TO: All Media
ATT: News Editors, Human Rights Reporters
For immediate release
Monday, 28 February 2022
Judgement in the Reopened Neil Aggett Inquest to be delivered on 4 March 2022
Press Release by the Foundation for Human Rights and Webber Wentzel
The honorable Judge Makume will deliver the judgment in the matter of the re-opened inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett on the 4th of March 2022, at 10.00 am SAST in open court GD (and not 8F as initially indicated) of the Johannesburg High Court. The hearing will be open to the public and press subject to the court’s Covid-19 protocols. The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) will be recording and live streaming the judgment hearing via its YouTube channel . The live-streaming link will be shared with all interested parties on the day of the judgment.
Dr Neil Hudson Aggett was a medical doctor and trade union organiser. On 5 February 1982, Aggett was found hanging in his cell at John Vorster Square, after 70 days in police custody. An initial inquest in 1982 ruled his death the result of suicide. Almost three decades later, based on new evidence, a reopened inquest was ordered on 16 August 2019. The re-opened inquest commenced on 20 January 2020 in the South Gauteng High Court of Johannesburg.
In 2020, the resumed inquest saw the family members, experts and political activists testifying about their interactions with Dr Aggett before his death, their experiences under detention without trial and the interrogation techniques and torture employed by Security Branch of the South African Police in relation to political activists. The court also conducted an inspection in loco of the 2nd and 10th floor of the John Vorster Square, where political activists were kept and interrogated, and were the body of Dr Aggett was found in 1982.
The re-opened inquest into the death of Dr Neil Aggett concluded on 15 February 2021 before Honourable Judge Makume at the Johannesburg High Court. Due to the challenges with obtaining the transcripts of the court proceedings, the closing arguments that were initially scheduled to take place on 18 March 2021 took place virtually on the 1st and 2nd of July 2021.
In their heads of arguments the legal representatives for the family, including Advocate Howard Varney, Advocate Thai Scott and Advocate Naseema Fakir have requested the court to reverse the flawed 1982 decision by the first inquest court, which found that Dr Aggett had committed suicide. On the basis of evidence presented before the court, they have drawn two possible scenarios of what had happened to Dr Aggett in 1982 at the notorious John Vorster Square Police Station for the court to consider:
- The case for induced suicide – there is considerable evidence that suggests that Dr Aggett was subject to unrelenting abuse and torture in detention for some 70 days and that is consistent with the scenario that Aggett was broken by his treatment at the hands of the Security Branch of the South African Police and committed suicide by hanging himself in the cell.
- The case for foul play – the family members and some of his friends are adamant Dr Aggett would not have taken his own life. According to the legal team there are certain factors that point to foul play in the demise of Aggett rather than suicide. Some of these factors include a solitary fingerprint on the cell grille whereas according to experts it would have taken at least 5 points of contact for Aggett to climb up the grille; a kikoi (an instrument of death) that was permitted in his cell despite this being against the prison regulations; no cell visits or patrols in the Aggett cell at the crucial period on the day of his death; or no disciplinary action taken against the individuals who had permitted Aggett to keep prohibited items in his cell. Aggett also filed a complaint against his torturers and abusers only 15 hours before his death.
The legal team acting for the family concluded that the Security Branch concealed the truth as to the real circumstances and cause of death of Dr Aggett either to conceal the abuse and torture of Aggett during his 70 days in detention, or to mask the fact that Aggett had been killed by the Security Branch.
Unfortunately, the key tormentors of Dr Aggett and the masterminds behind his detention and interrogations had passed away without facing justice. These include Lt Stephen Whitehead who was in charge of the cruel interrogation of Dr Aggett, and Major Arthur Cronwright, the Head of the Security Branch at John Vorster Square.
The legal team concluded their closing arguments by saying that both the above scenarios were entirely possible in the context of this case and indicated that should the court find the case of induced suicide to be convincing, then it should be recommended that Nicolaas Johannes Deetlefs be charged with murder of Dr Aggett and with perjury for making false statements before this inquest court.
The legal team acting for the family also recommended that other former members of the Security Branch be charged with perjury for making the false statements before this inquest court including Johannes Nicolaas Visser, Joseph Petrus Woensdregt, Daniel Elhardus Swanepoel, Roelof Jacobus Venter and Magezi Eddie Chauke.
The reopened inquest has been a very challenging and an emotional roller coaster for the Aggett’s family who waited more than a decade to have the inquests re-opened only to have the hearing interrupted by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in a manner not foreseen by anyone.
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