Haffejee’s cousin, Yunis Shaik, gives moving testimony of apartheid-era torture

Dr Hoosen Haffejee. Picture: Supplied

Dr Hoosen Haffejee. Picture: Supplied

Published Sep 3, 2021


Johannesburg - Yunis Shaik, the cousin of the late Dr Hoosen Haffejee, on Thursday gave moving testimony at an inquest probing the circumstances surrounding the death of the 26-year-old Pietermaritzburg dentist.

Haffejee was found hanging in his cell at the Brighton Beach Police Station in the early hours of the morning on August 3, 1977.

Shaik, an attorney by training and a trade unionist who later became a businessman, told Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Zaba Nkosi that Haffejee was his cousin by virtue of their fathers being brothers.

He said his father’s brother, Goolam Subedar, had inducted him and Haffejee into politics.

Shaik also revealed that Haffejee was a combatant and that the Security Branch police officers would have been brutal in their bid to obtain information from him.

Shaik told Judge Nkosi that his cousin, along with his other cousin Shaida, had mentored him and his brothers, particularly Moe Shaik.

He indicated that learning that Haffejee had been killed while in detention was heartbreaking.

Shaik himself was arrested by Security Branch police and detained at the Brighton Beach Police Station in March 1980 - an experience he related before the court in detailed testimony.

He described the methods used by the Security Branch police officers to extract information from political detainees as a “deadly game of life and death”.

“It is the most dangerous form of torture when you dice with death and use that method. If it is mismanaged by the officer holding you and the officer striking you, you are unable to breathe,” Shaik said.

Shaik also highlighted how he had to endure endless assaults, including being punched, elbowed, kneed in his stomach, while the sides of his stomach where the kidneys are located, were also mercilessly battered.

“It’s being assaulted by a mob, it’s a mob,” Shaik told Judge Nkosi.

An emotional Shaik said “I died” when describing the impact of the brutal torture meted out to him while he leaned over the table in the interrogation room.

“The position forces you to struggle for breath, so you’re in a battle where you’ve got to try and suck air and you’ve got to try and resist the pain that’s inflicted on you at that moment, and you’ve got to keep your wits about you and answer the question. Sometimes you forget your name.”

“It becomes all so disorientating under such extreme circumstances; the idea is to force an answer, extract the information, unfiltered, unmitigated, so that you confess whatever information they seek,” Shaik said.

Shaik was overcome by emotion as he recalled the sadistic torture methods applied on him.

Attorney for the Haffejee family advocate Howard Varney had to take over and read from Shaik’s statement, saying that he was brutally violated and an instrument was inserted into his anus and pushed into its far recesses.

"In a sense I was protected by those who died before me. The way they died and the public outcry created conditions a little safer for us. Beyond his death, Steve Biko's, the Cradock 4's and others, there was public outcry against political detainees.

"His death (Haffejee’s) in many ways saved me and gave me, my brothers and comrades Rajesh Maharaj, Shirish Soni and so many of us the will to go on. We live because of him, and for that we are eternally grateful for them. And of course it was horrific to sit in his own cell where he died and walk in his footsteps, and in some way also an honour," Shaik said.

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