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.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

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.

Related stories

Legal bias doctrine basis of Zuma’s recusal application to Zondo

The former president’s advocate and commission lawyers were embroiled in a showdown of who best argued the apprehension of bias doctrine

Zondo: Zuma was MEC, not president so he couldn’t boost my judicial career

The application for the state capture commission chair to recuse himself lays bare the history of the two men

Johannesburg cannot police its future

South Africa’s biggest city is ground zero for debates about the long-term effectiveness and constitutionality of militarised urban policing and how we imagine the post-Covid city

Businesses should use alternative energy sources, industry bodies advise

Business associations are urging companies to continue seeking alternative energy sources in light of Eskom’s court judgement which would allow the utility to bump up electricity prices up to 15% from next year April 2021.

Inner-city raids: criminal police conduct violates residents’ privacy and dignity

Residents of 11 buildings in Johannesburg have challenged the constitutionality of the raids they were subjected to in the high court

Chris Hani’s killer denied parole, again

Justice minister says granting parole would negate the severity ascribed to the murder by the court when the assassin was sentenced
Advertising

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

See people as individual humans, not as a race

We need to ingrain values of equality in education, businesses, society broadly and religious groups to see people

JJ Rawlings left an indelible mark on Ghana’s history

The air force pilot and former president used extreme measures, including a coup, enforced ‘discipline’ through executions, ‘disappearances’ and floggings, but reintroduced democracy

Sudan’s government gambles over fuel-subsidy cuts — and people pay...

Economists question the manner in which the transitional government partially cut fuel subsidies

Traditional healers need new spaces

Proper facilities supported by well-researched cultural principles will go a long way to improving the image and perception of the practice of traditional medicine
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…