The Closing Arguments in the Reopened Inquest into the Death in Detention of Dr Hoosen Mia Haffejee conclude in the Pietermaritzburg High Court
“We pay tribute to Dr Hoosen Haffejee himself. He laid down his life for our freedom and democracy. He endured his final journey to save his comrades, not himself.”
[Advocate Howard Varney, Closing Arguments on behalf of the Haffejee family]
On 18 and 19 October 2022 the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) attended the closing arguments at the Pietermaritzburg High Court in the reopened inquest into the death of Dr Hoosen Haffejee in August 1977. In attendance was Haffejee’s only sister, Sarah Bibi Lall, her husband Ahmed Majam, and Yusuf Bhamjee, the late Hanef Bhamjee’s brother. Haffejee’s only surviving brother Ismail Haffejee could not attend due to ill health.
The closing arguments on behalf of the Haffejee family were presented by Advocate Howard Varney who was supported by Advocate Zak Suleman. Advocate Varney submitted that the findings by magistrate Blunden in the first inquest held in March 1978 that Haffejee had committed suicide, should be overturned.
“We submit that magistrate Bulden was hopelessly bias in the way he conducted himself during the inquest proceedings… Magistrate Bulden conducted himself in a manner that was predisposed to a particular result, namely the exoneration of the police…”, Advocate Varney said.
The Haffejee family argued that the evidence presented during the reopened inquests proves that Dr Haffejee could not commit suicide but that he was brutally tortured and either died as a result of the injuries sustained during the interrogation or was killed by the Security Branch to cover the brutal torture.
In making the submission, Advocate Varney referred to testimonies of former political detainees including Kambadasen Subramony “Coastal” Govender, Mohammad Timol, Raymond Suttner and Yunis Shaik, which highlighted that the modus operandi of the Security Branch included brutal torture and other ill-treatment. It was further corroborated by the only surviving member of the team that arrested and interrogated Haffejee, Mohun Gopal. The two Security Branch members who were primarily responsible for the interrogation of Haffejee, James Taylor and Petrus Du Toit, passed away before the reopened inquest proceedings commenced.
Advocate Varney also discussed evidence led by experts including the independent pathology experts in the first inquest; and the evidence by aeronautical engineer Tivash Moodley, retired Brigadier Clifford Marion (FHR Private Investigator), Dr Steven Naidoo and Dr Shakeera Holland, forensic pathologists, in the reopened inquest. In particular, Dr Steven Naidoo in the reopened inquest found that Haffejee sustained serious injuries consistent with torture and that his death was due to ligature strangulation.
“Injuries inflicted on Haffejee …. were caused by significant forces. These injuries would have been physically incapacitating, causing Haffejee to be in noticeable pain and in marked distress until his demise,” Dr Naidoo found.
Advocate Varney further submitted that on medical evidence Dr Naidoo concluded that Haffejee’s death occurred between 10 pm and midnight on 2 August 1977 putting him squarely in the hands of the police at the time of his death. Dr Holland corroborated this finding by Dr Naidoo.
Based on the new evidence presented at the inquest, the family submitted that the death of Dr Haffejee was a result of foul play by members of the Security Branch. In addition, although the Haffejee family had misgivings regarding Gopal’s evidence, his account of the torture of Haffejee was consistent with medical evidence.
Advocate Varney indicated that the family is seeking charges of murder by common purpose and or perjury against Gopal. The family also seeks charges of perjury against Veeragululu Naidoo, Derek Naude, Johannes Meyer and Matheevathinee Benjamin.
With respect to Gopal, this is on the basis that Gopal by his own admission, was part of the team that interrogated Haffejee and assisted with guarding him to prevent him from escaping and ensuring that he was stripped and dressed as required, only leaving the interrogation room for a brief period. Gopal was aware that Haffejee’s torture by the Security Branch would most likely result in his death.
Gopal’s counsel, Advocate Sushila Keshav, submitted that he should not be charged because he fully cooperated with the inquest Court, and revealed the names of those responsible for Haffejee’s death both at the reopened inquest and before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997. Advocate Kershav also submitted that Gopal had been given the assurance that he would be granted the status of a state witness and that he would not be charged if he agreed to testify in the reopened inquest, in line with section 204 of the Criminal Procedure Act.
In response, Advocate Varney argued that Advocate Kershav’s submission should be disregarded as Gopal did not make a formal application to the inquest Court to be granted the status of a state witness. The State Prosecutor, Advocate Dernado Mcdonald, submitted that the state is not opposing the submissions by the Haffejee family that the findings of the first inquest should be overturned. Advocate Mcdonald also explained that at the reopened inquest Gopal had legal representation and he was informed of his right not to answer questions which would incriminate him.
The proceedings concluded with Judge Nkosi indicating that he would take into account all the evidence before him and give his judgment as soon as possible.