Rev Frank Chikane Picture: Antoine de Ras/African News Agency (ANA)
Rev Frank Chikane Picture: Antoine de Ras/African News Agency (ANA)

Neil Aggett inquest: Chikane recounts detention torture

By Siviwe feketha Time of article published Jan 31, 2020

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Johannesburg - Former trade unionist Dr Neil Aggett looked weak and distressed while being walked by police through the corridors of John Vorster Square police station.

This was the assertion of former anti-apartheid activist Reverend Frank Chikane when he recounted the last time he saw his fellow activist.

Chikane shared his testimony on Thursday at the South Gauteng High Court during the inquest into the death of Aggett, who was found hanging in his cell at the infamous station, now known as Johannesburg Central police station.

A previous inquest conducted shortly after Aggett’s death found no evidence of foul play and unilaterally ruled that the activist had died by suicide despite his complaints that he had been tortured by police shortly before he died.

Chikane said Aggett’s poor physical state showed that he had been subjected to extreme torture.

“That is the last picture I have of him and it is not a good picture to talk about. I had seen him walking with the police before, normal and fit, but when he appeared from that corridor - because you hear sounds when you are in the cell - and then I saw him coming with the police, struggling to walk and bending forward almost like he was not able to pick up his body,” Chikane said.

Chikane detailed how the apartheid security police branch used harsh methods of interrogation to obtain information out of detainees, to the point that some died in custody.

“We were tortured thoroughly at John Vorster. That is the detention ­centre where they used third-degree methods, which means there were no rules. They trampled on you and did anything they could do to you. About three people died during that detention.” He said he was also tortured, to the extent that when he was released seven days later he was completely disorientated.

“I couldn’t even say where my home was.”

Chikane maintained that the severe techniques used during his second detention included beatings, being chained against a heater and being forced to stand up for 48 hours while the security police changed shifts watching over him.

“I went through six weeks of torture. I would say every method that you could think of (was effected, such as) direct assault, chaining me in contorted positions, like chaining you against your feet and the chair (where) for many hours you stay in that position. They hung me head down until I lost consciousness,” he said.

Aggett is the second victim among those who died in police custody during apartheid to have an inquest into his death reopened.

In 2017 an inquest into the death of Ahmed Timol was reviewed. Several police personnel have since been charged, despite the previous apartheid inquest ruling that he had voluntarily jumped from the 10th floor at John Vorster in 1971.

Chikane highlighted that the security police had admitted to him that they pushed Timol out of the window when they were threatening him.

“I was taken to a window on the 10th floor where I was told this is where they took out Timol, and that they were going to throw me out of that window if I didn’t talk.

“I didn’t tell them what they wanted and they actually put me on the window as if they were throwing me out, but brought me back again,” he said.

The inquest continues.

Political Bureau

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