Inquiry into activists’ deaths brings hope to families

By Mervyn Naidoo Time of article published Nov 6, 2016

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Durban - For nearly 40 years Pietermaritzburg siblings Sarah and Ismail Haffejee wanted to know how their brother Hoosen, believed to be an anti-apartheid activist, died.

Now that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has decided to reopen a similar case, it has given them hope.

Hoosen Mia 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.

At the time, the State announced that Haffejee had hanged himself in a police cell, a version the family could not believe.

So when the NPA announced they would reopen investigations into the October 1971 death of Roodepoort teacher, SACP member and Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) cadre, Ahmed Timol, the siblings’ hopes for answers were raised.

A court had concluded that Timol, who had been in the custody of security branch policemen, leapt to his death from the 10th floor of Joburg’s John Vorster Square police station.

Luvuyo Mfaku, spokesman for the NPA , said it had asked the Hawks to reopen the investigation into Timol’s death following representations from his family.

“Once a judge has been appointed, the NPA will assign a prosecutor to lead evidence during the inquest proceedings,” said Mfaku.

Timol’s comrades and family have never accepted he took his own life.

Haffejee’s brother Ismail, 73, said, “We also hope that our brother’s death will be investigated.”

Puzzled why police had initially arrested and tortured Hoosen, who had never confirmed having an allegiance to any political party, the family moved his body to Pietermaritzburg.

They found it odd that Hoosen had been found in a seated position, against the cell’s grille, with his pants wrapped tightly around his neck. His body was also found with numerous bruises and injuries.

“It is virtually impossible to hang from that position,” Ismail suggested.

The family commissioned Dr David Hobson Biggs to perform a post mortem. In his report, Biggs wrote: “I left the examination with many questions I could not answer.

“I observed that death had been caused by a tight constricting band around the neck. It appeared to be death by suffocation rather than a sudden arterial blockage.”

Biggs also found strange incisions and removal of pieces of skin from Haffejee’s body.

Ismail said his brother, Yusuf, had attended Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in Durban, but got no closer to truth.

“Two policemen admitted they had interrogated my brother but claimed that he was alive when they had finished questioning Hoosen,” said Ismail.

Similarly, the 1996 TRC hearings had not helped Timol’s family’s quest for justice.

His nephew, Imtiaz Cajee, who has tried to uncover the truth about his uncle’s death, said the policemen who arrested Timol had not been subpoenaed to testify at the hearings.

“My grandmother testified and reopened old wounds with the belief that the truth would emerge. A golden opportunity was lost,” Cajee said.

With the help from the Foundation for Human Rights, and the support of veteran advocate George Bizos, Cajee said they begged the NPA to review their stance on the matter.

“We were able to convince the NPA to reopen the case because of an affidavit we obtained from Dr Salim Essop, who was arrested along with Timol and spoke about the torture they had suffered.

“Our first priority is to have the previous findings reversed to state that Ahmed Timol never committed suicide but was murdered by police,” Cajee said.

He said the NPA’s decision was a significant milestone.

“We have been waiting for justice.”

The death of former Durban activist and journalist Nat Nakasa is another that has been shrouded in mystery.

Nakasa was living in the US when it was widely reported that he had committed suicide by jumping from a high-rise building in New York. His family believe something sinister caused his death.

His nephew Sipho Masondo said they wouldn’t ask the NPA to investigate. “We feel it is a lost cause simply because there are people who would have assisted but who have since passed on,” Masondo said.

He said since reconciliation after the demise of apartheid, the family would forgive anybody who may have caused the death.

Nat Nakasa’s family have made peace with not knowing what led to the death of the former Durban journalist, who died while in exile in the US.

Sunday Tribune

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