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Minister Masutha authorises Inquest in respect of Apartheid Era Death in Detention

26 April 2019

Justice and Correctional Services Minister, Advocate Michael Masutha, has today, 26 April 2019, authorized an application by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for the reopening of an inquest in relation to the death in detention of anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett.

Inquest proceedings are regulated by the The Inquests Act 58 of 1959. The purpose of holding an inquest is to investigate the circumstances of death apparently occurring from other than natural causes and where the prosecutor had declined to prosecute. It is therefore an inquisitorial cum investigation process.

Dr Neil Hudson Aggett was a medical doctor and trade unionist. Dr Aggett worked mainly in overcrowded hospitals in historically black townships like Soweto, Umthatha and Thembisa. While working at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto Dr Aggett became involved in the trade union movement. He championed worker rights through his involvement with the Transvaal Branch of the African Food and Canning Workers’ Union (AFCWU).

He was detained by the apartheid Security Branch in 1981 at the notorious John Vorster police cells in Johannesburg. He was found dead under mysterious circumstances on 05 February 1982.

An inquest held at the time found that he had committed suicide and that the police were not responsible for his death. The inquest findings were met with condemnation both domestically and internationally due to the narrow approach adopted by the magistrate who excluded critical evidence depicting a pattern of sensory deprivation and torture.

The NPA requested the South African Police Service (SAPS) to initiate an investigation into the matter when representations were received from former colleagues of Dr Aggett. The SAPS investigation revealed several new facts which raise important questions about the findings of the magistrate who conducted the first inquest.

As in the case of Dr Hoosen Haffejee and Ahmed Timol, the State is committed to ensuring that perpetrators of apartheid era crimes who have not been granted amnesty by the TRC are brought to book.

Minister Masutha said, “The families of apartheid era victims deserve to get answers on how their loved ones were murdered by the Security Police. Our democratic government has been magnanimous enough to give the perpetrators an opportunity to tell the truth and receive amnesty for the crimes that they have committed in the name of the evil apartheid regime. They chose to sit back and not say anything. Perhaps they hoped that their crimes would be forgotten. We as government owe it to the families of activists like Dr Aggett to get to the bottom of the circumstances under which they died as well as to ensure that their killers have their day in court.”

Media Enquiries:
Max Mpuzana
Media Liaison Officer
Ministry of Justice and Correctional Service

Issued by the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services