To: All Media
ATT: News Editors, Human Rights Reporters
For Immediate Release
08 September 2023
Dr Hoosen Haffejee Re-Opened Inquest – Judgment To Be Delivered on 13 September 2023
Press Statement issued by the Foundation for Human Rights and Anwar Jessop Attorneys
On 13 September 2023 at 10:00, Judge Nkosi will hand down judgment at the Pietermaritzburg High Court in the reopened inquest into the death in detention of the Dr Hoosen Haffejee. The judgment hearing will be live-streamed via the FHR’s YouTube page at @foundationforhumanrights3675.
This year marks 46 years since Dr Haffejee’s death. He was found hanging in his cell at Brighton Beach Police Station on 3 August 1977. The apartheid police alleged he had hanged himself from a grille door at the police station with his trousers.
The 1978 inquest finding of Magistrate Trevor Blunden makes for pitiful reading. It accepted the police version without question or concern for the glaring improbabilities, which was not exceptional in apartheid-era inquests at the time. As the late George Bizos SC has noted, apartheid-era magistrates had no desire to reach the truth.
Following extensive advocacy efforts by the late Dr Haffajee’s family, and supported by the Foundation for Human Rights, the Department of Justice finally authorised the re-opening of the inquest in 2019. The reopened inquest ran from 16 August to 17 September 2021 in the Pietermaritzburg High Court. Closing arguments were delivered on 18 and 19 October 2022.
The family’s decades long struggle for truth and justice is not an isolated incident. There are numerous such legacy matters that have yet to be finalised by the South African Police Services (SAPS) and National Prosecuting Authority since the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s mandate.
We hope that Wednesday’s judgment will finally bring some relief to the Haffajee family.
Dr Hoosen Haffejee was born on 6 November 1950 in Pietermaritzburg. After matriculating in 1965, Haffejee relocated to India to pursue his tertiary education in science and dentistry. Upon returning to South Africa in 1976, he secured a position at the King George V Hospital in Durban. Since the early age, Haffejee was politically conscious but it is suspected that it was in India that he had joined the African National Congress (ANC).
Haffejee continued his political activism upon his return to South Africa, where he befriended and got involved with Ms Matheevathinee Benjamin, a nurse at the hospital where Haffejee worked. Disappointed with how the relationship was unfolding, Ms Benjamin reported Haffejee to the Security Branch of the South African Police (SAP) and became an informant for the police. Thereafter, Haffejee was under police surveillance.
Unbeknownst to Haffejee, he had been under surveillance for several months before he found himself arrested on 2 August 1977, on his way to work. At about 8:00 in the morning, he was arrested by members of the Special Branch of the South African Police (SAP) including James Taylor and PL Du Toit. Documents advocating a revolution in order to establish a socialist system were discovered in his possession, and he was arrested on suspicion of planning to sabotage or overthrow the State. He was taken to Durban’s Brighton Beach Police Station, where he was interrogated and likely tortured.
At around 4:00, on the morning of 3 August 1977, Haffejee’s body was found hanging from the bars of his prison cell. He had been found in a seated position, with his pants wrapped around his throat. His body had also sustained severe injuries. Police officers responsible for his arrest claimed that he had taken his own life for fear of imprisonment. The family believed that he was brutally tortured and killed.
To access the full record of papers filed in the reopened inquest in the Dr Hoosen Haffejee matter see: https://unfinishedtrc.co.za/hoosen-haffejee/#1631621270858-899246ce-cc28
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Foundation for Human Rights
The Foundation for Human Rights is a non-profit 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 Gender Based Violence and Femicide Programme (known as “The Masibambisane Programme”), the Unfinished Business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Programme, the Community Engagement Programme, and the Access to Justice 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 accountability for past crimes, reparations, and access to the TRC archives.