South Africa

Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation welcomes inquest into Aggett's death

Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation welcomes inquest into Aggett's death

The Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation has welcomed the reopening of an inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett while in police custody during the 1980s.

"An inquest convened by the apartheid state soon after Aggett’s death swept aside evidence of his brutal torture and assault by security police and delivered a finding of suicide," the foundation said in a statement on Tuesday.

"For the past 38 years, this finding has been rejected by all who knew Aggett and/or had knowledge of security police methods. Now, finally, the finding is to be tested."

Aggett was a medical doctor who worked in hospitals in Soweto, Mthatha and Tembisa. He championed worker rights through active involvement in the African Food and Canning Workers’ Union. He was detained by the apartheid security branch in 1981 at the then-John Vorster Square police cells in downtown Johannesburg. He was found dead on February 5 1982.

The foundation said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by Archbishop Tutu, in its final report to government almost 20 years ago, listed the Aggett case among 300 apartheid-era murders that warranted further investigation by the state.

"The commission’s amnesty committee had rejected the applications of two security policemen in respect of Aggett’s death, both of whom have subsequently passed away without being held accountable," said the foundation.

Writing in the Mail & Guardian newspaper in 2014, the Archbishop said: "Many have lamented the fact that President Nelson Mandela served only a single five-year term. From the perspective of the truth commission, his departure from office was a mortal blow. I do not believe Mandela would have left the commission’s business so scandalously unfinished, as his successors have.

“By ‘unfinished business’ I refer specifically to the fact that the level of reparation recommended by the commission was not enacted; the proposal on a once-off wealth tax as a mechanism to effect the transfer of resources was ignored; and those who were declined amnesty were not prosecuted,” Tutu wrote.

“The commission succeeded in its mandate to stabilise the patient sufficiently to move it out of intensive care into a general ward. But then the government decided further treatment was unnecessary. Our soul remains profoundly troubled. The symptoms are all around us,” he concluded.

According to the foundation, when the North Gauteng High Court overturned a 1972 inquest court finding that activist Ahmed Timol had committed suicide in detention, and replaced it with a finding of murder, Tutu supported the reinvestigation of eight other alleged suicides, including that of Aggett.