students not having a hostel at the time. As part of his student union activities, Haffejee led the strike.
“This continued for almost a month. Dr Haffejee used to tell us not to lose hope. We used to represent the students and we were requesting authorities for a separate dental hostel, so he told us not to lose hope and he was not afraid of any vindictive action against the students or himself during the strike. We succeeded in getting the dental hostel. That is my personal experience with Dr Haffejee. He used to say, ‘Dr Hazarey, don’t lose hope’ and to be courageous like him,” Hazarey said.
The 68-year-old Hazarey, who holds a Master’s degree in Dental Surgery in Oral Pathology, said he first met Haffejee in 1971 and that Haffejee was a class behind him.
Hazarey said Haffejee, who had stayed at the dental college until 1976, had also been the college’s cultural secretary and president of the student union.
He said he had learnt of Haffejee’s death through a newspaper around August 4 or 5, 1977, while studying for his Master’s degree.
“I still remember the title which said that Dr Haffejee was the 22nd person to die in custody and we were all shattered by reading that news,” Hazarey said.
He pointed out that no one in the college community believed that Haffejee had committed suicide.
“I was in a deep shock and surprised at how a dynamic person like Dr Haffejee can commit suicide. It was a tremendous disbelief. Me and none of my friends accepted the suicide theory,” Hazarey said.
He also said studying the photographs of Haffejee’s body had been horrifying and that those wounds were still fresh in his mind.
“I could not believe that there were almost 50 to 60 wounds in another picture and I especially remember that there were certain blows and bruises on the right side of the face of Dr Haffejee’s body. It was horrifying. I still have not forgotten that horrifying evidence of the brutality of the apartheid police,” Hazarey said.
He said Haffejee was a very good student who had cleared all the final subjects at the first attempt.
“He was a very loving person, very courageous, and a very good leader to guide the students and he used to make us happy during cultural events and in sports also,” he said.