The family of the late anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett say they have always firmly believed that he was severely tortured and killed by security police belonging to the apartheid regime and never committed suicide.
CAPE TOWN – The family of the late anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett say they have always firmly believed that he was severely tortured and killed by security police belonging to the apartheid regime and never committed suicide.
Reacting to Johannesburg High Court Judge Motsamai Makume’s recent finding that officers who were still alive should be investigated for their possible roles in his death, Aggett’s sister Jill Burger told the Cape Times they believed that members of the security branch had severely tortured him and then staged a hanging.
“In his bold and thorough judgment the judge named Stephen Whitehead and Arthur Cronwight as the main perpetrators of this crime, aided and abetted by their colleagues in the security branch and supported by those in power (all the way up to the president) in the apartheid government. He also criticised the finding of the original inquest by calling it a travesty of justice.
“It was upsetting hearing again the litany of appalling treatment that Neil suffered but a huge relief that the truth about this crime had been officially revealed.
“Unfortunately, both these men and many other perpetrators involved have since died. Suspiciously, Stephen Whitehead died just days before the Ministry of Justice announced the reopening of Neil’s inquest,“ she said.
Burger said they hoped that others involved in the crime would be brought to justice “and many other families who have similarly suffered the loss of a loved one at the hands of these brutes will also see justice done.”
Chairperson of the Board of the Foundation for Human Rights and former Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Commissioner Yasmin Sooka said the ruling by Judge Makume was important for the Aggett family as it was a vindication of their right to the truth about the past.
“Even though the judge’s ruling overturning the death by suicide fallacy came 40 years later, his finding that Neil Aggett had been killed by the security branch was hugely important for the family as they had always believed that Neil was not the kind of person to take his own life.
“I was really touched by Judge Makume’s description of Neil Aggett as an idealist and a dedicated medical practitioner and trade union organiser who wanted only the best for his country. Neil was deeply offended by the inequalities imposed on black people and people of colour in South Africa.
“There are obviously some issues which we would have loved Judge Makume to address, including the delay by the National Prosecutorial Authority (NPA) and the state in the reopening of the Inquest.
“Had the NPA and the state taken up the family’s request timeously, Steven Whitehead, the main interrogator, would have still been alive,” Sooka said.
NPA regional spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane said the NPA was studying the judgment, with the aim of determining the course of action to be taken.