PRESS RELEASE: Closing Arguments in the Reopened Neil Aggett Inquest to take place on July 1, 2021

Press Release by the Foundation for Human Rights and Webber Wentzel

The re-opened inquest into the death of Dr Neil Aggett will resume on 1 July 2021 at 10.00 a.m. to hear closing arguments and is expected to run for 2 days until July 2, 2021. The hearing will be virtual as the courts are operating under strict lockdown regulations to prevent the spreading of the Covid -19, as Gauteng is now considered to be the epicenter of the virus. While we would have liked to have the inquest end on a befitting note with family members and colleagues of Aggett able to attend the proceedings, unfortunately this cannot happen and so the hearing will be virtual and will be livestreamed by the Foundation for Human Rights via its Facebook page(@FHRights) at https://www.facebook.com/FHRights

Dr Neil Hudson Aggett was a medical doctor and trade union organiser, and the first white person to die in detention during apartheid. On 5 February 1982, Aggett was found hanging in his cell at John Vorster Square, after 70 days in police custody. An initial inquest in 1982 ruled his death the result of suicide. Almost three decades later, based on new evidence, a reopened inquest was ordered on 16 August 2019. The re-opened inquest commenced on 20 January 2020 in the South Gauteng High Court of Johannesburg.

In 2020, the resumed inquest saw the family members, experts and political activists testifying about their interactions with Dr Aggett before his death, their experiences from detention and about the methods employed by Security Branch of the South African Police in relation to political activists. The court also conducted the inspection in loco of the 2nd and 10th floor of the John Vorster Square, where political activists were kept and interrogated, and were the body of Dr Aggett was found in 1982.

As a result of deliberate fabrication and withholding of information from the TRC, many perpetrators of human rights violations have escaped scrutiny and responsibility for their actions. The survivors and the families of those who died in detention need to know the truth about how their loved ones were tortured and killed so that they can get closure on a painful chapter in their lives.

The re-opened inquest into the death of Dr Neil Aggett concluded on 15 February 2021 before  Honourable Judge Makume presiding at the Johannesburg High Court. The closing arguments were initially scheduled to take place on 18 March 2021. However, due to the challenges with obtaining the transcripts of the court proceedings, Webber Wentzel Pro Bono Department acting for the Aggett family had no choice other than to request Judge Makume to postpone the closing arguments.

There has been no indication from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), on when the court will hear the closing arguments in the death of Ernest Dipale who was detained at the same prison as Neil Aggett in 1982. The Dipale family was represented by the NPA.

The reopened inquest has been a very challenging and an emotional roller coaster for both families who waited more than a decade to have the inquests re-opened only to have the hearing interrupted by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in a manner not foreseen by anyone. The coming together of the family in court supported by colleagues and friends of the deceased was suddenly and rudely replaced by a cold virtual hearing with its own shortcomings in regard to clarity of sound and picture.

To access the inquest records (both 1982 and 2020-21 records) click HERE.

For more information on the “Unfinished Business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission” Programme that is run by the Foundation for Human Rights consult our website: https://unfinishedtrc.co.za .

For more information about the case contact:

Webber Wentzel Pro Bono: Moray Hathorn: moray.hathorn@webberwentzel.com / +2711 530 5539 or Samantha Robb: Samantha.Robb@webberwentzel.com / +2711 530 5107

Foundation for Human Rights: Ahmed Mayet amayet@fhr.org.za and/ or Katarzyna Zdunczyk kzdunczyk@fhr.org.za

For media enquiries contact:

Lindiwe Sibiya, Media and Communication Officer, FHR at lsibiya@fhr.org.za and 082 634 7154

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