Quest for truth paramount for Haffejee family

The Haffejee siblings have spent four decades waiting. In that time, their parents have passed away, and their brother, Yusuf, who fervently fought for justice, has also died without knowing what happened to his younger brother, Hoosen.

Dr Hoosen Haffejee, a dentist, was found dead in a cell at Durban’s Brighton Beach police station on August 3 1977. He was 26 years old at the time, and he had been incarcerated for less than 24 hours.

His death had been gruesome. 

He was found hanging, with a pair of trousers wrapped around his neck, on the iron grille of his cell. The Security Branch had detained him under the notorious Terrorism Act, having been accused of being in possession of “subversive” documents. The security police denied torturing him, but he was had at least 40 bruises on his body, an 1978 inquest into his death later heard.

That inquest found that Haffejee died from the injuries he sustained during the hanging, and that nobody was responsible for his death.


Haffejee’s older brother Yusuf had led the battle to overturn the apartheid-era findings on his brother’s death. The elder Haffejee brother believed that the Security Branch had tortured and murdered his brother. But Yusuf died before he could learn the truth.

But now the family have a chance at finally knowing the truth of what really transpired.

READ MORE: The doctor and his ‘subversive surgery’

At the weekend, the Haffejee family announced that the inquest into Hoosen’s death will be reopened. Sara Haffejee — who is now in her 70s — said that her family has been given a glimmer of hope that there may be justice for their brother and other activists who died in detention during the apartheid regime’s violent oppression.

“The family is overwhelmed at the news and cannot wait for formal court proceeding to commence,” Haffejee said, speaking through Oryx Media.

The Haffejees are now too old to manage media queries and have instead opted to speak through Oryx Media, a company that works with families of the victims of apartheid.

Haffejee said that it was with the help of the Timol family that her own family managed to accumulate enough evidence to convince the National Prosecuting Authority to reopen the inquest. Her family now hopes that the truth will finally be told, but if not, they will seek prosecution.

“We never believed the inquest ruling that he had committed suicide. If perpetrators are willing to make full disclosures, the family will consider the appeal,” Haffejee said.

READ MORE: Detainee’s ‘suicide’ revisited

None of the policemen who are believed to be involved in Haffejee’s death came forward during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and none have amnesty. They can therefore be prosecuted and serve time in jail if they are found guilty for Haffejee’s death.

The judge president of the high court in KwaZulu-Natal will now have to appoint a judge to preside over the inquest. A date will then be set for the inquest to commence.

The family has also called for inquests to be reopened into the deaths of all activists and innocent people who died during detention during apartheid.

“We continue feeling the pain of many other families who are desperately wanting to see their matters also attended to in a court of law in democratic South Africa,” Haffejee said.

The timeline below documents key moments from the first inquest into Haffejee’s death taken from newspaper reports at the time. 

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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