The re-opened inquest into the death of Dr Hoosen Mia Haffejee is scheduled to commence at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Monday.
Haffejee, a dentist working at King Dinuzulu (formerly George) Hospital in Sydenham, died while in the custody of apartheid-era security branch policemen, at the Brighton Beach Police Station, in August 1977.
It was alleged that Haffejee hung himself with his trousers from a grille door.
In 1978 police officers denied torturing Haffejee with the state pathologist finding that the cause of death was consistent with hanging.
His family however refuted these claims and commissioned their own pathologist, Dr David Hobson Biggs to conduct an investigation. His findings were as follows: “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”.
Despite the contradictory findings of the pathologists, the Court ruled that Haffejee had committed suicide.
For almost 40 years, his family have been waiting for answers as to what happened to Haffejee. The family made representations to the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) in January 2015 to reopen the inquest. Former Minister of Justice, Adv TM Masutha, approved the reopening on 18 September 2018.
His sister, Sara said the reopening of the inquest has given all the families of apartheid-era victims a glimmer of hope that they would get answers on how their loved ones were murdered by the security police. “Many other families continued to live without answers about the deaths of their loved ones in detention. While we are very pleased for the reopening of the inquest into our brother’s death, the families of others, such as Nokuthula Simelane and Nicodemus Kgoathe, continue to live with their pain.”