Press Release by the Foundation for Human Right
10 August 2021
NOTE: The location of the inquest has been changed from the Durban High Court to the Pietermaritzburg High Court. The inquest will begin on 16 August 2021 at the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
The re-opened Inquest into the death in detention of Dr Hoosen Haffejee to be heard in the Durban High Court
The re-opened inquest into the death in detention of Dr Hoosen Haffejee will begin in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on the 16th of August 2021 – which marks 44 years since his death in detention on 3 August 1977. The inquest is scheduled to run for five weeks until the 16th of September 2021. While the re-opened inquest has been planned as an in-court hearing, the continued rise in infections in KwaZulu Natal may force the court to go into the online session. The media and public will be informed about any changes in this regard.
Dr Hoosen Mia Haffejee, aged 26 was a dentist who died in police custody on 3 August 1977. The police alleged that he had hung himself with his trousers from a grille door at Durban’s Brighton Beach Police station. An inquest in 1978 found that Haffejee had indeed committed suicide. He was the 45th political activist to die in police custody.
In 1996, the case was heard by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). At the hearing, a former Security Branch officer, Mohun Deva Gopal, testified that he had been present during Haffejee’s detention. Gopal stated that he had witnessed James Taylor and PL Du Toit interrogate, assault, and torture Haffejee. The torture continued into the night, and the next morning, Gopal was told that Haffejee had passed away. He stated that he had been told to say that Haffejee had attempted to escape during the night and had injured himself on a car in the process. Gopal testified that he did not believe Haffejee had committed suicide, as he was very strong psychologically. Gopal also stated that he believed the version of events accepted by the 1978 inquest had been deliberately fabricated. During the hearing, Taylor was subpoenaed, and denied all allegations made against him. None of the police officers involved in Haffejee’s arrest and detention, including Taylor and Du Toit, applied for amnesty.
None of the police officers implicated in the murder of Dr Haffejee applied for amnesty, and in the last 23 years, both the National Prosecuting Authority and the Hawks failed to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators. It is now common knowledge that the Executive interfered with the work of the NPA and Hawks, and intentionally suppressed the investigations and prosecutions into serious criminal cases arising from the TRC.
In October 2017, a team from the Priority Crimes Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), led by Adv Shubnum Singh, began an investigation into Haffejee’s death. Singh and Hawks located several key witnesses, and conducted forensic tests in the cell where Haffejee had died, to determine if there was sufficient evidence to present to the Minister of Justice. The gathering of new evidence was supported by the pro-bono legal representatives of the family and the Foundation for Human Rights.
On 3 September 2018, then NDPP, Shaun Abrahams, recommended to then Minister of Justice, Adv TM Masutha, that the inquests into the death of Dr Neil Aggett and Hoosen Haffejee be reopened. The reopening was authorized on 26 April 2019, however, the process was delayed because the Minister did not instruct the relevant judge presidents to designate the judges to proceed with the inquests.
On 29 July and 15 August 2019 lawyers acting on behalf of the families of the late Neil Aggett and Hoosen Haffejee threatened the Minister of Justice with an urgent High Court application if he did not instruct the judge presidents of the Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal Divisions to reopen the inquests. On 16 August 2019 the Minister of Justice released a press statement announcing that he formally requested Judge Presidents to each designate a judge to re-open the inquests in relation to the deaths in detention of anti-apartheid activists, Dr Neil Aggett and Hoosen Haffejee.
Security Branch Colonel James Taylor, who was involved in the arrest and brutal interrogation of Dr Hoosen Haffejee died on 19 August 2019, just days after the Minister of Justice officially announced the inquest into Haffejee’s death in detention.
The re-opened inquest was initially scheduled to take place in 2020 but due to Covid-19 pandemic had to be further postponed.
The matter of the Hoosen Haffejee is yet another apartheid-era matter arising from the TRC process that would not have seen the light of day if not for the efforts of family members led by Dr Haffejee’s sister Sarah Lall Haffejee and brother Ismail Haffejee, pro-bono attorney and legal counsels, supported by the Foundation for Human Rights.
For media enquiries contact:
Lindiwe Sibiya, Media and Communication Officer, FHR at firstname.lastname@example.org and 082 634 7154
For more information about the FHR’s Unfinished Business of the TRC Programme contact:
Foundation for Human Rights
The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) is a grant making institution supporting civil society organizations in South Africa and the region that implement programmes which promote and protect human rights. The Foundation’s mission is to address the historical legacy of apartheid, to promote and advance transformation in South Africa and to build a human rights culture using the Constitution as a tool. Over the last two decades 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.