Pretoria - While the criminal trial of former apartheid policeman João Rodrigues has still not proceeded more than three years after he was formally charged for the death of Ahmed Timol, the reopened inquest into the death of Dr Hoosen Mia Haffejee is due to start today.
The Pietermaritzburg High Court is set to hear evidence on how Haffejee, a 26-year-old dentist who died in 1977, allegedly also met his untimely demise at the hands of the former notorious Special Branch police.
Haffejee was driving to work on August 2 when he was abducted and arrested by the police. He was taken to the Brighton police station and within 20 hours he was dead.
It was alleged that he had hanged himself. He was the 45th detainee to have died while in police detention.
Magistrate Trevor Blunden presided over inquest proceedings in 1978.
Police officers James Taylor and PL Du Toit, who were involved in his arrest, have denied torturing and/or killing Haffejee.
They claimed that the injuries he sustained were due to a scuffle that had ensued when he refused to enter the car during his arrest.
The State pathologist had found the cause of death consistent with hanging.
In Timol’s case, following his death in October 1971, it was found during the inquest at the time that he had jumped out of a window on the 10th storey of the then-John Vorster Square in Joburg.
Judge Mothle, however, during the reopened inquest, found that he was murdered and recommended that apartheid-era police, including Rodrigues, should face criminal charges.
The Haffejee family, following the inquest verdict in the 1970s, commissioned their own pathologist, who noted several factors that were inconsistent with hanging by suicide and the cause of death appeared to be suffocation.
Haffejee’s neck was twisted at a strange angle; he was found in a seated position, from which it was almost impossible to hang oneself; he was found hanging from the lower third of the cell door, said to be unlikely in the case of suicide.
There were also more than 60 wounds on his body, including the removal of several pieces of skin.
Haffejee’s brother Yusuf testified to the TRC hearings in Durban in 1996, asking the commission to assist the family in their quest for justice.
Former Security Branch officer Mohun Gopal testified witnessing Taylor and Du Toit interrogate, assault and torture Haffejee. He believed that the 1978 inquest evidence had been deliberately fabricated. The TRC subpoenaed Taylor, who denied all allegations against him. Neither Taylor, who died in 2019, nor any of the other officers involved in the interrogation applied for amnesty.
The Haffejee family made representation to the national director of public prosecutions in January 2015 to reopen the inquest.
They felt that the reopening of the Timol inquest in 2017 gave all the families of apartheid-era victims a glimmer of hope that they too would get answers on how their loved ones were allegedly murdered by the security police.
Rodrigues has meanwhile exhausted most of his legal remedies not to face prosecution. He is now using his last lifeline, as he has turned to the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal against the SCA’s refusal for a stay of prosecution.
Rodrigues is due back in the Johannesburg High Court on September 30.