Haffejee inquest: Security branch operative dies days after decision to reopen case

Colonel James Taylor’s death robs the Haffejee family of the opportunity to hear his version of what happened to Hoosen Haffejee, who had been detained in terms of the Terrorism Act. (Rogan Ward)

Colonel James Taylor’s death robs the Haffejee family of the opportunity to hear his version of what happened to Hoosen Haffejee, who had been detained in terms of the Terrorism Act. (Rogan Ward)

A former Security Branch operative implicated in the death of anti-apartheid activist Dr Hoosen Haffejee has died, days after the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) restarted the process of reopening an inquest into Haffajee’s death in detention.

Colonel James Taylor, who was involved in the arrest and interrogation of Haffejee in the days before his death in the Brighton Beach police cells in August 1977, died on Monday.

Taylor’s death robs the Haffejee family of the opportunity to hear his version of what happened to Haffejee, who had been detained in terms of the Terrorism Act.

An inquest at the time found Haffejee had taken his own life and ruled that injuries to his body were not linked to his death. However, an investigation into his death and that of fellow detainee Dr Neil Aggett was opened by the NPA in 2015.

The NPA however, decided to halt the investigation last month and only agreed to request fresh inquests into the two deaths after threats of legal action from the families of the men.

Imtiaaz Cajee, nephew of murdered detainee Ahmed Timol, said the families were “livid” that the delays in bringing the matter to court had resulted in Taylor dying before giving evidence.

“The families are really angry about this. This is playing itself out exactly in the manner in which we had expected and which we had warned about,” Cajee said.

“This has happened on the shift of the NDPP and the Minister of Justice and they must be held accountable for it,” Cajee said.

Cajee said the initial application for the two inquests to be reopened was made to the NDPP in January 2015 in a joint presentation, with the process being delayed until the Aggett family threatened the NPA with court action last month.

“Till today the administrative bureaucratic process and the stopping and re-opening of the inquests demonstrates that there is absolutely no political will on their part to expedite these cases stemming from the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission],” Cajee said.

He said that in the Timol matter, the NPA had failed to wrap up an investigation into two other security branch members implicated in his murder.

National director of public prosecutions (NDPP) Shamila Batohi has written to the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng judge presidents, asking them to appoint judges to hear the two inquests, a week after she announced that the Haffejee inquest had been shelved.

Batohi’s about-turn came after lawyers for the Aggett family placed her on terms for her failure to follow up on the announcement by former Justice Minister Michael Masutha in April that he had authorised an application by the NPA for the inquest into his death in detention in February 1982.

Lawyers for the Haffejee family, who live in Pietermaritzburg, also served Batohi with notice that they would go to court for relief should she not allow a new inquest into this death to go ahead.

His family believes that he died as a result of torture and that the hanging was staged.

Aggett, a trade unionist and activist, was detained in 1981 for his involvement with the African Food and Canning Workers Union (AFCWU).
He was found dead under mysterious circumstances at the notorious John Vorster Square security branch headquarters on February 2 1982.

Fresh investigations into their deaths followed the reopening of the inquest into the death in detention of Timol, a member of the South African Communist Party and anti-apartheid activist. The inquest magistrate found that Timol was murdered and did not die by suicide, as was found by a 1972 inquest. Former apartheid security branch clerk João ‘Jan’ Rodrigues has been charged with murder, while two others are being investigated for their involvement in Timol’s torture.

Moray Hathorn, the Aggett family’s legal representative, confirmed that they now expect the inquest to be heard.

“The NDPP had indicated she has requested a judge to be appointed to hear the matter. We are waiting for the minister to put that into affect.”

Last month, Hathorn wrote to Batohi and threatened to go to court over her failure to act on the decision in April by Masutha to reopen the Aggett inquest.

“This case, as with all the apartheid-era cases, has been plagued with ongoing delays, not to mention deliberate gross political interference.  It has taken some two years and four months for the decision to reopen to be made, and the family will countenance no further delays,” he wrote.

Hathorn had given Batohi until August 5 to issue a request for a judge to be appointed to hear the case, failing which urgent legal action would be taken.

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