TO: All Media
ATT: News Editors, Human Rights Reporters
For immediate release
Friday, 11 March 2022
We welcome the judgment in the Aggett inquest and expect the NPA to act promptly on the recommendations
Press Release by the Foundation for Human Rights and Webber Wentzel
The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) and Webber Wentzel welcomes the historic judgment handed down on 4 March 2022 by Judge Makume, which overturned the decision of the first inquest in which Magistrate P Kotze ruled that Dr Neil Aggett, an anti-apartheid activist and unionist, had committed suicide and that no one was to be blamed for his death. Neil Aggett was found hanging from his cell door at the infamous John Vorster Square Police Station in February 1982 where he had been detained for seventy-two days.
The Aggett family had to wait patiently for 38 years before the inquest was reopened as a result of new evidence painstakingly gathered by the late Frank Dutton – renowned human rights investigator, with support from the Foundation for Human Rights and Webber Wentzel Pro Bono Department.
The Aggett family and those who knew Dr Aggett were relieved and overjoyed by Judge Makume’s finding that rejected the theory of an “induced suicide” and ruled that Dr Aggett was murdered by Security Branch of the South African Police by concluding
“There is in my view sufficient evidence that was placed before this court that the conduct of the security police led directly to the death of Dr Neil Hudson Aggett. Not only did some of those security police who testified in 1982 concede that they lied but there is evidence which emerged during the TRC amnesty hearing by amongst other General Van der Merwe that the Security police committed acts of torture and assault on detainees in the name of getting rid of the ANC and communism.” (par. 234)
In his meticulous judgment, Judge Makume thoroughly analyses all the evidence and provides a clear account of circumstances, which led to Dr Aggett death starting with a brutal torture and assault on Dr Aggett by Lieutenant Stephen Whitehead, the conspiracy by the Security Branch to discredit Aggett’s comrades, the cover-up by the Security Branch, the Security Branch’s modus operandi based on the system of oppression and intimidation, and the complicity of judiciary and state institutions such as medical personnel in concealing the truth behind the real circumstances of Dr Aggett death.
Judge Makume is relentless in pointing out the role of Magistrate Kotze in the cover up:
“I have no doubt that Mr Kotze was biased from the onset in the conduct of the inquiry. He did not have an open mind to find out what happened between 22h30 on the 4th February 1982 and 1h30am on the 5th February 1982. His intention was to find out why Neil committed suicide and nothing more or less. His finding as to how Dr Neil Aggett died and as to whether it was brought about by any act or omission falls to be set aside. “(par. 265).
On the basis of evidence given by the late Frank Dutton, the investigator for the family and the late Paul Erasmus, a former Security Branch Office who courageously decided to testify for the family, Judge Makume describes in detail the cover up by the police and concludes:
“There is evidence supporting the view that statements by members of the security branch, the police officers investigating the death of Dr Aggett and the proceedings in the 1982 inquest were all part of an attempt to cover up or conceal the truth about how Dr Neil Aggett died. This view is supported by the unchallenged evidence of Frank Dutton, Paul Erasmus, Joe Nyampule and Gideon Makhethe all former police officers.” (par. 236)
The Judge has also had little difficulties in dismissing the lies by the former security branch officers who testified in the re-opened inquest and who have been constantly denying any knowledge of assault and torture, which were a systemic and common method of interrogation by the Security Branch Police at the John Vorster Square:
“The evidence of assault and other forms of torture of detainees presented before this reopened inquest especially by Prima Naidoo, Reverend Frank Chikana, Jabu Ngwenya, Sisa Njikelane, Barbara Hogan is so overwhelming that the denial and lack of knowledge thereof by the security officers namely Chauke, Deetlefs, Woensdragt, Visser and Swanepoel who all testified in the reopened inquest is disingenuous and amount to an act of cover up.” (par. 278).
Judge Makume concludes his judgment by recommending that the NPA and SAPS proceeds with further investigation of the former Security Branch officers for their involvement in the murder of Dr Aggett:
“There is evidence implicating Lieutenant Stephen Whitehead in the killing duly assisted by unknown police officers. There is also evidence that officer Visser, Deetlefs, Chauke, Woensdregt and Swanepoel participated in the cover up in 1982 and in this court by denying knowledge of assault and torture. I recommend that investigation be undertaken in this regard.” (par. 294).
While the family has welcomed the finding of Judge Makume that Neil Aggett was murdered by the apartheid regime’s Security Branch, the Aggett family together with other victims’ families are yet to receive an explanation for the inordinate delay in dealing with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s cases from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and South African Police Service (SAPS). As a result of this delay the main culprits implicated in the murder of Neil Aggett such as Lieutenant Stephen Whitehead and Major Arthur Benoni Cronwright have passed on.
We note the press release by the NPA issued following the Aggett judgment and we recognize the hard work of investigating officers Colonel Mathipa and Warrant Officer Frank Kgamanyane, retired Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Jabulani Mlotshwa and Senior State Advocate Shubnum Singh, and we thank them for their commitment. However, we wish to point out that the Timol, Agget, Dipale and Haffejee inquests were reopened predominantly as a result of relentless pressure from the victims’ families, financial, logistical and technical support from the Foundation for Human Rights, and the work of pro-bono attorneys and advocates. The Foundation for Human Rights is currently covering costs of at least 14 cases arising from the TRC that are either at the prosecution, inquest or advanced investigation stage. In addition, the FHR supports further investigations in a number of other TRC cases. Despite the fact that it costs a lot of money for investigation and legal representation, the FHR has never asked victims and their families to provide any financial support but has fundraised from the independent donors to whom we are grateful for their continued support.
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 .
For more information about the case contact:
For media enquiries contact:
Lindiwe Sithole, Media and Communication Officer, FHR at email@example.com and 082 634 7154