On February 5, 1982, Dr Neil Aggett was found hanged in his cell after being detained without trial and interrogated at John Vorster Square police station for 70 days. File picture: Wesley Fester
On February 5, 1982, Dr Neil Aggett was found hanged in his cell after being detained without trial and interrogated at John Vorster Square police station for 70 days. File picture: Wesley Fester

Bring apartheid Security Branch criminals to book

By EDITORIAL OPINION Time of article published Feb 2, 2020

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Disturbing testimony heard at the inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist and unionist Dr Neil Aggett has once more shone a spotlight on the nefarious activities of the Security Branch, who committed crimes furtherance of the ideals of apartheid.

What was presented before the inquest held at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg this week has also highlighted the importance of truth and justice for the families of the victims.

Aggett died while being interrogated by police at the notorious John Vorster Square, now Johannesburg Central police station, in 1982 at the age of 28. He was found hanging in his cell.

An inquest conducted at the time found there was no foul play, and concluded he had committed suicide. Aggett’s family and comrades rejected the conclusions and insisted he had been tortured by the police before his death.

One of the inquest’s star witnesses, Reverend Frank Chikane, who was also a director-general in the Presidency during Thabo Mbeki’s tenure, testified that he did not believe Aggett had committed suicide. Instead, Chikane said Aggett resembled a walking dead man a week before his death. He had looked weak and distressed and struggled to walk.

What the inquest heard was not an isolated incident. Last year, an inquest into the death of another anti-apartheid activist, Ahmed Timol, concluded that retired Security Branch policeman Joao Rodrigues would have to answer to the murder charges against him. Timol died in 1971 after allegedly falling from the 10th floor of the same police station where he had been under detention.

In another case, former Umkhonto we Sizwe operative Nokuthula Simelane was declared dead by the North Gauteng High Court last year after her family spent 36 years searching for her. She was abducted by the Special Branch at the Carlton Centre in Johannesburg in September, 1983.

These cases and others are a rallying call for justice for the victims of the crimes committed by criminals who used apartheid as a shield. They should be brought to book. In fact, that’s what the democratic government was to have done after taking over in 1994.

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