Dr Aggett died in 1982 while in police custody at John Vorster Square police station. Picture: Wesley Fester/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Dr Aggett died in 1982 while in police custody at John Vorster Square police station. Picture: Wesley Fester/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Neil Aggett inquest: Court hears how detainees were tortured to 'brink of death'

By Siviwe Feketha Time of article published Feb 11, 2020

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Johannesburg - Former apartheid special branch policeman Paul Erasmus has testified how the security police branch deliberately brought political detainees “to the brink of death” during torture.

Erasmus was on Tuesday giving testimony at the reopened inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist and trade unionist Neil Aggett, whose body was found hanging at the notorious John Vorster Square police station in 1982.

Erasmus has previously testified that the security police were given free rein to use third degree torturing methods on political detainees, including application of electric shocks, forced exercises, deprivation of sleep and beatings which sometimes included the crushing of a detainee’s private parts – all in a bid to break the witness and extract information.

While Aggett’s death was declared a suicide by a previous inquest, his fellow detainees at the time blamed it on the security police who were torturing him.

Erasmus said the security police were trained to apply torture in a way that made it difficult to detect when detainees complained.

He said the detainees would be strangled, suffocated and subjected to waterboarding.

“This waterboarding thing was quite widely used,” he said.

He said the security police had “sweepers” who helped destroy evidence in the event that some of the security police got into trouble as a result of their actions.

“John Vorster Square had, among the security branch, a sweeper who is an elderly, seasoned detective and anybody who got into trouble for whatever reason would invariably end up in his office,” he said.

He testified that the security branch had embarked on a desperate search for information that suggested that Aggett was suicidal, including visiting his former schools after he died at the station.

Political Bureau

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