Slice of life: ‘Those people, they have killed Neil’

I knew him from the union. He wasn’t paid to work there. We were organising some factories.

What I always remember was that he used to come to the township to take some of the workers there. During the state of emergency, we were stopped by police at night. They searched us. They asked him: “What is going on?” He was transporting us from the union meeting to our places. They said: “What is going on? Wat gaan aan?” He said: “I am a doctor. I am working at Tembisa Hospital and these are my patients. During this state of emergency, the transport isn’t working very well.” And then that is how the police left us. That was during the state of emergency.

At night he was working in the hospital and then during the day he would come to the factories. And the workers were all so proud of him, saying: “I was at the hospital. I met Neil.”

Most of the workers said his face, it looked like Jesus … Then after his death, the workers would say: “Those people, they have killed Neil. They killed that man because he was helping us.” We felt like we would never get another person like that.

I was part of the committee that organised his funeral. It was the biggest funeral that I have ever attended. There were black and white people there. Some people were saying: “They have killed a white man.” But I said to them: “He was not just a white man. He was a human being. Black, white. He was a human being.”

There was a lot that I was going to learn from Neil. But unfortunately it was just a short space of time that I worked with him … I think there was a lot I was going to learn from him. — Israel Mogoatlhe, an African Food and Canning Workers’ Union comrade of Neil Aggett, who, on February 5 1982, was found hanged in his cell at what was then John Vorster Square as told to Sarah Smit.

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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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