Cosatu and Fawu (Food and Allied Workers Union) members protest outside Johannesburg Central police station in 2014, demanding that the investigation into the death of Neil Aggett be reopened.  File picture: Wesley Fester/ANA Archives
Cosatu and Fawu (Food and Allied Workers Union) members protest outside Johannesburg Central police station in 2014, demanding that the investigation into the death of Neil Aggett be reopened. File picture: Wesley Fester/ANA Archives

Inquest into Neil Aggett's 'suicide' in detention gets under way

By Sihle Mavuso and IOL Time of article published Jan 20, 2020

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Cape Town - Almost 40 years after he died in police custody, the inquest into anti-apartheid doctor and trade unionist Neil Aggett’s death will be reopened today.

The Aggett family may finally receive some justice, but the policemen who were allegedly responsible have died.

In the late 1990s the TRC heard a 1982 inquest into the death of Aggett, presided over by magistrate Pieter Kotze, concluded that no one was to blame for his death. This was in contrast to the evidence presented by the Aggett family’s lawyers showing “similar fact” of torture from other detainees. The “no one to blame” verdict was later overturned by the TRC. 

Major Arthur Benoni Cronwright and Lieutenant Stephen Whitehead were held directly responsible by the TRC for “the mental and physical condition of Dr Aggett which led him to take his own life”.

The inquest into Aggett’s 1982 death in detention will finally be reopened at the Johannesburg High Court as activists and family members look to overturn the original finding that he committed suicide.

Aggett, a doctor and organiser for the Food and Canning Workers’ Union, was found hanged with a scarf in his cell at Johannesburg’s infamous John Vorster Square on February 5 1982 after he was arrested the previous year and spent 70 days in detention. He was 28 years old.

Aggett's sister, Jill Burger, in an interview with The Guardian in 2013 spoke about family’s anguish regarding the unresolved matter and said on his deathbed, their father Aubrey, was angry the matter was not resolved.

“I was with my dad on the day he died and he said: ‘I wish we could get those bastards’. That was his last thought,” Burger said.

IOL

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