Johannesburg - ANC stalwart and former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan has detailed how she almost committed suicide as she was repeatedly assaulted and tormented with impunity by members of the apartheid security police branch while in detention in 1982.
Hogan was giving testimony on Wednesday at the inquest into the death of fellow former anti-apartheid activist and unionist, Dr Neil Aggett. The inquest is under way at the South Gauteng High Court in Joburg.
Aggett was found hanging in his cell at the John Vorster Square Police Station (now known as Johannesburg Central Police Station) and foul play was ruled out in his death, as the previous inquest had concluded that the cause of his death was suicide, despite his complaints that he had been tortured by police before he died.
Aggett’s arrest and subsequent 70-day detention came after his name was found by the police on a document Hogan had compiled, dubbed “Close Comrades”.
Hogan recounted her grim experience and told Judge Motsamai Makume how police officers who tormented her at the same police station where Aggett was detained, were acquitted even though she laid criminal charges against them and there was compelling evidence to back up the charges.
“The district sergeant gave evidence at that trial and said in his opinion I had been assaulted. I showed all kinds of anomalies. They (police) said that the reasons for my bruising were that I had fallen against the windowsill in my cell. When we went on an inspection in loco, I showed the magistrate that I was too short to even reach the windows, yet the magistrate (still) found them not guilty,” Hogan said.
Hogan, who was married to the late political activist Ahmed Kathrada, said the torture meted out to her included being handcuffed to a chair, slapped in the face repeatedly and threatened with electrocution while being ordered to give information that she did not have.
Hogan further detailed how the punishment, which happened daily, continued to a point where she had attempted to take her own life while in custody.
“I managed to steal some tablets that had been prescribed for bruising. I was desperate. I wanted to kill myself and saw no way of making it out of that situation, and I knew many people had died in detention after being tortured very badly. I knew what they were capable of.”
She maintained that other attempts at taking her own life included sharpening the end of her toothbrush.
“I just wanted to die,” she said.
The reopening of the Aggett Inquest was instructed by Justice Minister Ronald Lamola last year, after years of efforts to attain justice by his family.