TO: All Media
ATT: News Editors, Human Rights Reporters
For immediate release
Thursday, 13 October 2022
Closing Arguments in the Reopened Dr Hoosen Haffejee Inquest to take place on 18 and 19 October 2022
Press Release by the Foundation for Human Rights and Anwar Jessop Attorneys
The re-opened inquest into the death of Dr Hoosen Haffejee will resume on 18 and 19 October 2022 at 10.00 a.m. at the Pietermaritzburg High Court to hear closing arguments by the parties. The hearing will proceed in the Pietermaritzburg High Court before Judge Zaba Nkosi and will be livestreamed by the Foundation for Human Rights via its YouTube channel.
Haffejee, a dentist at the King George V Hospital in Asherville, Durban, was detained by Security Branch captains James Taylor and Piet du Toit and several other operatives at about 8am on August 2, 1977. Haffejee had been under surveillance for several months before his detention. He was found dead in his cell at 4am the next day. The 26-year-old was found hanged with his trousers, from the bars of the police cell where he had been held after hours of interrogation on 3 August 1977.
At the initial inquest in 1978, Taylor and Du Toit denied torturing Haffejee during interrogation, and the state pathologist’s report found his death consistent with hanging, despite the 60 wounds on his body. Magistrate Trevor Blunden ruled that Haffejee had committed suicide by hanging, and that the injuries on his body were not connected to his death.
Blunden “accepted the police version without question, or even raising the slightest concern or apprehension about its improbabilities,” said Advocate Howard Varney, counsel for the Haffejee family during his opening statement. Varney said Blunden was a “pliant magistrate” who was willing to “accommodate” Taylor and Du Toit and was “willing to avert his gaze from logic and the facts”.
In 1997 a former Security Branch officer, Mohun Deva Gopal, approached the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in a failed bid to get amnesty, arising from assaults he witnessed being perpetrated on Haffejee by three superior officers — Captain Piet du Toit, Capt Jimmy Taylor and Warrant Officer Shrewds Govender. At the hearing, Gopal testified that he had been present during Haffejee’s detention and that he had witnessed Taylor and Du Toit interrogate, assault, and torture Haffejee. During the hearing, Taylor was subpoenaed, and denied all allegations made against him. Only Gopal applied for amnesty – all other police officers involved in Haffejee’s arrest and detention, including Taylor and Du Toit failed to apply for amnesty.
The case of the Hoosen Haffejee was one of several hundred cases handed over by the TRC to the National Prosecuting Authority in the late 1990’s, which, however, was swept under the carpet due to the political interference by the Executive into the work of the NPA and the police. Following the pressure from the Hoosen Haffejee family and the support of the Foundation for Human Rights and the pro-bono attorneys and counsel, in August 2019, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services formally requested the Judge President of the KwaZulu-Natal Division of the High Court to designate a judge to re-open Haffejee’s inquest.
The reopened inquest proceedings took place between 16 August and 17 September 2021. Haffejee’s sister Sarah Lall and Haffejee’s brother Ismail Haffejee, UNISA emeritus Professor Raymond Suttner, Yunus Shaik and many other witnesses testified that the spectre of torture at the hands of the Security Branch Police is still the lived experience of former detainees and their families.
The former girlfriend of the anti-apartheid activist, Mathee Benjamin informed the Pietermaritzburg High Court of the role she played in the events leading up to his arrest and death in police custody. She admitted that she was a police informer even before she met Haffejee and she sold out Haffejee.
At the reopened inquest into Haffejee’s death, former security branch officer Mohun Gopal described the brutal assaults on a near naked Haffejee involving slaps, kicks, torture that included Haffejee’s head being shoved into a toilet and being told to drink the water.
The court also heard from Dr Steve Naidoo, a forensic pathologist, briefed by the family and the Foundation, who concluded that Haffejee’s death was due to ligature strangulation. Based on medical evidence he further 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 Shakeera Holland, another forensic pathologist, confirmed corroboration with evidence led by Dr Steve Naidoo.
An aeronautical engineering expert, Mr Thivash Moodley, gave detailed evidence before the reopened inquest into Dr Haffejee’s death on how improbable it was for the dentist to commit suicide in the position that his body was found. In the video re-enactment provided to the court, Moodley said that Haffejee’s body was hanging from the lowest bar of the grille door and a mere 400mm from the ground although Haffejee was 1,75m in height. “In this situation it created the impression that the lowest bar and that’s what gave us also some sort of inclination to believe that if a third person was involved it could be very easy to use the lowest bar, strangulate the person, tie them to the lowest bar and then close the door behind them,” Moodley said.
The reopened inquest has been a very challenging and an emotional roller coaster for the family who waited more than 40 years to see some justice done.
For more information contact:
To access the full record from the inquest proceedings access: https://unfinishedtrc.co.za/hoosen-haffejee/#1631621270858-899246ce-cc28
For media enquiries contact:
Lindiwe Sithole, Media and Communication Officer, FHR at firstname.lastname@example.org and 082 634 7154
For more information contact:
Anwar Suleman Jessop Attorney: Anwar Jessop: email@example.com ;
For more information on the “Unfinished Business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission” Programme that is run by the Foundation for Human Rights consult our website: https://unfinishedtrc.co.za .
Foundation for Human Rights
The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) is a nonprofit human rights organization that works to protect and promote human rights in South Africa. The FHR was established in 1996 to address the historical legacy of apartheid, and to promote and advance transformation and human rights based on the new constitution. The FHR implements four main human rights programs: the Constitutional Awareness and Education Programme, the Gender Based Violence Programme, the Unfinished Business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Programme, and the Community-Advice Offices Programme. Over the last two decades, the FHR has played a major role in promoting the rights of victims of apartheid crimes through supporting the recommendations of the TRC, including justice and account- ability for past crimes, reparations, and access to the TRC archives.