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Court date finally set for death in detention Haffejee inquest

A fresh inquest will finally be held into the 1977 death in detention of anti-apartheid activist Dr Hoosen Haffejee following years of lobbying authorities and threats of court action by his family.

The Haffejee family lawyer, Anwar Jessop, confirmed on Monday night that the hearing would be held in the KwaZulu-Natal high court from April 20 to May 15, to determine the cause of death of the Pietermaritzburg born dentist in the Brighton Beach police cells, where he had been taken for interrogation by the Security Branch.

Jessop said the exact venue for the inquest would be finalised in the coming days as the Durban high court, under whose jurisdiction the place of his death falls, may not have the capacity to handle the large number of people drawn by the high profile hearing, which may be moved to Pietermaritzburg.

The Haffejee family has been fighting to have the inquest, which declared that Haffejee had committed suicide, reopened for several years.

Last August, national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) Shamila Batohi wrote to the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal judge presidents asking them to appoint judges to hear inquests into the deaths in detention of Haffejee and Dr Neil Aggett.

She did so a week after announcing that she had shelved the investigations, authorised by former justice minister Michael Masutha in 2015. The families of Aggett and Haffejee had threatened to take Batohi to court over her decision to halt the attempt to re-open the cases.

Jessop said the Haffejee family were “extremely relieved” that the matter would now finally go ahead.

“It is unfortunate that all the persons involved in his detention and death have died because of the delays, but it is a relief that we have finally reached court after such a lengthy battle,” he said.

Haffejee’s lifeless body was found hanged with a pair of  jeans from the bars of a cell at the Brighton Beach police station, where he had been held after being snatched by a security branch team while on his way to work at the King George V Hospital in Sydenham, Durban, in August 1977.

The last security branch member who had interrogated Haffejee, Colonel James Taylor, died several days after Batohi announced her about turn.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

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