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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 178
Paragraph Numbers 80
Deaths in custody
80 The Commission conducted investigations into the deaths in custody of several ANC and PAC members, including Mr Aaron Khoza of the PAC and Mr Hoosen Haffajee, Mr Bayempini Mzizi and Mr Joseph Mdluli of the ANC. An investigation into these and other cases was hampered by the destruction of records and by the fact that some of the detainees were moved to prisons far from their homes and interrogated by persons unknown to them or their families. In all cases, however, family members alleged that the victims had died in custody at the hands of the police. As with other recorded deaths in police custody, there was a marked disparity between the official police version and other evidence of the events leading to these victims’ deaths.
The Case of Aaron Khoza
PAC member Aaron Khoza was detained in Krugersdorp on 9 December 1976, along with Mr Johnson Vusumuzi and Mr Ivan Nyathi. He was subsequently moved to Pietermaritzburg prison, where he died on 26 March 1977. On 12 July 1977, an inquest magistrate found that Khoza had committed suicide by hanging. Advocate Harry Pitman, appearing for the family, said the evidence of the prison authority was conflicting and the investigation unsatisfactory. Aaron Khoza’s widow, Ms Alletta Maki Khoza told the Commission [JB04458/03WR] that her husband was detained in November 1976 for underground activities and was held for 106 days. She said that she did not believe that he committed suicide as his face was scarred, showing that he had been severely assaulted.
Nyathi remained in Krugersdorp and was admitted to hospital on 2 February 1977 after allegedly falling out a window at Krugersdorp police station14 .
The Case of Joseph Mdluli
ANC member Joseph Mdluli died in detention on 19 March 1976, just a day after his arrest in connection with the 1976 Gwala treason trial. Four security policemen were charged with culpable homicide, namely Mr Frederick Van Zyl, Colonel ARC Taylor, Mr Mandlakayise Patrick Makhanya and Mr Zabulon Ngobese. In their trial they claimed that Mdluli had tried to escape and had fallen over a chair. A pathologist presented evidence disputing the police version. All four accused were acquitted on 25 October 1976, the fifth day of the trial. The presiding judge said there was insufficient evidence to connect them directly to the death. He called for further investigation.
In March 1979, Mdluli’s widow [KZN/KM/999/DN] sued the state in a civil court and accepted an out-of-court settlement of R28 616.
Before his own death in November 1997, Colonel Taylor was subpoenaed to appear before the Commission and questioned about this incident. He submitted a written representation in which he told the Commission that he had been acquitted in this matter and had nothing to add. No other witnesses could be traced.
The Case of Hoosen Haffajee
Dr Hoosen Mia Haffajee, a 26-year-old dentist at Durban’s St George V hospital, died in detention at the Brighton Beach police station on 3 August 1977. The inquest magistrate found that he had committed suicide by hanging. Evidence before the Commission, however, suggested that Haffajee [KZN/NG/006/DN], may have died as a result of torture. He was allegedly found hanging by his trousers from the grille of his cell door at the Brighton Beach police station less than twenty hours after his arrest.
At the inquest in March 1977 [No. 951/77], two of the Security Branch policemen who effected the arrest and interrogation of Haffajee, Captain James Brough Taylor and Captain PL du Toit, denied that they had tortured him during interrogation. The pathologist’s report stated that the death was consistent with hanging. However, it also stated that Haffajee had sustained multiple injuries and that some sixty wounds were found on his body, including his back, knees, arms and head. The inquest magistrate found that Haffajee had died of suicide by hanging and that the injuries were unconnected and collateral to his death.
In a statement to the Commission, former Security Branch policeman Mohun Deva Gopal said that he was present whilst Haffajee was interrogated, assaulted and tortured. He said that Haffajee was stripped naked and Captain Taylor initiated the assault by slapping and punching him when he refused to divulge any information. Later, Captain Du Toit joined in. As the day wore on, the assault became more violent. Although they continued until midnight, Haffajee refused to divulge any information.
The next morning Taylor told Gopal that Haffajee was dead. Du Toit later called them into his office and told them they had to prepare their stories for the inquest. He was told to say that Haffajee had tried to escape and in so doing, had hit his body on the car. Gopal told the Commission that he does not believe that Haffajee committed suicide, as he was very strong psychologically.
Dr DH Biggs, who was employed by the Haffajee family, reported on the unusual marks observed on the body of the deceased and found that he could duplicate the lesions found on the body by compressing the skin with an implement similar to that used to compress lead seals onto string or wire.
Captain James Taylor was subpoenaed to appear before the Commission. He denied all allegations of assault and continued to maintain that, at the time of his death, Haffajee was in the custody of members of the uniformed branch. Taylor did not apply for amnesty in this regard.
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE SAP MADE ROUTINE USE OF ASSAULT AND SEVERE TORTURE AS PART OF A SYSTEMATIC CAMPAIGN TO SILENCE AND SUPPRESS OPPONENTS OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN GOVERNMENT. THE ACTS OF SEVERE ILL TREATMENT PERPETRATED BY MEMBERS OF THE SAP CONSTITUTE GROSS VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS. IN SOME INSTANCES, THESE UNLAWFUL ACTS RESULTED IN THE DEATHS OF DETAINEES. THE SAP IS HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THESE GROSS VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS.14 Focus 11& 12