Neil Aggett inquest: 'Apartheid police wanted to deprive you of your dignity'

Former anti-apartheid activist and academic Professor Firoz Cachalia. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu/African News Agency (ANA)

Former anti-apartheid activist and academic Professor Firoz Cachalia. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 4, 2020


Johannesburg - Former anti-apartheid activist and academic Professor Firoz Cachalia has recounted how many activists battled to identify fellow comrades despite gruelling torture at the hands of apartheid security police, as they could also be tortured, jailed or killed.

Cachalia was on Tuesday taking the stand at the inquest inquiry into the 182 death of anti-apartheid activist and trade unionist Dr Neil Aggett, who was found hanging in his cell at the notorious John Vorster Square after being severely tortured.

Cachalia is joining a list of prominent witnesses who were also subjected to violence during their interrogation and who were also detained around the same time as Aggett.

He said despite the brutality of the security branch police, activist did not want to be responsible for the deaths of their comrades by outing them.

“That is very stressful because you don’t want to be responsible for anyone else’s detention,” he said.

He said apartheid cops had used every trick to wear down and weaken detainee during their interrogation in order to get them to speak.

“They wanted to break you down. They wanted to humiliate you and deprive you of any sense of your own dignity so that you become a pliable, willing participant in what they sought to achieve, which was to provide them with information to charge others. You could also be charged or required to testify,” he said.

Cachalia said the apartheid cops started with the beatings even before they solicited information from the detainees as they wanted to show what they could do to them if they refused.

“The interrogation would start with a beating, with an attempted intimidation. So, they would bring you in the room, close the door and have saturation strategy, like bring in five or six cops to slap and push you around and then get you to start making a written statement,” he said.

It was through one of fellow activist and former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan’s intercepted documents, dubbed the “Close Comrades” list, that Aggett, Cachalia, Treasury’s deputy director general Ismail Momoniat  and other activists were arrested by the security branch.

Momoniat has already recounted before the inquest on Monday on Aggett had been “finished” by the security police when he last saw him leaving his cell for another interrogation the day before his death was announced.

“We are on the 1st floor to be signed out and Neil was looking bad and that was the one day I greeted him and he doesn’t greet back, not because he was being unfriendly. Neil was like in a daze, like he did not know what was happening. He was almost like a zombie, you know, and I was very bitter and I saw a big mark on his forehead. It stood out and I’ve never forgotten it, never,” Momoniat said.

Political Bureau

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