Anti-apartheid activist and trade unionist Dr Neil Aggett. Picture: Wesley Fester/ANA Archives
Anti-apartheid activist and trade unionist Dr Neil Aggett. Picture: Wesley Fester/ANA Archives

Neil Aggett inquest: Credibility of apartheid justice system under scrutiny

By Siviwe Feketha Time of article published Jan 20, 2020

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Johannesburg - The credibility of the apartheid justice system has come under sharp focus at the beginning of the inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist and trade unionist Dr Neil Aggett, which kicked off at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Monday.

Despite revelations that Aggett, a medical doctor by profession, was tortured by apartheid police before he died in custody in 1982 at the John Vorster police station, an inquest into his death found no foul play.

His body was found hanging in his cell, but the Truth and Reconciliation Commission refused to give the police amnesty for his death, which opened doors for his family to request the reopening of the inquest.

The National Prosecuting Authority’s Jabulani Mlotshwa said the prosecuting body would use the proceedings to demonstrate allegations that Aggett had hanged himself lacked credibility.

Mlosthwa said the evidence that the State would present during the inquest would focus on the horrifying practices of torture in detention during apartheid SA.

“What we will endeavour to show is the fundamental aim of government policy in the apartheid SA that was meant to maintain under all circumstances the white political supremacy and the preservation of the white social and economic privilege. This was done by the introduction of security laws which were introduced as early as 1948,” Mlotshwa said.

Mlostshwa said the State would demonstrate how any resistance to the oppressive government was obliterated by any means, lawful and unlawful, and how atrocities were covered up with the assistance of functionaries in government and the justice system.

“What we will also endeavour to show is the tendency of some prosecutors, doctors and even judicial officers to enable the unlawful and murderous actions of the special branch of the SAP. What we will attempt to show is that if Dr Neil Aggett indeed took his own life. 

"There was no need for the special branch to go to the extremes that they did to look for evidence that Dr Aggett, in their words, was a mental case and a suicide waiting to happen,” he said.

He said 67 known detainees had died while in the custody of the secret police.

“Those are the ones which we know of. The grim reality is that the count was probably higher,” he said.

Representing the Aggett family, advocate Howard Varney said the truth was suppressed in the first inquest.

“It will be our submission that a massive and obvious fraud was perpetrated by the State in the 1982 inquest that demands the overturning of the original finding,” Varney said.

The inquest will continue until the end of February, with police investigators and other witnesses expected to take the stand and give evidence.

Political Bureau

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