Press statement

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation welcomes the reopening of the inquest into the death of trade unionist and anti-apartheid veteran, Neil Aggett.

The inquest was reopened on Monday, 20 January and presided by Judge Motsamai Makume at the Johannesburg High Court.

Ahmed Kathrada Foundation board members, Prema Naidoo, Firoz Cachalia and Barbara Hogan will be giving evidence during the inquest. The trio had been detained at the same time as Aggett.

Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Board member, Firoz Cachalia said although Aggett died over 30 years ago, they could give some useful evidence towards the inquest.

“This is an important process as reconciliation depends on truth not suppression. We want the truth about how we were all tortured under the apartheid government to come out. The truth about what happened to Aggett must come out; we want his contribution to the struggle, his selflessness as well as bravery documented as such,” Cachalia said.

Cachalia said that the inquest into his death which was conducted years ago was a fraud as the apartheid government was designed to benefit the perpetrators.

“Now that we have a new government, a new constitution we can insure that the truth is told. Although some of those implicated in Aggett’s death are late and there will be no actual perpetrators prosecuted, there will be some satisfaction that the truth has come out,” Cachalia said.

The inquest comes almost 38 years after Aggett was found hanging with a scarf in his cell at the notorious John Vorster Square Police Station, now called Johannesburg Central, on February 5, 1982.

“This inquest will not only serve as justice to his family but will cast a spotlight on the many other apartheid era detainees who died in custody, those who suffered at the hands of the apartheid police,” Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Executive Director Neeshan Balton said.

Aggett, like Ahmed Timol, is but one of many struggle activists who died while in police custody during the apartheid era, many being ruled as suicides.

“An inquest in 1982 found that he had committed suicide even though there was evidence that Aggett had been brutally tortured. This case would never have seen the light of day if it were not for the efforts of family, friends and organisations such as the Human Rights Foundation and the National Prosecuting Authority’s Priority Crimes and Litigation Unit. Their efforts should be applauded. This is an important step in setting historical records straight.

Aggett’s inquest follows the 2017 reopening of the inquest into anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol’s death. That inquest overturned a 1972 ruling that Timol committed suicide by jumping off the 10th floor of John Vorster Square and found he had been murdered by Security Branch officers.

“Like the many others who were detained, tortured or killed in police detention, Neil Aggett’s ultimate sacrifice is one that should inspire us to continue the fight for justice across all sectors in South Africa,” Balton said. 

Issued by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation

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