The FHR supports the re-opened inquest into the death in detention of Dr Neil Aggett

The re-opened inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett took place in the Johannesburg Hight Court between 20 January 2020 and 28 February 2020. The inquest presided over by Judge Motsamai Makume was further adjourned until the 1st of June 2020. 

The inquest commenced on 20 January 2020 with opening statements by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Adv Howard Varney appearing as counsel for the Aggett family, and counsel representing former Security Branch police officers, Detleefs and Venter. During the inquest, former political detainees, who had been held at John Vorster Square at the same time as Aggett provided detailed accounts of their harrowing experiences there. Their testimonies clearly pointed to a pattern of torture which became normalized to the extent that it was a standard method of extracting information. Other witnesses such as former police officers and experts also took to the stand. 

Dr Neil Aggett was a medical doctor and trade union organizer who died whilst in police detention after he was arrested by the Security Branch (SB) of the South African Police (SAP) on 27 November 1981. He was detained on the 10th floor of the notorious John Vorster Square, Johannesburg where a team of policemen led by Lieutenant Stephan Whitehead and Major Arthur Cronwright tortured him in various ways including subjecting him to electric shocks. After 70 days in detention Dr Aggett was found dead in his cell on 5 February 1982. The first inquest was held in 1982 and was presided over by Magistrate Pieter Kotze. Despite clear evidence showing that Aggett had been tortured while in detention, his death was ruled as suicide by the magistrate. It took years for the family to have the inquest re-opened but eventually, on 3 May 2019, then Minister of Justice Michael Masutha announced that the NPA would reopen the inquest into Aggett’s death.

The FHR assisted Aggett’s family with investigations and with presentations to the Minister of Justice for the re-opening of the nquest. The FHR staff also participated in court proceedings and assisted the legal team and the family when requested.



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Barbara Gittings, American activist for LGBT equality