Aggett tormentor had a ‘morbid’ obsession — Barbara Hogan

Neil Aggett’s interrogator had a “morbid interest” in him, the inquest into the late trade unionist’s death heard on Wednesday.

Former minister Barbara Hogan told the Johannesburg high court on Wednesday that security branch policeman Stephan Whitehead had an “unhealthy” interest in Aggett and his then partner, Elizabeth Floyd.

Hogan recalled how Whitehead, who was not part of her interrogation team, would “every now and then come in” to ask her “weird stuff” about Aggett and Floyd, who were detained by the security branch police in November 1981.

“It wasn’t stuff, you know, about what these people were doing politically. It was like: ‘What is the relationship like?’ … The relationship between Liz [Floyd] and Neil. And: ‘Who wears the pants in the relationship?’” Hogan told the court.

“And actually I became very uncomfortable, because I got the impression that Whitehead had a morbid … interest in Liz and Neil.”

Later, under cross-examination, Hogan called Whitehead’s interest in the couple an “obsession”.

“It was like someone who was a voyeur,” she said.

Whitehead has been described as Aggett’s main “tormentor” during his 70 days in detention at what was then John Vorster Square.

Aggett became the first white political detainee to die in detention when he was found hanged in the early hours of February 5 1982 at the notorious police station.

The original inquest

In 1982, an inquest headed by magistrate Pieter Kotze ruled Aggett’s death a suicide, concluding there was no one to blame for the tragedy. This was despite evidence that Aggett was tortured.

In 1998, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) reversed Kotze’s verdict, finding that the intensive interrogation of Aggett and the treatment he received in detention led him “to take his own life”.

The TRC concluded that Whitehead and another security branch interrogator, Arthur Conwright, were directly responsible “for the mental and physical condition of Dr Aggett, which led him to take his own life.”

Aggett and Floyd had been named on what became known as the “close comrades list”, a report compiled by Hogan that contained the names of people she associated with — most of whom were not directly linked to the ANC, which was banned at the time. 

The list was intercepted by the security branch and used to detain those named on it, including Gavin Anderson and Ismail Momoniat.

On Wednesday, Hogan recounted the torture she endured during her time in detention. After her arrest in 1981, Hogan was kept in solitary confinement for a year. In October 1982, she was sentenced to prison for 10 years after being found guilty of treason. She was released in 1990.

Speaking at the inquest this week, Hogan recalled how Conwright had it in for members of the white political left in South Africa, saying he regarded them as “the devil incarnate” and adding that he had “a pathological hatred” for them.

Hogan described Conwright as “not a measured man at all”, telling the inquest that even “his own staff called him Hitler”.

Whitehead and Conwright did not apply for amnesty at the TRC and both have since died.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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