Second Inquest Finds Dr. Neil Aggett Did Not Commit Suicide, He Was Murdered

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Whites, who sided with the struggle for Black freedom and equality, were not spared from the brutality of the apartheid regime that was so powerful and cruel it could decide the cause of death of its detractors.

It took 40 years to uncover the web of lies surrounding the death of anti-apartheid activist Dr. Neil Aggett, who was found hanging in a cell in 1982.

Ironically, it took a black man, Judge Motsamai Makume to correct the wrongful cause of death ascribed to the murder of the much-loved Dr. Aggett.

In 1982 – at the height of apartheid, an inquest found that the cause of Dr. Aggett’s death while in custody at the John Vorster Police Station in Johannesburg was “suicide”.

Aggett was a medical doctor, trade unionist, and activist. He had been in detention for 70 days when security branch agents callously ended his life at the age of 28.

Last year on 16 August, after years of battling, Aggett’s family – that has always disputed the suicide claims, supported by the Foundation for Human Rights, finally persuaded the court to re-open the inquest.

On Friday Judge Makume set aside the false finding of the cause of death as “suicide” and correctly found that Dr. Aggett was in fact tortured to death by agents of the apartheid regime.

Handing down his ruling on the re-opened inquest Judge Makume said it was a “general pattern for the police to torture detainees to the point of death”.

If they went too far, these policemen could always rely on assistance from the top to cover up their killings.

Having considered evidence that had been excluded in the first inquest, Judge Makume overturned Magistrate Kotze’s 1982 finding.

Instead, Judge Makume ruled that Dr. Aggett’s death was caused by Security Branch members, who included Lieutenant Stephen Whitehead and Major Arthur Cronwright.

Commenting on the matter, the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) said it “acknowledges the pain and suffering of the Aggett family, his [Dr. Aggett] partner Dr. Elizabeth Floyd (Liz) many others that lost loved ones due to apartheid-era atrocities”.

The NPA also said it commends the teamwork of investigating officers Colonel Mathipa and Warrant Officer Frank Kgamanyane, retired Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Jabulani Mlotshwa, and Senior State Advocate Shubnum Singh.

“This team worked tirelessly together with law firm Webber Wetzel to ensure that witnesses were traced and could testify in this inquest hearing, following the authorisation to hold the hearing by Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola in 2019,” said the NPA.

The finding that Dr. Aggett was murdered means that the culprits who are still alive will be brought to book.

The NPA said it was on record of having said, “that the unwarranted delays in bringing perpetrators to book was an injustice to the families of victims and will work swiftly in applying its mind to implement the recommendations” made by Judge Makume.

In their closing arguments at the re-opened inquest, the legal team acting for the family noted that the key tormentors of Dr. Aggett and the masterminds behind his detention and interrogations had passed away without facing justice.

These include Lt. Stephen Whitehead who was in charge of the cruel interrogation of Dr. Aggett, and Major Arthur Cronwright, the Head of the Security Branch at John Vorster Square.

The legal team, acting for the family, argued that Nicolaas Johannes Deetlefs be charged with the murder of Dr. Aggett and with perjury for making false statements “before this inquest court”.

They also recommended that other former members of the Security Branch be charged with perjury for making the false statements before this inquest court including Johannes Nicolaas Visser, Joseph Petrus Woensdregt, Daniel Elhardus Swanepoel, Roelof Jacobus Venter, and Magezi Eddie Chauke.