Durban - The reopened inquest into the death in detention of Dr Hoosen Mia Haffejee got under way on Tuesday inthe Pietermaritzburg High Court where counsel for the Haffejee family has advanced their opening arguments.
Haffajee, a 26-year-old dentist, was detained by police on August 1, 1977, while on his way to work in Durban. He died in detention on August 3, 1977, with police claiming that he had committed suicide by hanging himself with his trousers from a grille door at Brighton Beach police station.
His mother Fatima Haffejee said her son had around 15 to 16 bruises on his body that did not appear to be sustained during his arrest or a desperate attempt at suicide but during detention at Brighton Beach police station.
In his opening arguments presented to High Court Judge ZP Nkosi, the lawyer for the Haffajee family, advocate Howard Varney, spoke about Fatima Haffejee’s relentless quest for justice for her son, including penning letters to the media. One of the letters to the Natal Witness in 1978, titled “My son’s death in police detention”, in which she recalled how her son had bid her farewell on the morning of Monday, August 1, 1977, as he left his Pietermaritzburg ho me and headed off to work with the promise of seeing her again on Frida. He had often came home from work on Fridays from Durban.
“He left home on Monday, August 1st, God knows what happened to him. On August 3, 1977, we heard the shocking news that he had died in police detention. I could not believe, as my child was no criminal or terrorist, he was a noble young man and a dedicated doctor, that police found him a dangerous terrorist.
“What damage had he done, who had he killed to warrant such suspicion. I knew that my son was not involved in any political activity but rather was a carefree person. Police say that he was a brave man, yes he was brave because he was honest. They also said that he was desperate, yes because he was in the lion’s den with no way of escaping or informing his family of his detention,” Varney read from the late Fatima Haffejee’s letter.
Varney relayed how Haffejee did not believe that her son had committed suicide and did believe though that not enough was being done to see justice being done.
“As a grieving mother, I cannot forget this terrible ordeal, my heart will always cry for my son,” Varney read from Haffejee’s letter.
In another 1978 letter, this time to the Rand Daily Mail, titled “A mother wakes up”, Haffejee recalled reading a letter in the same newspaper of an ordeal suffered by a man whose parents had been killed by security branch police.
Reading Haffejee’s letter, Varney said: “I don’t think I will ever get over the pain and loss I have suffered, but the ordeal has not destroyed my fighting spirit. Before my son’s death, I was an ordinary, uninformed housewife and mother. Since then, I have begun to read.
“I am now aware and very much interested in what’s happening around me. The cruel and oppressive laws of South Africa have not crushed the people of South Africa, it is in fact rearing a strong and united black group.”
Varney said that the fighting spirit of Fatima Haffejee was evident in the letters as she had even gone on to appeal to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in 1997, to put an end to her then two decades-long pain and suffering by bringing to book her son’s killers.
The inquest into Dr Hoosen Mia Haffejee continues in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.