By Al Qalam Reporter
The State has promised is to reopen an inquest into the death of Pietermaritzburg anti-apartheid activist Dr Hoosen Haffejee who died in Security Branch detention on August 3, 1977.
He was allegedly killed just 20 hours after Security Branch police arrested him under the Terrorism Act and interrogated him at the Brighton police station in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. The police version was that he used his trousers to hang himself from the grille of his police cells. This claim was hotly refuted by his family and fellow activists who firmly hold the view that he was tortured to death because of his righteous political beliefs.
Family spokesman Benny Gool said: “They were informed this week that Minister of Justice Mr Michael Masutha earlier this month signed the order recommending that the inquest be reopened.”
In 1978, an inquest found that Haffejee had taken his own life by hanging. But multiple injuries to his back, knees, arms and head indicated that his wounds were inconsistent with suicide.
At the time, his mother, Fatima Haffejee – on learning about the result of the inquest – wrote to the Natal Witness: “I think the time has arrived for us, the blacks, to pray that God will open a door to protect our destiny from the cruel injustice of the South African Security Police. I hope our prayers are answered before it’s too late for us all. As a grieving mother, I cannot forget this terrible ordeal. My heart will always cry for my son.”
Haffejee was the 45th political detainee to die at the hands of Apartheid-era police.
An inquest into the death of Ahmed Timol in 2017 revealed that the political detainee did not commit suicide and that he was killed in detention instead.
Haffejee’s sister, Sara, said: “The reopening of the Timol inquest last year has given all the families of apartheid-era victims a glimmer of hope that we too would get answers on how our loved ones were murdered by the security police. We are very grateful to Timol’s nephew, Imtiaz Cajee, for the support he has given us.”
Hoosen Mia Haffejee was born on 6 November 1950. He grew up in Pietermaritzburg and completed his primary schooling at St. Paul’s School and Marion School. He finished his secondary schooling at Woodlands where he matriculated in 1965. In 1966, he relocated to India to undertake his tertiary education. Haffejee enrolled for inter-science at the Bhavan’s College in Bombay and thereafter went Nagpur to study Dentistry.
While in India, Haffejee participated in sporting activities representing his university in hockey. Perhaps more importantly, he was elected as the Student Representative Council. Before returning to South Africa in 1976 he travelled to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey and London. Securing employment after his return to proved to be difficult and opted for an internship at Durban’s King George V Hospital.
His political affiliation is unclear but according to his older brother Yusuf Haffejee, he was politically active whilst he was in school and played an instrumental role in organising a number of student protests in Northdale. It seems Hafeeje continued his political activism on his return from India and thus he was under police surveillance.
On the morning of 3rd of August 1977 he was arrested by the Special Branch under the Terrorism Act on suspicion of being a trained saboteur and of plotting to overthrow the state. The police found him in possession of “subversive documents” advocating a revolution to establish a socialist people’s republic. He was dead within twenty hours of his arrest.
An inquest into his death ensued. Captain James Taylor and Captain P.L. du Toit, the two Security Branch policemen, who made the arrest and interrogated Haffajee denied that they had tortured him during interrogation. The pathologist reported that the death was consistent with hanging. Yet, the report also stated that Haffajee sustained multiple injuries and that approximately sixty wounds covered his body – on his back, knees, arms and head. On the 15 March 1978, Mr Blunden, the inquest magistrate concluded that Haffajee died of suicide by hanging and that the injuries were unconnected and collateral to his death. Blunden claimed that: “…submissions that other injuries found on the dentist’s body were due to third degree methods, were pure speculation unsupported by evidence.”
In the 1990s, Dr Haffajee’s death in detention came before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Evidence before the Commission suggested that Haffajee in all probability died as a result of torture. Former Security Branch policeman Mohun Deva Gopal gave evidence before the Commission and informed them that he was present whilst Haffajee was interrogated, assaulted and tortured. Gopal maintained that Captain Taylor initiated the assault. Haffajee was stripped naked, Captain Taylor then proceeded to slap and punch him when he refused to divulge any information. Captain Du Toit joined in later and the assault became more vicious lasting many hours.
Haffajee was steadfast in his silence. The perpetrators then prepared their stories. Du Toit instructed them to say that Haffajee had tried to escape and in so doing, had hit his body on the car. Captain James Taylor was subpoenaed to appear before the TRC but denied all allegations of assault and continued to maintain that, at the time of his death. Taylor did not apply for amnesty in this regard.