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Inspection in loco of Haffejee death cell conducted on second day of inquest

Brighton Beach Police Station. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Brighton Beach Police Station. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Aug 19, 2021


Durban - The second day of the reopened inquest into the August 1977 death of 26-year-old Pietermaritzburg dentist Dr Hoosen Haffejee saw the legal counsel for the Haffejee family and the State conduct an inspection in loco of the Brighton Beach Police Station cell in which he died.

On Wednesday, Advocate Anwar Suleman Jessop, who forms part of the triumvirate of legal eagles, which also includes advocates Howard Varney and Zak Suleman, representing the Haffejee family at the inquest alongside the State’s evidence leader advocate Dernardo Macdonald, formed part of the inspection in loco at the police station on the Bluff.

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Jessop said that this was for one of the key witnesses, who had been present at the time when Haffejee was being interrogated and later transferred to cell number two at the police station where his body was later discovered, to point out what had transpired leading up to Haffejee’s death. The witness is scheduled to appear at the inquest for cross-examination.

Haffejee was arrested by Security Branch police members, including Lieutenant James Taylor and Captain Petrus du Toit, on the morning of August 1, 1977, while on his way to work at King George V Hospital in Sydenham, seven kilometres west of Durban.

Haffejee would be found hanged with a handkerchief and his trousers from a grille door on August 3, 1977, with the police claiming that he had committed suicide.

The police claimed that about 50 to 70 injuries on Haffejee’s body (Haffejee weighed only 49kg and had a height of 1.75m and a body mass index of 16 and was comparable to that of an average 14 year-old) were sustained as a result of him resisting arrest.

However, Jessop has argued against the idea that Haffejee committed suicide.

“I can say to you confidently, I firmly believe he was murdered considering that he had about 50 to 70 injuries around his body. He would not have been in a position to even even commit suicide.

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“That’s the reason we and the family want to make sure that we have the initial inquest in 1978 overturned, because that was a poorly constituted inquest, there was no proper investigation into his death and there were a lot of cover-ups,” Jessop said.

He added that the magistrates in those years were inclined to overlook important issues relating to the cause of death, adding that in those days it was a matter of just going through the formalities and then not placing any blame on anybody for the deaths of people who died in police detention.

Jessop said that today the inquest would hear from an expert who would detail the probabilities of Haffejee having hanged himself.

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Advocate Dernardo Macdonald, the evidence leader for the State, said that an expert who had been present during the inspection in loco to assess the possibility that Haffejee committed suicide would testify this morning.

Although it has been 44 years since Haffejee’s body was found hanging in a cell at the Brighton Beach police station, following the inspection in loco Macdonald described the cell as a cold, dark, concrete cell in which the lights were not working.

“We had a look at the cell door, the position within which the deceased lay with his pants strung around his neck. We did a re-enactment to see how many times he would turn, how difficult it was to do various things such as tying the handkerchief that was tied to the pants and the bar,” Macdonald said.

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He said they had also visited the police to determine where the interrogation room might have been.

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