The inquest into the death of Ernest Moabi Dipale begins at the Johannesburg Hight Court
18 February 2021
The inquest into the death of Ernest Dipale re-opened before Judge Makume at the Johannesburg High Court on 16 February 2021. The inquest into the death in detention of Ernest Dipale was consolidated with the inquest into the death of Dr Neil Aggett in mid-December 2020. The Dipale family is being represented by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in the inquest proceedings. The Foundation for Human Rights live-streams the Dipale inquest proceedings via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FHRights .
From a politically active family, Ernest Dipale had been arrested on 5 August 1982 under the new Internal Security Act, which gave the apartheid government the power to detain people without a trial. He was held at the infamous John Vorster Square in Johannesburg. According to police statements, on or about 6 August 1981 Warrant Officer Deetlefs told Dipale that they had a strong case against him and he would be appearing in court on a charge of furthering the aims of the African National Congress (ANC). Dipale offered to write a confession, and hence, asked to be taken to his parents’ home in Soweto to obtain some additional information. Dipale wrote a confession through 7 August and at 6pm that day signed it before a magistrate in Brixton. On 8 August 1982, Ernest Dipale was found hanged dead in his cell. The official version given by the Police at that time was that he had hanged himself with a strip of torn blanket from a cell window three days after being detained. Dipale, who was only 21 at the time of his death, had been allegedly subject to severe assault and torture, including the use of electric shocks. His death occurred five months after Dr Neil Aggett had allegedly hung himself in his cell at John Vorster Square.
In 1982 the Washington Post reported the words of Elizabeth Dipale (Ernest’s mother) who said that she had last seen her son when police took him with them to search her Soweto home. As further reported by the Washington Post, Elizabeth Dipale said “He was perfectly normal,” she said. “There was nothing about his behavior to suggest he was about to kill himself.”
It was not the first time that Ernest Dipale was assaulted by the South African security forces. In October 1981, he was kidnapped and assaulted by Vlakplaas members including Butana Almond Nofomela, Joe Mamasela and Lieutenant Koos Vermeulen on the instruction of Captain Jan Coetzee. According to the amnesty application by Nofomela before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Ernest Dipale was interrogated about the whereabouts of his sister Joyce Dipale. He was assaulted to the point that he lost consciousness.
Ernest Dipale came from a politically engaged family. His sister Joyce Dipale was an anti-apartheid activist. She was kept in solitary confinement for 500 days from 1976 to 1977 in John Vorster Square and was subjected to brutal torture. In November 1981, Joyce Dipale’s house in Botswana was attacked by Vlakplaas. She was shot three times but survived the attack. Vlakplaas member Butana Almond Nofomela, Captain Jan Coetzee and Natshavheni David Tshikalanga applied for amnesty for the attack before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Other alleged perpetrators included: Joe Mamasela, Captain Koos Vermeulen and Warrant Officer Paul van Dyk.
For more information check the article by Tymon Smith in New Frame, “The inquest into Ernest Dipale’s death begins”, 18 Feb 2021.