Neil Aggett inquest: Anger over missing police files
Johannesburg - As the inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist and trade unionist Dr Neil Aggett started on Monday, the legal team representing his family has been angered by the fact that the files of the police officers implicated in his death are nowhere to be found.
Aggett died in 1982 while in police custody at John Vorster Square police station. At the time, he had been detained for 70 days and had initially complained of being tortured by members of the security branch. Despite his complaint, a previous inquiry ruled that the cause of his death was suicide.
But his family have relentlessly pursued the case and have since made numerous pleas for it to be reviewed.
Judge Motsamai Makume of the South Gauteng High Court began the inquest proceedings Monday, with the focus being on 24 former apartheid officers.
Efforts to track down some of the policemen central in the operations at John Vorster Square have proven unsuccessful while other former police have died.
Representing Aggett’s family, advocate Howard Varney told the court that the SAPS had to provide details concerning the files of the security branch members.
“It’s a little disturbing that the majority of these police files are missing, and we think it may be necessary to call somebody from the relevant police department. The files include complete records of their careers as police officers, and the cases they were involved in. And, importantly, any complaints made against them - sometimes complaints of assault or criminal charges,” Varney said.
He maintained while the inquest had been re-opened at the behest of Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, who instructed the Gauteng Division to review the case, it, however, had been a long and lonely journey for the Aggett family.
The National Prosecuting Authority’s lead prosecutor, Jabulani Mlotshwa, said the state would demonstrate how atrocities (from the past) were covered up with the assistance of government officials and those within the justice system.
Warrant Officer Frank Kgamanyane, who has been tasked with investigating the Aggett matter, told the inquest inquiry that in the course of his investigation he had met Paul Erasmus, a former security branch police officer, who handed him what is thought to be evidence that he secretly recorded while in session with one of Neil Aggett’s tormentors.
“Erasmus alleges that he might have recorded the conversation with one of the chief interrogators, Lieutenant (Steve) Whitehead, and that it might yield valuable evidence regarding Dr Aggett,” Kgamanyane said.
Whitehead, who was accused of having tortured Aggett before his death, died of cancer last May.